Answers to the most Frequently Asked Questions about Divorce Mediation. Learn how Divorce Mediation can help you and your spouse resolve your divorce amicably.
What is Divorce Mediation?
Divorce mediation is a non-adversarial alternative to courtroom litigation (also know as alternative dispute resolution or ADR) that allows couples to make their own decisions and reach their own agreements based upon their individual circumstances. In divorce mediation, couples meet privately with a neutral attorney mediator to discuss the relevant issues of their divorce (such as property distribution (i.e. equitable distribution), child support, alimony and custody) and come up with an agreement that is acceptable to both parties.
My Spouse and I are Interested in Divorce Mediation. Where Do We Begin?
The divorce mediation process starts with an initial consultation with a divorce mediator. In the initial consultation, couples meet with the attorney-mediator in a his or her private office to learn more about the mediation process, ask questions and give the attorney mediator an opportunity to learn more about the couple’s individual situation in order to make recommendations for next steps. The goal of the initial consultation is for the couple to feel comfortable with the attorney mediator and the mediation process.
After evaluating the case, the attorney mediator will make recommendations as to how the couple should proceed should they decide to mediate the case and determine the mediation fee based on what the couple’s individual mediation process will entail. The attorney mediator will disclose all costs and fees upfront.
After the initial consultation, should they choose to proceed with the process, the couple will sign a mediation agreement, pay the mediation fee and begin to prepare for the first mediation session.
How Do I Prepare for Mediation?
Once you schedule your first mediation session, your attorney mediator may ask you to provide him or her with background information or will provide you with a list of things to bring to the mediation. For example, if the case involves issues of dividing assets or support, the attorney mediator may ask you to gather and send financial documentation such as tax returns and account statements or prepare a budget or outline of expenses and needs. In addition, you should also mentally prepare for the mediation by thinking about the issues that are most important to you, what you are willing to compromise on and at the same time letting go of any expectations that just because you and your spouse are amicable that mediation will be easy or that you will end up with a perfect agreement.
It is important to realize that even though you and your spouse not in litigation, coming to an agreement that works for both sides is not always easy and while you may not always be happy with the outcome, it has to be something that you can live with. Remember, even if you may have to compromise on some issues, in mediation you have the invaluable opportunity to create your own agreement that suits your unique family circumstances instead of having a judge impose an agreement on you that may or may not work with your situation. See How to Prepare for Divorce Mediation in 4 Simple Steps.
What Happens During the Mediation Sessions?
Because the circumstances of each case are unique, every mediation session is different. In general, the couple and the attorney mediator will meet in the attorney mediator’s office. The goal is for the couple to feel comfortable as possible. Mediation sessions are confidential and private between the spouses and the attorney mediator.
During the mediation session, the couple and the attorney mediator will begin by discussing the issues that need to be resolved and each spouse will have the opportunity to express his or her priorities, goals and concerns as they relate to those issues.
Once the issues have been identified, the couple might exchange relevant financial documentation (if there are financial issues) in order to value assets that will be distributed. For example, let’s say you own a marital home, you and your spouse will need to discuss what will happen to the house in the divorce. If one of you wants to stay in the house, will your spouse buy you out? How will the buy out work? If you are going to sell the house, you might want to agree to certain terms related to the sale such as when you are going to sell it, who will be the listing realtor, who will live in the house during the sale process and who will pay for the household expenses. While these may seem like small details, it is important to discuss these issues during mediation in order to avoid future disputes while the couple is in the process of executing the terms of the agreement.
What is an Attorney Mediator and What is His or Her Role?
Some divorce mediators are non-attorneys or have minimal legal background. Every divorce mediator at SnapDivorce is also a practicing divorce attorney with experience litigating in your local court. That means that at SnapDivorce, your attorney-mediator knows how cases with issues similar to yours are generally resolved in local courts. This can be extremely helpful in providing a framework for negotiation. The attorney-mediator’s role is not to provide legal advice to the couple, rather it is to help the couple identify the issues that need to be decided and discuss potential resolutions in a non-adversarial manner. The attorney mediator does not make decisions for the couple, instead the attorney mediator is specially trained to help couple focus the on the practical issues that need to be resolved and can assist in making suggestions and problem-solving in order to come up with resolutions.
