You've probably heard that reaching a settlement agreement with your spouse is the way to go when divorce becomes inevitable. It's cheaper, quicker and less contentious than trial. But settlement negotiations that take place privately, between the two of you, are most successful when spouses aren't entering the divorce arena from far different corners. They've already reached something at least reasonably close to middle ground. Mediation can be a viable option when you can't iron things out and reach an agreement on your own.
Mediation is mandatory in some states. Spouses are required to at least attempt to reach a resolution on marital issues before the court will schedule them for trial. You may be required to mediate your entire divorce, or just custody if it's an issue. In any case, it can be helpful to have an understanding of the mediation process before you attend.The Process
When you and your spouse attend mediation, you'll meet with a trained third party whose role is to guide your discussions and point out things that you and your spouse may have overlooked. The exact process can vary depending on the mediator involved. Some may want to meet with you separately at first to determine what's most important to each of you. The mediator may determine that your divorce is so antagonistic that it makes no sense to require you to sit together in the same room, so he'll move back and forth between you, relaying your respective positions. You may meet with the mediator a handful of times or a dozen, depending on how far apart you and your spouse are and how complicated your divorce is.
Spouses must typically pay for these mediation sessions, but it's important to understand that this does not mean the mediator works for you. He's not obligated to see your side of things. He must be impartial.
Other professionals may be involved in the mediation process. If your sticking point is how to divide the family business, the mediator may bring in an accountant to help you explore all options. If custody is an issue, the mediator may suggest that you speak with a child psychologist.The Goal
The goal of mediation is to resolve as many aspects of your divorce as possible so a judge doesn't have to make decisions for you at trial. Studies have shown that divorced spouses are happier with the terms of their divorce judgments and are more likely to abide by them when they have a say in determining what those terms are. If you can resolve all marital issues your attorney will write the terms into a settlement agreement which you can then submit to the court. The agreement can be incorporated into your divorce judgment, and its terms are just as binding as they would be if a judge ordered them. If you mediate an agreement on some issues but not others, your divorce trial would only address those unresolved issues.When Mediation May Not Be Appropriate
Not all spouses can successfully negotiate even with the help of a trained third party. Some states waive the mediation requirement when domestic violence is an issue. Both spouses should have a firm understanding of the facts of their marriage before attending mediation. Sessions typically takes place after the discovery phase of a divorce when all pertinent financial information has been exchanged between spouses or secured from third parties, but this may not be the case if you're not represented by a lawyer.
If you live in New Jersey and are considering mediation call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen for a free consultation at (201) 845-7400.