After you disclose all your assets, debts, income and expenses, and come to agreement about the division of marital property, child and spousal support (if applicable), etc., your mediator will prepare all the court forms and marital settlement agreement (or stipulated judgment ) in draft for you to review . You should have the opportunity to review these in mediation with clarification between you and your spouse and the mediator. Once you are clear about what choices you have made and why you have made them, it is important for you to make an appointment with an independent attorney to review the financial agreements and the Marital Settlement. Your independent attorney is there to make sure that you understand what you have done and to make sure it is fair under the circumstances.
Your mediator is supposed to be neutral and cannot represent either one of you- so even if your mediator is an attorney and he/she gives you legal education (provides you codes and cases and helps you understand), he/she should not advise you as would your attorney advocate. If your mediator did a quality job, you will have a great understanding of your rights and obligations before you bring the paperwork to independent counsel for review. You will be able to explain why you agreed to certain provisions and demonstrate your understanding. You should hire an attorney for review which should only take a few hours at most- and you should look for an attorney that supports settlement. Some unscrupulous lawyers will try and tear apart your hard work to take the case to court. Select a family law lawyer who understands your concerns, but is willing to suggest language to make sure you are getting your interests met.
Also you should review your financial agreement with an accountant of your choice who is familiar with family law issues and tax. There are many tax ramifications in divorce with respect to spousal support, tax filing status, joint property held for a period of time after divorce, business issues, etc. Once you review the agreements with your advisors and hear any concerns, you will provide any such issues to your mediator who will facilitate discussions with you and your spouse or with the attorneys and accountants to amend any language if need be. Then, when all concerns are satisfied, the mediator will prepare all the forms in final- you will not need to physically go to court ever. The mediator will file all the appropriate documents on your behalf and provide you copies of all the paperwork for your file. You won’t have to see a judge, sit on a witness stand, or air anything in public.
Your marital settlement agreement and certain forms must be filed with the court, but you won’t have to appear. If you have an attorney/mediator who is especially concerned about protecting your privacy, you may file a public marital settlement agreement as to critical non- financial issues (but you must provide certain financial information for support), and prepare and sign a private stipulation/ marital settlement as to all your financial assets and debts distribution to protect your privacy. Once you reach an agreement in mediation it will be a relief, and you will avoid the costs and stress of a litigated battle. Reaching agreement will give you peace of mind and help heal the hurts from past. What a relief!
Mari Frank is a divorce attorney who practices divorce mediation in Laguna Niguel (Orange County), CA. She has been featured on numerous national television shows including 48 Hours, Dateline, NBC Nightly News, and The O'Reilly Factorand in newspapers across the nation including the L.A. Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.