Leah Hadley, CDFA, MAFF, mediator and divorce financial planner, is passionate about making the divorce process as painless as possible.
Mediation Is Too Often Overlooked
Nearly half of first marriages and a greater number of subsequent marriages end in divorce. However, a very small percentage of those divorces are settled using a divorce mediator. Often times, when people think about getting a divorce, they first think about hiring an attorney. An attorney serves an important role in a divorce by providing legal advice. However, there are other professionals who can support you through the process, giving you more control while making the process more efficient at a lower cost. Mediation is a great option worth considering. Listed below are five reasons why divorce mediation could benefit you.
The role of a mediator in a divorce mediation is that of a facilitator. The mediator facilitates the conversation between the two parties, in order to reach a mutually agreeable solution. You do not have to be getting along to use the mediation process. You do not even have to be speaking to each other as the mediator can serve as a go-between for the two parties. There are even opportunities to conduct virtual mediation sessions if you do not want to meet together in person. The key is that it gives you the opportunity to be directly involved in the process of coming up with an agreement.
This is especially important if there are children involved and there will be a shared parenting agreement. It is likely that you will have to communicate with your former spouse long after your marriage ends, if you are co-parenting. Thus, working together on mutually agreeable parenting schedules assists in setting the foundation for the challenges ahead as there will be many decisions that will need to be made in the future with respect to your children.
Who does not like their privacy? Having discussions about every aspect of your personal life can feel invasive regardless of the location but having every detail documented in the courts makes all that information public record. Most of us would prefer to keep our personal information confidential.
3. Takes Less Time
Generally, working with a mediator can speed up the divorce process as the parties work together to identify mutually agreeable solutions. However, with one of the benefits of mediation being control, it is the divorcing parties who drive the mediation process, determining how long it will take.
Compared to going through two separate attorneys, mediation can save a significant amount of time. One requirement of mediation is that both parties agree to full disclosure. This eliminates the time it takes for discovery motions. Similarly, it eliminates the time spent waiting for attorney communications. Some attorneys (certainly not all) are known for drawing out this process to increase their fees.
While not every case settles when working with a mediator, that does not mean that the process was a waste of time. Taking what was agreed upon in mediation and working with attorneys to resolve areas that could not be agreed upon during mediation, still shortens the overall process.
4. Costs Less
There are lots of statistics thrown around but the average cost of a divorce in the U.S. is around $20,000. Many end up paying significantly more while some are fortunate enough to get away with less (usually if there are no assets and/or children involved). Mediators generally charge by the hour and while their fees might be in line with attorney fees, shortening the process saves the parties quite a bit of money. Additionally, while working with the mediator to negotiate a settlement, the parties are usually paying one professional rather than each paying their own attorneys to negotiate their settlement or the most costly route, battling it out in court.
5. Improved Post-Divorce Relationship
Improving your relationship with your soon-to-be ex- might be the last thing on your mind right now. However, if you are going to have to deal with each other in the future, you will be off to a much better start following a divorce mediation than you would be following a contentious litigated divorce. I recognize that there can be a lot of strong emotions when going through a divorce (anger, heartbreak, shame, fear, resentment, etc.). However, divorce is not just the end of a marriage, it is the beginning of the next chapter of your life. Leaving those feelings back with the marriage that has ended will help you to move forward into a more positive mindset.
Drawbacks of Divorce Mediation
While divorce mediation is a great option for many, it is not for everyone.
If one of the parties does not feel safe participating in mediation, I would not recommend it. There are some things that a trained mediator can do to balance power during a mediation. However, I don't think that anyone can feel confident in their decisions when in a state of fear.
If you feel that your spouse could be involved with criminal financial activity, I recommend getting a good attorney to make sure you are protecting yourself as much as possible.
Likewise, if you feel like your spouse has not been honest in providing full disclosure, I recommend working with an attorney rather than going through mediation.
Also, if one of the parties is mentally incompetent, mediation might not be appropriate. If mediation is attempted under this circumstance, an advocate for the party who is mentally incompetent should be included. The advocate could be a family member, friend, social worker, lawyer, or other trusted professional.
Preparing for Mediation
Even if you have chosen mediation, I still recommend that you seek counsel from an attorney before, during, and/or after mediation. While your mediator might be an attorney, s/he is not acting in that capacity while serving as your mediator. If you really feel like you are at a disadvantage during mediation, you could consider bringing your attorney to the mediation session. Just let everyone know if that's the case so that the other party can do the same if s/he desires.
Collect copies of your tax returns, financial statements, mortgage, etc. If there is a business involved, get a valuation done. If there are some valuable assets acquired during the marriage, get an appraisal for each. It is very difficult to negotiate the financials if you don't have all the information so arm yourself with all of the information you will need to make an informed decision.
If you do not fully understand your financial situation (investments and other assets, debts, etc.), meet with a financial adviser or accountant who specializes in divorce. They will generally have the CDFA credential and/or advertise their divorce services, specifically. They can explain what you need to know in order to feel confident in negotiating your financial settlement.
Enter the mediation with a clear understanding of what is most important to you and also consider areas where you might be willing to give a little. To the extent that you can, leave your emotions at the door. I know that is easier said than done but in order to have a productive mediation session that is focused on what's most important to you, you want to be as clear-headed as possible. That also means getting a good night's rest and making sure you've eaten something prior to your mediation session.
If you follow these tips and remember all of the important benefits of mediation, it will set you up for a productive conversation.
I Want to Hear From You!
Preparing for Divorce Mediation
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Leah Hadley-Villalobos (author) from Cleveland on March 27, 2017:
Thank you for your comment, dashingscorpio! I agree that many going through divorce are looking for revenge of some kind. However, people are often drawing out the problem for themselves when they seek revenge through the court system. I highly encourage those who are angry or have other emotions making it difficult to let go of the past to seek help from a mental health professional. While there is a lot of emotion involved in divorce, it can also be the largest financial transaction of your life so you want to go in with a clear head regardless of the process you choose to use.
dashingscorpio from Chicago on March 26, 2017:
Very useful information.
"If one of the parties does not feel safe participating in mediation, I would not recommend it" - True!
Divorce Mediation is great for couples who aren't fighting.
Oftentimes divorces are bitter because the couple has chosen not to work peacefully to exit the marriage. Usually one person is bitter over the breakup and wants to "hurt" the other or make sure they exit the marriage as wounded as possible.
The top three causes of divorce usually are.
1. A "deal breaker" was committed (cheated, abusive, drugs).
2. No longer want the same things/have different priorities.
3. Gradually someone fell out of love over time.
Rarely is a breakup or divorce a "mutual decision".
One person initiates it and the other eventually accepts it.