How the Divorce Mediation Process Works in Bucks County, PA

If you are considering trying to resolve your divorce through divorce mediation in Bucks County, PA, this article explains how the process works step-by-step.

The first thing you should know is that divorces are resolved in Pennsylvania on the county level.

That means if you and your spouse live in Bucks County, PA that is where your divorce should be resolved and processed. If only one of you lives in Bucks County and the other lives in another county in Pennsylvania, then your divorce could be resolved and processed in either county, whichever is more convenient. It is possible to have your divorce processed in a county in which neither of you live if you both agree, but that is almost always a bad idea for reasons too lengthy to discuss here.

Knowing that divorces are resolved on the county level is important, because you should choose a divorce mediator that has experience practicing divorce law as an attorney in your county.

This is important because each county has its own local customs and rules of thumb in dividing marital property and awarding alimony in divorces. An attorney/mediator from Allegheny county is not going to know how a divorce would be resolved in Bucks County. Most divorcing couples want to resolve the financial issues in their divorce as they would be resolved in court. That’s why local knowledge of the court system is critical for your mediator. Therefore, if you are living in Bucks County you should choose a divorce mediator in Bucks County who is, or has recently been, a divorce attorney in Bucks County.

The first step in getting your divorce resolved through divorce mediation is agreeing to do it and selecting a mediator.

You don’t need to file for divorce first, move out of the house, or do anything like that to get the divorce mediation process moving. Once you meet with your divorce mediator, they’ll give you a good idea how your case and the process will proceed. There really isn’t one single path for all divorce mediations, because every case is a little different. Some couples may need four mediation sessions; others may not need any. Some couples will need any variety of agreements, such as martial settlement agreements, custody agreements, support agreements, etc. Other couples won’t need any agreements, just a simple divorce. It’s worth noting that all divorce mediation in Bucks County (and throughout Pennsylvania) is private, meaning that you and your spouse will need to agree to mediation, select and hire a mediator on your own, and pay for it. There is no free or court-sponsored divorce mediation in Bucks County or any other county in Pennsylvania (some counties do have required mediation for custody cases, for which the parties must pay).

There are several key criteria for selecting a divorce mediator.

First, as previously stated, you should select a divorce mediator that is local to your county (i.e. Bucks County). Second, you should select one that is, or at least recently has been, a practicing divorce attorney. This is important for several reasons. Most importantly, because only a practicing divorce attorney will know how cases are actually resolved in your county. Second, a practicing divorce attorney knows how to properly draft divorce and divorce-related agreements. They will put in the right details and make sure the terms of the agreement are not ambiguous. The importance of this cannot be overstated. One divorce mediation firm in Bucks County (not SnapDivorce®) regularly hires non-divorce attorneys to be their mediators. We regularly see their agreements ending up in litigation in our related divorce litigation firm, or otherwise having unfortunate consequences, because of their inexperience with divorce litigation and poor drafting skills. Finally, you should select a mediator you feel comfortable with and that you trust and respect. The right personality fit with your mediator can help lead to a successful mediation.

The cost of your divorce mediation will depend on the particulars of your case.

Because the specifics of divorce cases vary widely, so does the cost of mediation. The cost of your divorce mediation in Bucks County will depend on, among other things, whether you have assets and the extent of those assets, whether you have children that need to be covered by a custody agreement, whether you need a support agreement, and whether you will need additional services such as qualified domestic relations orders or appraisals, etc. You get the idea. The cost will also depend on whether you and your spouse are already in agreement on some or all of your issues.

Once you find a mediator you like, you will need to retain the mediator and get your first mediation session scheduled.

Your mediator will most likely require that you sign a retainer agreement and pay the fees up front. Some mediators, like SnapDivorce®, work on a flat-fee basis. Most mediators work on an hourly basis, like attorneys. We prefer flat fees, so you know up front what your divorce will cost. An attorney mediating your case on an hourly basis will require a retainer (an amount of money they hold in trust and pay themselves from as the case progresses). In some cases involving the sale of a home SnapDivorce® offers a financing option to pay for the fees.