In mediation, you are in control. You – not your attorney mediator and not a judge –make important decisions that will work for your family. In fact, you can be creative and come up with your own solutions that would not otherwise be available through the court.
While the attorney-mediator will keep the conversation on track, minimize hostile or non-productive discussion, and provide you with guidance and suggestions, you and your spouse will be the ultimate decision-makers. In the majority of cases at SnapDivorce, it only takes a few mediation sessions to resolve the outstanding issues and reach a settlement.
For more information regarding what happens during a mediation session see: How Does Divorce Mediation Work?
What Happens After the Mediation Session(s)?
After the mediation session, the attorney mediator will draft a memorandum of understanding (“MOU”) detailing the topics discussed at the mediation, the agreements reached and any topics that still need to be covered at the next mediation session (if applicable). The attorney mediator will send the parties the MOU, which they should review carefully as the attorney mediator will use this document as a guideline for the parties’ agreement.
Once the parties have come to an agreement on all of the relevant issues, the attorney mediator will draft the relevant agreement(s) which may include: a martial settlement agreement (the agreement dealing with your property and support issues), a child custody agreement and/or a separate support agreement. The drafted agreements will then be circulated for the couple to review and sign. Depending on the terms of the agreement, once the agreement is signed, you may have to begin performing the terms of the agreement, which might include closing bank accounts, transferring titles and paying off debt.
Once the agreement is signed we will process the divorce paperwork through the court system. You will officially be divorced once the court signs off on the divorce decree, which usually takes just over three months after the initial court filing. You can learn more about the divorce process in Pennsylvania courts.
Do I Need to Hire My Own Lawyer for Divorce Mediation?
No. In divorce mediation, you and your spouse do not need to retain your own attorneys. That is one of the greatest benefits of divorce mediation.
Instead, you will meet together with a neutral attorney-mediator who is specializes in facilitating communications between couples in order to reach an agreement that works for everyone involved. The attorney-mediator will not give legal advice but will offer options, problem-solve and provide insight as to how a court would handle a particular issue in a litigated case in order to facilitate fair and reasonable resolution.
Unlike many other divorce mediation firms, at SnapDivorce all of our attorney mediators are also practicing divorce attorneys. Therefore, in addition to being mediators they have extensive technical knowledge of the local laws and rules, are familiar with navigating the court system and are able to draft clear agreements that will be recognized and enforced by the courts.
Anytime during the mediation process you always have the option of consulting your own attorney who can advise you of you of your legal rights so that you can feel confident that the terms of the mediated agreement are reasonable.
For additional information check out: Do I Need A Lawyer to Get Divorced?
How Long Does Divorce Mediation Take?
You control the pace. The mediation process can move as quickly or as slowly as you would like, and you can schedule mediation sessions on your own time.
Depending on the complexity of the issues, typically couples require between one and four one to two-hour mediation sessions in order to resolve their case.
In general, the mediation part of the process takes from 4-6 weeks. The entire process, from start until you are divorced, takes about 4-6 months.
How Much Does Divorce Mediation Cost?
Mediation is typically one of the most cost-effective ways to resolve divorces available. The average Pennsylvania divorce mediation at SnapDivorce (including all filing fees and the processing of the divorce) ranges in price from $4,000 to $7,000. That’s what a typical divorce attorney would charge just one party for an initial retainer. Further, in comparison, the average cost of a litigated divorce in Pennsylvania ranges from $15,000 to $30,000 per side. That means divorce mediation with SnapDivorce can save you and your spouse from $25,000 to $45,000 or more!
At SnapDivorce the price varies depending on the complexity of the case and can be as little as $1,400 to process a simple divorce through the court system. Most SnapDivorce cases cost $5,000 to $7,000, which includes two mediation sessions, the drafting of a master settlement agreement and the processing of the divorce through the court.
SnapDivorce requires just one affordable, flat-fee retainer payment. In contrast, most divorce attorneys require an initial retainer payment, which they will bill against your account on an hourly basis. In the vast majority of cases, this initial retainer is quickly exhausted and you are required to make additional payments to cover ongoing costs. As divorce litigation is often unpredictable, it is virtually impossible to determine how much your litigated divorce will cost prior to its conclusion. Mediation is a smart, cost-effective way to eliminate this unknown and retain control of the costs of your divorce.