Each year, thousands of couples get divorced. Many of these cases end up in court where a judge decides how assets will be divided and where the children will live. However, each year many couples also resolve divorce issues by agreement thereby avoiding trial and lowering their attorney fees. Divorce agreements or separation agreements reduce conflict and couples who are able to come to an agreement are more satisfied with the final outcome. While some couples have little disagreement and are able to come to an agreement on their own or with the help of attorneys within the litigation process, many settle with the help of mediation.

What is mediation?

Mediation is often a critical tool in the divorce process. The goal of mediation is to allow each party to achieve their desired goals while avoiding the financial and emotional tolls of trial.

During mediation, the parties will jointly meet with a mediator. This person is a trained professional (usually a lawyer) who will help negotiate a positive outcome for both sides. The mediator is a neutral party and cannot take sides or give advice to either party. It is also important to note that all discussions within mediation are confidential and the mediator cannot be called as a witness if the case does proceed to trial.

Mediation will consist of one or more meetings between all parties. Each party will typically present a history of the relationship and the issues that they feel need to be settled, along with their desired outcomes. The mediator will typically address the smaller issues first and those in which there is little conflict. As the session(s) progresses, the mediator will tackle the tougher issues and try to get the parties to reach an agreement. Divorce settlements can quickly become emotional and combative. A good mediator will recognize sensitive issues and work to maintain a calm, productive environment.

What are the benefits of mediation?

The goal of mediation is to help you avoid going to trial. On average, couples who are able to settle spend thousands of dollars less on costs and are able to resolve their case many months quicker than those that go to trial. Not only is going to trial a costly and time-consuming process, but it also leaves major decisions regarding your future in the hands of a Judge who has little knowledge of you or your family’s circumstances. Mediation allows each party to have more input and is far more likely to leave each party satisfied with the end result.

Is mediation right for me?

Mediation is best suited for couples who have issues that they cannot come to an agreement on but are willing to come to the table and negotiate. It is particularly beneficial to couples who share a desire to reach a positive settlement and wish to avoid a drawn-out court process. If the couple is able to come to an agreement on all issues during mediation, the mediator or an attorney for a party can draw up an agreement and eliminate the need for a hearing.

What if I have a high net-worth case or a complex financial situation?

Most mediators are not financial experts and cannot make valuations on property. Therefore it is advisable to additionally seek the assistance of a financial expert and/or a real estate appraiser to help you in obtaining accurate evaluations of your assets before entering into mediation. Once an accurate accounting of each party’s assets has been obtained, the mediator can work with the couple to come to a fair division. The mediator’s job is to help you come to a settlement that is fair to each party. Remember, settlements obtained during mediation are not binding unless both parties sign an agreement. Each party can and should consult with their attorney before coming to any final agreement.

Mediation can help you reduce costs, avoid trial, and obtain the results you are looking for. However, not all cases are suited for mediation. If you need help deciding whether mediation is right for your case, contact me at (508) 752-2727.  I’m an experienced family law attorney who will review your case and help you determine whether mediation is right for you.