The first question you should ask is – What is Divorce Mediation?
During divorce mediation, spouses meet with a trained, neutral family law mediator in an informal setting. Mediation sessions do not happen at the courthouse. Instead, everyone meets at the mediator’s office or online if the mediator provides spouses with the ability to appear virtually. The goal of the mediator is to help the spouses facilitate a settlement of all their divorce issues, including child custody, child support, spousal support, the division of property, the division of debt, etc. If the mediation is successful, the mediator can draft the Parenting Plan and/or Marital Settlement and Separation Agreement to confirm the terms agreed to by the spouses. The Parenting Plan and/or Marital Settlement and Separation Agreement would then allow the spouses to file their divorce uncontested with the Court. The process would move quickly because everything has been worked out in advance.
The second question you should ask is – What are the Pros of Divorce Mediation?
If you and your spouse want to amicably resolve your divorce but have unresolved issues or simply don’t know what needs to be agreed upon, trying divorce mediation before hiring a lawyer to file your case with the court may be a good idea.
1. Help Navigating the Complex Issues
When you and your spouse have no children, limited assets, and agree on terms, you have a few different options for divorcing quickly and cheaply, including using the State of Missouri’s Pro Se forms. But if you and your spouse have complex issues or you simply can’t agree on terms, then you could benefit from meeting with a knowledgeable family law mediator to help navigate an amicable resolution of your case. Also, the more complex your situation is — a lot of marital assets to divide, a lot of debt to divide, a child with special needs, a disabled spouse, etc. — the more likely it is that you will need guidance resolving these issues. An experienced divorce mediator can work through the details with you and your spouse and provide possible solutions for those complex issues.
2. You Control the Outcome
The mediator facilitates the spouses in reaching an agreement. As a result, the process of divorce mediation places your future in your own hands instead of leaving it up to a judge to decide what happens to you, your children, and your assets. This is very important in a divorce as no one is as familiar with your family situation as you and your spouse. The process of mediation can help you determine the outcome of your divorce on your own terms. Judges have big caseloads and only a limited amount of time to consider each family that comes before the court. With mediation, you can spend the time necessary to deep dive into complex family issues and craft creative solutions that may not be available from a court.
3. Divorce Mediation Moves at Your Pace
When you litigate, your dates are contingent on the court’s availability. With thousands of cases pending in the Family Court, your case may take nine months or more to complete. Mediation, on the other hand, can proceed at whatever pace you, your spouse, and the mediator agree on. When you go the litigation court route, you have no control over scheduling as the court will tell you when you must appear. Those appearances are set with little regard for your work or personal schedule. With mediation, you and your spouse set the dates and times of meetings with the mediator. Some mediators even offer weekend sessions, a big help for spouses holding daytime jobs.
4. Divorce Mediation is Less Expensive
If you file for divorce needing to resolve issues of child custody, child support, spousal support, the division of property, and the division of debt, both spouses will need to hire a lawyer to help achieve his or her desired outcome. With many issues needing to be resolved, it won’t take long for each spouse’s attorneys’ fees to add up. In divorce mediation, there is only one mediator fee for the spouses to pay. So, you will be paying only one hourly rate every time you meet to mediate the divorce.
5. A Better Way to Start Your Post-Divorce Relationship
When the mediation ends, you and your spouse will likely be on better terms than if you’d spent a year or so battling each other in the courthouse. Instead of fostering hostility and resentment in court that can become nearly impossible to overcome even once the divorce is finalized, the mediation process facilitates communication between spouses in reaching decisions that are agreeable. This communication process allows spouses to end their marriage on peaceful terms and set the foundation for a better coparenting relationship.
The third question you should ask is – What are the Cons of Divorce Mediation?
1. You are Negotiating on Your Own
Not everyone is comfortable communicating and negotiating divorce matters without having an attorney by their side. A divorce mediator cannot provide you or your spouse with legal advice. A divorce mediator can only explain the law to both spouses. Some mediators allow attorneys to attend mediation while others will discourage that from happening as the presence of a lawyer can create an imbalance in the negotiations if the lawyer is negotiating and not the spouse. If you want to proceed with divorce mediation but also want to get legal advice, you should consult with a lawyer before or after mediation sessions.
2. Mediation isn’t Suitable for Spouses with a Power Imbalance
A successful mediation depends on a level playing field and full disclosure. Mediation can fail if either spouse fails to fully disclose assets or income or debt. Mediation is even less likely to be successful when a spouse has a history of being deceitful or untrustworthy during the marriage. This is especially true when a spouse is suspected squandering or hiding marital funds or property. You cannot reach a settlement in divorce mediation unless both spouses are truthful about all issues involved, including everything they earn, own, and owe. Mediation can also fail if one spouse has the upper hand in controlling various aspects of the family relationship. For example, a spouse who bullies and threatens to win arguments in the marriage might never agree to settle in mediation. Also, if one spouse is the victim of domestic violence during the marriage then he or she may be too scared to speak openly in a mediation session for fear of retaliation at home.
If, after weighing the pros and cons set forth above, you think mediation is a good fit for your divorce, you can discuss it with your spouse and see if he or she agrees. Both spouses both need to agree to divorce mediation and who will be the mediator. Should you and your spouse agree to divorce mediation, please know that we are here to help and ready to meet with you and your spouse to discuss if we are the right fit for your mediation.