How Does Divorce Mediation Work?

Divorce mediation is a more amicable, less expensive and quicker alternative to traditional divorce litigation. In mediation you and your spouse hire a mediator to guide you through the negotiation process, so that you can reach acceptable terms for your divorce. A couple typically meets with a mediator 1-4 times with each session lasting between 1 and 2 hours.

With a national average cost between $20,000 and $30,000, per side, divorce is not cheap. The cost is even higher in Pennsylvania, with one study finding it to be the fourth most expensive state in the country to get a divorce. It’s no wonder people are looking for more affordable alternatives to traditional divorce litigation with lawyers. While some people attempt to cut out professionals completely and do it themselves, be very wary of going down that route. There are a lot of legal complexities to divorce, and you don’t want to make a costly mistake, which happens more often than you may think. A smarter alternative if you want to save money is to use a divorce mediator.

In recent years divorce mediation has become a popular alternative to divorce litigation. Divorce mediation, when done right, is significantly more affordable than divorce litigation, and you still benefit from having the expertise of a third party trained in the nuances of divorce. To ensure the best mediation possible choose a divorce mediator who is also a divorce attorney. In many places, including Pennsylvania, literally anyone can claim to be a divorce mediator.  Non-attorney mediators are simply not familiar with how divorce should be resolved or drafting legally enforceable settlement agreements.

While the specific details of the mediation may vary from state to state, or potentially county to county, the general process of divorce mediation is the same everywhere.

 1. Starting the Process

Once you and your spouse have decided to resolve your divorce through mediation, you need to find a divorce mediator. You do not need to file for divorce or go through the court system in any way to begin the divorce mediation process. You and your spouse simply have to agree to try mediation and find a mediator whose pricing, qualifications, and personality you both find acceptable. Ideally you want to choose a mediator who is local, as they will be more familiar with the local rules and customs governing your divorce.

2. Before the First Meeting

 After you have picked a mediator, your mediator will ask you to sign a retainer agreement and pay their fee, or at least a portion of it, up front. Most mediators will also ask that you sign a non-disclosure agreement stating that you will keep your discussions in mediation confidential. Some mediators may schedule a phone call with you and your spouse. The mediator will as you to provide them with background information or will provide you with a list of things to bring to the mediation.  Others prefer to go over this information at the beginning of the first mediation session. You should think about what you want out of the divorce and what a fair divorce agreement would look like to you before mediation starts, as it will make the process be more focused and more smoothly.

3. Beginning to Mediate

Once you have completed the initial steps to prepare for mediation, it will be time for your first mediation session. Expect this session to last between one and two hours. The mediator will start off the meeting by providing an overview of the mediation process. After that, you and your spouse will be given an opportunity to explain the situation from your point of view. The mediator will then ask follow-up questions to help get a better understanding of your situation.

4. Starting the Negotiation

Once your mediator feels that they have a solid understanding of your situation they will begin to go over items that need to be agreed to, such as the division of property, alimony, custody, etc. Assuming you have assets and debts to divide, or support is an issue in your case, the mediator will go over your finances in detail and help each of you understand your overall financial situation. Once everyone has a good understanding of the finances in your case, then the mediator will help you and your spouse negotiate how the assets and debts will be divide and, if applicable, how much support will be paid from one party to the other.

If you have children, the mediator will discuss your situation and help guide the two of you to an acceptable custody arrangement that is in the best interest of your children. If needed for reference, the mediator will discuss how a judge might have resolved your custody matter had you gone to court.

It is important to note that the mediator does not serve as a judge or make a final determination of how your assets and debts will be divided. Instead they serve as a guide, directing your attention to important details that must be worked out while also helping you and your spouse compromise and find an acceptable middle ground.

When your mediator believes that you have thoroughly covered all of the issues, or that you have accomplished all that you can in the meeting they will end the session. At the end of the session the mediator will provide you each with a memorandum of understanding that lists the terms you and your spouse agreed to in the session. If there will be another mediation session the memorandum will also indicate the topics that will be covered in the next session.

5. After the First Session

What happens after your first mediation session will depend on how much progress was made. If you were unable to form a complete agreement in one session, your mediator will schedule another session and you will repeat the negotiation process again, moving onto unresolved issues. This will be repeated as many times as necessary to reach a complete agreement, or until you reach a point where you and your spouse decide you will never be able to agree. Generally, it takes between one and four sessions for a couple to come to an agreement regarding all of the terms of their divorce.  Around 95% of couples who choose divorce mediation are able to resolve their cases in mediation.

6. Once You Have Reached an Agreement

Once you and your spouse have reached agreement on all of the issues in your cases, your mediator will prepare a marital settlement agreement and, if applicable, support and/or custody agreements. You and your spouse will be asked to review and sign these agreements. Once you do so they will become enforceable contracts.

Most mediators will not process your actual divorce for you (however, processing your divorce is included with SnapDivorce) so you may have to file the divorce paperwork with the court yourself. Once all of the paperwork is filed in the right order and the appropriate amount of time has passed, your divorce will be finalized.

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