Many couples want to settle their divorce out of court and search for a divorce alternative. Increasingly, many divorcing couples are choosing mediation as an effective and less contentious way to dissolve their marriage. Before beginning this type of process, however, it is important to learn about the stages of divorce mediation. Although this option might not be ideal for everyone, it could be the best solution for you. Learn about the stages of divorce mediation here.
Introduction to Divorce Mediation
Divorce mediation is a process that involves both parties working with a mediator to help them divide their assets, mediate terms, and reach an agreeable settlement. Generally, it may help to remember that different mediators may employ slightly different methods when meeting with couples to mediate their settlement.
Also, it is important to keep in mind that while divorce mediation is a popular option and extremely effective one given the right circumstances, but it might not be the right choice for some people, especially if these issues are present:
- History of domineering or abusive behavior
- If one spouse suspects another of hiding assets
- Spouses are incapable of communicating or cooperating with each other
- There is a claim of ‘misconduct’
If you are not sure if mediation is the best option for you, you can consult with a family law mediator. They can discuss this alternative as it applies to your situation.
What Are the Stages of Divorce Mediation
Mediation is a process, meaning there are various steps that are involved before reaching the final arrangements. Here are the general stages of a divorce mediation process:
Stage 1: Introduction and Overview
When divorcing parties first meet with a family law mediator, this professional will explain the process in detail from their perspective. They will also ask the couple questions about their marriage such as how long they have been married, what assets are, and if they have children. The mediator will also address how the mediation meetings will be held. These days, it’s not always essential for spouses to meet face to face. Some spouses may choose to attend meditation sessions virtually. This means that parties can participate from nearly any location, providing they have access to the internet and a connective device.
Stage 2: Listing Assets / Gathering Information
In order to enter into discussions, all parties, including the mediator, need to understand all the facts related to what both parties have already agreed upon and what they have been unable to work out. The mediator will also need to have a clear picture of all the funds/assets that require division.
Generally, the most common issues that couples will need to work out during the mediation process relate to:
- Division of property (this includes money, assets, and debts)
- Spousal support
- Child custody
- Child support
- Premarital or inherited assets and tracing these assets
During the information gathering stage, parties can expect their mediator to ask them to submit pay stubs, bank statements, and other financial statements relating to their marriage. If children are part of the marriage, your mediator might need access to their schedules in order to help the pair work out visitation arrangements.
It is usual for mediators to provide the divorcing parties with information about the legal aspects by explaining the shadow of the law. For example, each state will feature legislation regarding child support guidelines. Having this information is helpful for proceeding to the next phase of the process. Without the proper information, the parties might mediate and enter into a legally binding agreement that they may regret later because they did not fully understand the terms. Consequently, experienced mediators are unlikely to rush this part of the process.
It’s not uncommon for the information gathering stage to last for more than one session. Sometimes parties are not sure how to obtain the statements or other relevant information needed for mediation. The mediator can advise the parties on how to obtain the necessary facts and documents.
Stage 3: Understanding Each Party’s Needs or Interests
The mediator will strive to frame the issues of the divorce carefully before heading into the mediation phase. Each party will present their desired outcome, and the mediator will take time and use their skills to make sure the parties understand each other’s needs and priorities. Knowing each person’s core goals is important and will help the mediator narrow in on core issues. It’s not uncommon for the mediator to meet separately with each individual to discuss their needs and goals concerning the final outcome. Some mediators only prefer joint meetings, so there is always a feeling of full transparency.
Stage 4: Negotiation
The negotiation stage is what most people think of when they think about mediation. Often, the mediator will begin this part of the process by asking the parties to brainstorm and putting forward some possible ways to settle the parties’ key issues. Then, the mediator can help both parties consider all the possible options. Once they have a list of options, they can strive to narrow it down to the best options, which usually involves compromises–and give and take from both parties.
The mediator will strive to help the couple find settlement options that speak to their most important interests. The compromise and concession aspect of the negotiation phase is crucial because one spouse ‘winning’ and the other ‘losing’ is not a problem-solving strategy for mediation.
Stage 5: Finalizing the Settlement and Arrangements
Once the parties are able to agree on their issues, the mediator will help them create a draft of their agreements called a Memorandum of Understanding. Usually, the parties will take this document to an attorney to have the terms placed in the proper format to be filed with the Court. After signing, the document will be ready to be filed and after an appropriate period of time, there will be a final hearing. It’s only after the hearing and the judge’s acceptance and decree that the arrangements will become legally binding.
Divorce mediation is an excellent way for many people to divide their assets and work out arrangements for their children. It’s often a less costly way to divorce, too. With the support of a skilled divorce mediator, you may be able to avoid a long and contentious divorce process.