You've decided to seek a divorce. Your nerves are frayed; the in-laws are asking pointed questions; the children are beginning to act up in all-too-transparent ways; and your calm demeanor is fading fast. What can you do? Where do you begin? What follows is a checklist of reasons why working with a trained mediator can often help take some of the "sting" out of your divorce:
- It costs less.
When both spouses meet with one Divorce Mediator they can share the cost, which is commonly $1000 to $3000 total. If the spouses were to retain separate attorneys to represent them in the divorce, each would be paying a retainer of at least $2500 just to get started in the process.
- You have control.
In Divorce Mediation, the couple controls how quickly or slowly decisions are made, when the divorce Petition is filed, and what the terms of the divorce will be in the Marital Settlement and Joint Parenting Agreements. Each step is 100% by agreement, in contrast to the adversarial process in which attorneys set court dates and judges make decisions with very limited time and information.
- Paperwork done for you.
Many people try to handle their own divorces these days, but run into difficulty trying to understand the laws and the complex paperwork involved. A mediator will write a Memorandum of Understanding outlining your divorce agreement. This memorandum will be taken to an attorney who will convert it to a legal document and file it with the court as part of the divorce proceedings, thus saving a lot of money on legal fees.
- Easier on the children.
The worst aspect of a divorce for children is the conflict between the parents. It will be traumatic enough for them, but they can heal more quickly knowing that their parents are working together to make adult decisions that will not put them in the middle of the divorce process.
- Easier on you.
The way your marriage ends will significantly impact the way you approach your future relationships. When you use a mediator to help you and your soon to be ex communicate and make important decisions, it can be easier to move forward and accept the past, rather than turning hurt and anger into an expensive court battle.
- You can still go to court.
When people use divorce mediation, they do not give up their right to go to court. If you are not satisfied in mediation, you can stop at any time, retain separate attorneys and have the judge decide the issues. What has occurred in mediation will remain confidential, so the parties can start fresh.
- You get legal information.
Each spouse in mediation is encouraged to consult with a separate attorney for legal advice, especially before signing the Marital Settlement and Joint Parenting Agreements. Mediators do not give legal advice. However, a good mediator should be able to provide you with a list of "mediation friendly" attorneys who will assist you with your legal questions and concerns.
- Emotions can be managed.
Many people simply want to be heard and understood in the divorce process. However, on their own this can get out of control, as each person triggers anger and resentment in the other -- often unintentionally. A mediator trained in counseling can assist the parties to acknowledge feelings but not allow those feelings to control the decision-making process.
- It is confidential.
In private divorce mediation, all discussions and tentative agreements are confidential. This makes it safe to propose solutions for possible consideration that you may not have been able to do in the adversarial divorce process. This open communication can lead to new solutions and agreements neither party had previously considered.
- It builds on the positive.
In mediation, both parties are encouraged to recognize the positive in the other person and to find common ground for agreement. In court, each side must emphasize the negative about the other person in order to "win" against the other. Especially when there will be future contact between the parties, such as in parenting, whatever goodwill remains between the parties should be preserved and not destroyed. Mediation also reduces the likelihood of post-divorce conflict and repeated court hearings because the couple has developed the agreement cooperatively. They have learned to communicate better and work together to avoid future problems.
Mediation is far preferable to litigation, especially in personal matters such as family, divorce, child custody, and visitation and support issues.
As compared to litigation, mediation many times can shorten the time it takes to resolve disputes, is less costly, and is less emotional for the parties and their children.
Since mediation is an attempt to bring people together, mediation may not only resolve the underlying dispute, but it can create a foundation for the parties to have a friendly and working relationship with each other, even after the dispute is resolved. If the parties have children, having a good working relationship is important because the parties are forever connected to each other through their children.
Mediation can also bring peace of mind, because a friendly, working relationship between parties' means that there is less of a chance that one party will commit an adverse action upon the other in the future.
Brian James is an experienced divorce and family mediator with offices throughout Chicagoland and Southeastern Wisconsin. He runs a mediation practice, C.E.L. and Associates. He can be reached at (312) 524-5829. View his Divorce Magazine profile.