Mediation session generally last 1-2 hours.

Any less and you won’t get much accomplished. Any more and it starts to feel like the session is dragging on and the parties start to lose concentration. Depending on the complexity of your case and how quickly you and your spouse can reach agreements, you may need anywhere from 1-4 mediation sessions or even more. However, most cases are resolved in one or two sessions. Generally, at the end of each mediation session the mediator will draft and circulate a memorandum of understanding setting forth the agreements reached at the mediation session and, if applicable, topics to cover at the next session. You should review the memorandum carefully to make sure it is accurate, because the mediator will use it to draft your final agreement(s).

Divorce typically involves a lot of issues, including the division of marital property, alimony, custody, and child support. Each of those issues involve many sub-issues. For example, if you own a marital home you and your spouse will need to discuss what will happen to the home. If you are going to sell it, you will need to agree to such things as when it will be listed for sale, who will be the realtor, how preparing it for sale will be handled, how showing it will be handled, who will live in the house pending sale, who will pay expenses pending sale, etc., etc. The details may seem tedious, but it is very important to get them right because that is where most disputes arise post-divorce (while the terms of the marital settlement agreement are being implemented).

You should fully prepare for each mediation session.

That means having a good understating of your desires and goals (what you want to get out of the marital assets, what time you would like to spend with the children, etc.). Take your time to imagine your future and then focus on what you need to get there. You should bring all relevant financial documentation to your mediation sessions. In Bucks County, it is important to have a list of and values for all of your assets (1) as of the date of your marriage (if the asset existed then), (2) as of the date of separation (the date you and your spouse decided to divorce) and (3) as of the present. Those time periods are relevant to the division of marital property. Your mediator will help you determine which assets are marital and which assets are separate. Here is a helpful list of what to bring to your mediation session.

Once your mediation is complete your divorce mediator will prepare your agreements.

Your agreements may include a martial settlement agreement (the agreement dealing with your property and support issues), a custody agreement and/or a separate support agreement. In Bucks County you should not include your custody agreement in your marital settlement agreement. Doing so makes it much more difficult and expensive to enforce the custody agreement. After the agreements are prepared, they will be circulated for you and your spouse to review and sign.

If your mediation fails, you can opt for arbitration.

The good news is that most divorce mediations are successful. However, there is no guarantee that you and your spouse will reach a resolution to all of the issues in your divorce through mediation. If that happens, there are really only two options at that point to get your divorce resolved: hire a divorce attorney to litigate your divorce in court or agree to arbitration. Arbitration is a process whereby you agree to let a third party, the arbitrator, resolve some or all of the issues in your divorce. The arbitrator’s decision is final and can’t be appealed or challenged in court (except for custody and child support, which, under Pennsylvania law, can always be modified by a court). Arbitration has a lot of advantages over going to court. Just like mediation, you and your spouse have to agree to arbitration. You can discuss this option with your mediator if the occasion arises.

Once your agreements are prepared, you and your spouse sign them and your divorce is processed.

Mediators generally do not process divorces. Some mediators provide you with the paperwork and instructions to do it yourself. That is obviously less than ideal. At SnapDivorce® we partner with a law firm to process the divorce for you at no additional charge, so you don’t have to worry about it. Once the divorce complaint is filed it takes just over three months to get divorced, due to a mandatory 90-day waiting period in Pennsylvania.

After your agreement is signed, you and your spouse need to start performing the terms of the agreement.

Performance usually involves actions such as selling your house or transferring title to your house, transferring retirement account funds, closing bank accounts, paying off debts, etc. Many of the tasks will have deadlines for completion. The specifics will depend on your assets and the terms of your agreement. At SnapDivorce® we help you coordinate getting the action items under your marital settlement agreement completed in a timely and professional manner.

After 90 days has passed from the date the divorce complaint is filed and service of it accepted by one of the parties, the divorce is processed and any agreements are made orders of court.

You and your spouse are the officially divorce.

That’s divorce mediation in Bucks County in a nutshell.

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