Thursday, July 31, 2008

"We Agree On Everything - Do We Still Need Mediation For Our Divorce?"

Answer: Maybe; and it might be a great idea!

I often receive calls from couples who have decided to work together to dissolve their marriage amicably and they are not certain whether it's a mediator or a lawyer they need to help them accomplish this goal. Because I provide both services, I explain the differences and the situations in which one might be preferred over the other.

Mediation is a great option when parties are unable to communicate and negotiate directly with each other to find a resolution of their disagreements or disputes. A mediator assists the parties by asking the right questions, directing the discussions in a productive manner and helping the parties make reasonable and rational decisions based on all the information and to reach settlement and finalize a case efficiently.

In divorce mediations, mediators usually prepare not only the Marital Settlement Agreement that results from the mediation sessions, but the mediator also assists the parties in getting the divorce action filed and finalized in the court (although attorneys are involved in reviewing and finalizing the settlement agreement).

In the case of a divorcing couple who have already agreed on how they will divide their community property assets and debts, whether, how much and for how long spousal support will be paid, and all issues regarding children (custody, visitation and support) and taxes, there may be no need for a neutral third party to facilitate discussions, but the mediator can still be extremely valuable in preparing a balanced agreement which meets the needs and desires of both parties equally instead of being drafted by one party's attorney and then getting shuffled back and forth between attorneys trying to balance it back out.

So, while a divorcing couple with agreements on all issues may not need a mediator, but may find a mediator to be quite useful in getting a fair agreement drafted up quickly, some divorcing couples with agreements may instead choose to simply use one party's lawyer to get the job done.

In that case, one party can hire a lawyer to file the divorce action and to prepare the draft settlement agreement and remaining judgment paperwork. The second party will hire their own lawyer to review and make any needed changes to the settlement agreement and will prepare that party's financial disclosures. The attorneys will gather all signatures and get the paperwork filed with the court in order to finalize the divorce.

This assumes there is agreement on all issues. If the parties discover there is disagreement on some or even just one issue, a neutral mediator can be called in for the limited purpose of helping to resolve the remaining issues and/or to draft up the agreement.

If the parties are unsure whether they have agreements on all issues, mediation is a great place to start productive and organized conversations to identify the issues and figure out where the parties are in agreement and where the parties may need assistance in reaching their agreements. Or, if the parties meet with their own attorneys first and then decide to mediate their agreement and work together collaboratively to reach their settlement, they still have that option at any time.

In divorce mediation, the couple can start with mediation before filing anything with the court, they can start mediation after the case is filed, and can also mediate their divorce whether or not the parties have their own attorneys involved in the case. Mediation can always be used as a powerful tool for the parties to stay out of court, reduce their attorney's fees and the time spent fighting; so no matter where you are in your case, mediation is still an option to be considered to help you both get to where you want to be.

**This post previously appeared in March 2007 and has been revised and updated**

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