Creve Coeur & O'Fallon, MO Divorce Mediator
Although the most common divorce process is for each spouse to hire an attorney and litigate the divorce, that is not the only way it can be done. Since more and more people would like to avoid a difficult path filled with conflict, drama, and collateral damage, different methods of moving through the divorce process have evolved. One method of amicable resolution is divorce mediation.
What Is Divorce Mediation?
Mediation is considered one type of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), which is a broader term describing the settlement of legal matters outside of the traditional judicial process. Divorce mediation involves the spouses making their own agreements regarding finances, assets, and parental rights with the help of a third-party mediator facilitating the conversations out of court. Mediation can provide a neutral environment to help the parties explore and understand their interests and options and come to an agreement that both deem fair and acceptable.
The divorce mediator is there to help the divorcing couple communicate effectively and compromise on issues the spouses disagree on. The mediator is invested in shaping an agreement that suits both you and your spouse’s individual and joint goals. They are a neutral party who does not represent either of you or provide legal advice.
If you and your spouse are interested in divorce mediation, contact The Marks Law Firm, L.L.C. and ask to speak with Jonathan D. Marks today. Jonathan has over 25 years of experience in divorce mediation. He can help facilitate settlement by asking questions and providing the information necessary to keep the divorce discussion moving forward in a positive manner.
How Divorce Mediation Works
In divorce mediation, you and your spouse meet with the mediator, share information, and make good-faith efforts to reach an agreeable outcome. Mediation can help resolve one or more disputed issues relating to child custody, property, debt, and support. Mediation meetings are transparent and continue until all critical issues are agreed upon or cannot be resolved without a judge.
Divorce mediation sessions are scheduled at the convenience of each spouse and the mediator. Sessions are held jointly in most circumstances to ensure collaboration; however, sessions can be in “caucus” depending on the requests of the parties or the needs of the mediator. Caucuses are private meetings that take place within divorce mediation and are between the mediator and one of the parties. Caucusing may be needed if something is preventing the divorcing couple from agreeing on a particular matter and the mediator must pull one spouse to the side to better facilitate the issue. If they must do this, they will also pull the other party to the side to discuss the matter. The parties are given an equal amount of separate time.
Caucusing is also an option if there is a power issue — such as domestic violence or if one spouse does not feel they are able to negotiate for themself with the other spouse present. Divorce mediation will be able to address each couple’s unique needs.
Stages of Divorce Mediation
Prior to your first mediation session, Jonathan will have you provide the background information needed to efficiently begin your mediation process. Along with a detailed intake questionnaire, you will provide financial documents such as tax returns, bank statements, pay stubs, property appraisals, securities statements, retirement values, debt statements, etc. Jonathan will then review the details of your family and finances to better understand the situation before beginning your first mediation session.
- Whether the first meeting is a joint or caucus session, the mediator will begin by explaining the mediation process and answering any questions you and your spouse might have. The number of sessions it will take to complete the mediation process depends on the situation, but typically at the end of the first two hours, the mediator and spouses should have a better feel as to how many it may take.
- The mediator will ask what you and your spouse agree on, and what you still need to work out. This may include division of property and assets, spousal and/or child support, and child custody. The mediator will help you understand what might happen if you were to ask a court to decide these issues instead of working together to agree on a compromise.
- The mediator helps you and your spouse frame an outline of needs and interests. They will discuss you and your spouse’s individual priorities and desired outcomes, why you or they want those outcomes, as well as any concerns. This stage helps develop a settlement that successfully addresses each spouse’s most important interests.
- After framing issues and interests clearly, negotiations can begin. This involves exploring possible solutions to settle each issue. The mediator helps you and your spouse brainstorm options that might work for both of you. If you and your spouse communicate and work well together, then the divorce mediation process provides you with an opportunity to decide with your spouse collaboratively how to resolve all of your divorce issues. You must enter divorce mediation with the understanding that some compromise is needed. If one spouse enters the room with a “take it or leave it” attitude, then the mediator will need to spend a lot of time getting beyond that impasse to facilitate an agreement. If the mediator cannot get past this impasse, then the mediation will be unsuccessful.
Divorce mediation can conclude in different ways:
- If you reach a full agreement through mediation, the mediator will help draft a final marital settlement agreement to present to the court for approval. Both spouses (and their attorneys, if they have any) have the chance to thoroughly review the agreement before signing. (Signing the marital settlement agreement does not finalize the divorce. The couple must file the settlement agreement with the court and ask that the judge incorporate it into the final uncontested divorce decree.)
- If only a few issues are resolved, a stipulation agreement may be filed with the court and the remaining disputed issues will proceed to a contested hearing where a judge will listen to both sides, then issue a final order.
- If you are unable to reach a mutual decision on any issue, you or your spouse can halt the process and proceed in the traditional manner in court.
Benefits of Divorce Mediation
Divorce mediation is a popular method of resolution for many reasons:
- It allows you to have control and decide what is best for you and your family by designing an agreement tailored to your unique situation.
- It is typically less expensive and quicker than the traditional judicial process.
- It provides an environment that encourages free, open, and honest discussion of important issues between the spouses.
- It is private and confidential.
- It can be a smoother experience for children.
- It is an easier process for handling post-settlement disputes.
With divorce mediation, you and your spouse can avoid some of the costly pitfalls of litigation including:
- Paying a large retainer
- Serving your spouse with divorce papers/responding to divorce papers
- Correspondence between lawyers
Serving formal written discovery requests
- Settlement and Pretrial Conferences
- Possible Appeal
How Long Does Divorce Mediation Take?
How long the mediation process takes depends on how well the spouses are willing to communicate, collaborate, and compromise. It can take a few weeks or many months. Mediation is almost always faster than going through divorce court. Most cases take three to six months.
Mediation vs. Collaborative Divorce
The other type of ADR that is commonly practiced, called collaborative law, involves both spouses agreeing to commit to a solution-oriented process. With more built-in incentives to resolve conflict, collaborative law involves meeting with your spouse to collectively agree on issues such as custody, property, and support.
For example, while mediation allows either spouse to halt the process and proceed to court, if the same thing happens in collaborative law, both parties must seek new attorneys to represent them and start over with each expert retained to assist in the collaborative process. In this way, collaborative divorce tends to have more stringent requirements and be much more expensive than mediation.
When Is Divorce Mediation Not Recommended?
You may think divorce mediation only works for spouses who separate amicably, but mediation can be successful for many couples, even ones that don’t get along well. However, divorce mediation may not be successful if one party is dishonest about finances or unwilling to cooperate. It may also not be appropriate for cases involving domestic violence.
Jonathan did an excellent and timely job with the mediation process. He went out of his way to explain things from a legal perspective in terms that both parties could clearly understand. He is fair, flexible, and has the ability to make difficult topics easy to discuss in a constructive way. Highly recommended.
Contact Our Divorce Mediation Attorneys in Creve Coeur & O’Fallon, MO
Call Jonathan D. Marks today at 314-720-8882 or send us an email to learn more about divorce mediation. Whether you are looking for a divorce mediator or for an attorney to assist you through the divorce mediation process, Jonathan can help.