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What to Expect During the Divorce Mediation Process
Divorce mediation begins with an introduction to your mediator. The mediator will introduce themselves and explain the process, the goals for the day, their role as a mediator, and what reaching agreements means for your case. In our office, we separate the parties into two different conference rooms, and the mediator will go back and forth to help the parties reach an agreement.
The divorce mediation process usually takes place in five steps that begin and end with the help of a neutral mediator. Depending on who you choose as your mediator, some steps may be combined or split into more steps, but five steps is typical.
In our office, after you have had an initial joint phone call with the mediator and agreed to mediation, you and your spouse will submit your separate—confidential—mediation memorandums. Here’s what to expect when drafting your mediation memorandum, the day of mediation, reaching agreements, and submitting a final agreement to the court.
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The Mediator’s Role in the Process
Divorce mediation is always overseen by a neutral mediator whose sole job is to help the separated couple reach a settlement agreement. Divorce mediators are often family law attorneys or retired judges who use their extensive experience to guide the parties towards an agreement.
It’s important to stress that a mediator never “works for” one spouse; instead, they work to help both parties reach a suitable and acceptable compromise.
The primary role of a mediator is to help the parties continue to move forward with negotiations. Mediators help ensure parties don’t remain stuck on one issue and offer resolutions to the challenges people face when getting a divorce.
Here’s what you can expect:
1. Neutrality Over All Matters in the Dispute
Divorce is a deeply emotional process with incredibly high stakes. It’s common to experience sadness, or even anger, as you discuss matters like child custody and the division of property. While this is understandable, it’s important to ensure that these negative emotions do not derail your settlement negotiations.
The role of a divorce mediator is to help the parties keep moving forward in their negotiations. You or your spouse are likely to have strong feelings about many topics as you discuss your divorce. A mediator helps you work past these overwhelming emotions to find a logical path forward. Mediators do not pick sides.
2. Structured Discussions for Unresolved Issues
While there are multiple reasons why someone would use divorce mediation, most couples enter mediation with unresolved relationship issues. Usually, the divorce process is not the appropriate place to try and resolve or air those issues. Rather, both parties need to stay focused on settling issues that are relevant to the divorce, such as custody arrangements, spousal maintenance, and division of community debt. Without a neutral mediator, these unresolved relationship issues can easily spiral out of control and bring to an end to settlement negotiations. A mediator will enforce structured discussions with a view to helping the parties reach a resolution on the issues relevant to the divorce.
The mediator will typically refer to your separate confidential mediation memorandums to create an initial structure for the negotiations.
3. Professional Guidance for the Mediation Process
A mediator often has a background as a family law attorney, which makes them highly effective at managing the sensitive topics that emerge during mediation. The background also helps when the parties get stuck on an issue. The mediator will be able to offer proposals based on what has worked with other parties as they have tried to resolve similar issues. As a neutral third party, a skilled mediator can guide you through the entire mediation process without pushing you in a certain direction.
Mediators cannot give you legal advice. However, they can use their robust knowledge and experience to help facilitate a productive discussion. They can also explain what’s generally done in similar cases, based on their wide experience.
The 5 Stages of Divorce Mediation
Divorce mediations typically follow five stages, from initial discussions to final court approval. Take a look at this divorce mediation checklist to find out what to expect at each mediation stage.
1. Initial Discussions with the Mediator
As the name might suggest, an initial discussion begins the mediation process. Before you and your spouse commit to mediation, your mediator must complete an intake process, where they will explain the ins and outs of divorce mediation and discuss payment terms.
The primary goal of this step is to set the stage for the mediation process. In our office, this is a short phone call where the mediator will introduce themselves and describe our office’s mediation process.
You and your spouse are free to ask your divorce mediator questions as your mediator describes our mediation process; how mediation will be conducted; and our fees associated with mediation. Once all questions have been answered, we will send both parties an agreement for mediation. Once this has been signed by both parties, we will schedule the actual mediation and assign submission deadlines for the separate confidential mediation memorandums.
2. Gathering Information for Unresolved Issues
Prior to attending mediation, each party will submit a separate confidential mediation memorandum. These memos identify the unresolved issues, what the party wants to do about them, and why. These documents are confidential and are not shared with the other party.
Most divorcing couples address the following issues in mediation:
- Child custody
- Child support and other financial matters regarding children
- Division of marital property, including assets and debts
- Spousal support or alimony
The memorandum is an important tool for the mediator, as they highlight the most contentious points for each party and also outline where they are close. The mediator will use the mediation memorandum to decide how to structure negotiations.
3. Attend Divorce Mediation
The third stage in the divorce mediation process is actually attending mediation. At BTL Family Law, we offer mediations both in-person and virtually, but usually, we recommend in-person mediations. The mediator will be prepared, but it is also important that you are prepared for mediation. Be sure to review your mediation memorandum and have blocked out the appropriate amount of time to attend mediation.
4. Negotiating the Divorce Settlement
During the actual mediation, in our office, the mediator will go back and forth between the parties. Typically, the mediator will start in one room and get an authorized settlement proposal to bring to the other party. This may be a global proposal addressing everything, or it may be certain aspects of the unresolved issues if there are several. It is really up to the mediator and what they view as the best approach for your situation.
The mediator will continue working to help the parties reach a full agreement. Even if a full agreement cannot be reached on all issues, partial agreements are still helpful as they limit the number of issues to be resolved going forward. If only a partial agreement is reached, then the parties may need to schedule another mediation session or seek assistance from the court.
5. Drafting a Settlement and Concluding the Mediation
Once you and your spouse have reached an agreement on all relevant issues, your mediator will help you draft an agreement. This agreement outlines the terms you reached during mediation. Both you and your partner will have to sign the settlement agreement.
If the settlement agreement resolved all of the outstanding issues, the parties can then hire the mediator to draft the final documents to be filed with the court. These final documents incorporate your agreements but put them in a format that is required by the court. Depending on the issues in your case, you may need a Consent Decree, Parenting Plan, and/or a Property Settlement Agreement. These documents are full of specific language required by the court, so it is a good idea to have them professionally drafted.
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Schedule a Consultation with an Experienced Divorce Mediator
Successful mediation can pave the way to an uncontested divorce, where there are no lingering issues for a judge to decide. From child custody to alimony, mediation allows you and your spouse to make decisions that work in the best interests of your family, your future, and your finances.
An experienced divorce mediator is the key to effectively navigating an alternative dispute resolution process like mediation. Whether you require legal representation or knowledgeable mediators with a background in family law, contact BTL Family Law today.