Mediation is a process that is designed to help people reach the best agreements possible for themselves when they are separating or divorcing. A trained, professional mediator assists you in obtaining the information you need and in focusing on the issues that must be resolved in order to separate or divorce as amicably as possible.
Mediation is generally much less expensive than litigation, you schedule sessions with the mediator by mutual agreement, mediation generally takes less time than other processes, and, most importantly, you make the best decisions possible for you and your family rather than have someone else decide for you.
Most divorce and family mediators have completed a basic 40-hour divorce and family mediation training course. Many mediators apprentice with other mediators or obtain supervision from experienced mediators after they complete their basic training. In addition, mediators generally pursue additional training in the substantive issues of separation and divorce. Many mediators have extensive training and advanced degrees in law, psychology and other areas relevant to working with families.
If you are involved in a divorce or another family issue that is filed in court, any agreement you reach either will or may be filed with the court. If you have a lawyer, you should speak with our lawyer about how this works and what your options are. The court generally reviews the agreement to assure that it conforms to the standards that have been established, such as child support guidelines and, where it doesn’t, looks at what special circumstances exist.
If your dispute is not filed in court, the agreement may be a contract that can be enforceable. Depending on the nature of the agreement and the dispute, if there is a breach of the contract, you may be able to file a claim with the court. A lawyer can advise you on your particular situation.
Approach hiring a mediator just like you would any other professional, such as a physician, lawyer, or accountant. Generally, you should obtain the following information:
Another important consideration is your comfort level with the mediator’s style and approach to the process.
Generally, mediation sessions are scheduled to last from one and a half to two hours depending on the couple’s needs and available time. Some couples prefer longer sessions while others find that shorter sessions are more productive. In certain circumstances or locations, half or full day sessions may occur.
At the initial mediation session, you will begin to identify the issues that need to be decided in your particular situation. What these issues are, how urgent the decisions are, how quickly you are able to gather the required information, and how fast you wish to proceed will determine the schedule you set to meet with the mediator. One, two or even more weeks may elapse between sessions. You may meet with the mediator over the course of a month or several months. In situations where couples have no children and no property, a shorter time frame and fewer sessions may be sufficient.
Depending on your mediator’s training and background, the mediator may wish to meet with your children at some point during the mediation. When mediators meet with children, or with both the children and parents, it is important to understand that mediators are not asking the children to weigh in on decisions such as where the children will live or what the parenting schedule will be. Children are an integral part of the family and are impacted by the changes that occur. They do not have decision making power, however, they do have a voice about what is occurring.
It is important for you to discuss your children’s’ knowledge of the separation or divorce and what involvement they may have in the mediation process with the mediator. Mediators are very concerned about keeping the best interests of the children at the forefront of the mediation process.
Your mediation costs will be based on an hourly fee. This fee will be charged for all mediation sessions and services, including time spent by the mediator in reviewing and drafting documents, telephone consultations, and consultations by the mediator with your attorneys or other advisors in the process. The cost of mediation is generally quite a bit less than if you each hired lawyers to represent you in your divorce without using mediation. The cost and how you wish to share the cost can be discussed as part of the first mediation session or before you meet with the mediator.
You and your spouse or partner will usually both be present at the medication session. The mediator will often choose to speak with each of you privately at least once during the mediation process and sometimes more often. On occasion, people choose to include their attorneys in the mediation sessions, or the mediator may ask that the attorneys be present.
Unless you have been ordered to mediation by the court, your attendance is voluntary. Whether or not the court has ordered you to attend mediation, you are never under any obligation to come to an agreement.
An agreement is always voluntary. You may end mediation at any time or the mediator may end mediation if the mediator does not think it is productive.
After mediation is completed, you will take the Memorandum of Understanding to your attorney for review. One of the attorneys will prepare the final document, which is called a Separation Agreement, Settlement Agreement or some variation of that, for filing in court. Depending on your preference and situation, either you or the attorney may file the papers for divorce. The mediator will speak with you about this during the mediation process.
Please don’t hesitate to ask your mediator about the process of mediation or the divorce process at any time.
Jori Sparry is a certified mediator with her training completed at Northwestern University. She is an approved mediator in the Tenth Judicial District Court and Eleventh Judicial District Court. She continues to receive her continuing education in parental alienation and high conflict custody issues. She works through the courts to mediate issues with custody and divorce. Her style of mediation is forward focus.