Mediation is increasingly becoming the divorce process of choice. Why? Because Mediation results in a personalized and long-lasting resolution without the damaging emotional and financial costs of litigation. Divorce is the undoing of a marriage, but not the undoing of a family. Divorce can be emotionally and financially devastating, but it does not have to be. Mediation provides an alternative path. Mediation is an effective tool for resolving divorce outside of the more common litigation model. This approach offers positive cost-effective alternatives to dispute resolution in several areas including divorce, child custody, child support, or other family law issues (e.g., post-judgment modifications of existing court orders). Mediation attorneys can help you reach an amicable settlement to your dispute.
How Does Mediation Work?
In Mediation, there is one Mediator. The Mediator should be a specially trained, knowledgeable, and experienced family lawyer. The best Mediators provide a safe, non-confrontational environment that allows both parties to identify, negotiate, and resolve the issues and challenges they face. The spouses meet with the Mediator—usually in the Mediator’s office or conference room, but sometimes via Zoom or Skype. The Mediator establishes ground rules to ensure that emotionally charged issues can be discussed with respect and consideration. The Mediator explains the divorce process and the documentation needed to negotiate and resolve the divorce and helps both spouses gather the necessary information to allow the parties to reach a fair and lasting resolution. Mediation allows spouses to create a resolution that is specific to their family’s needs. This is in sharp contrast to having a Judge decide your case. In the litigation model, a Judge does not really get to know you or your family. You and your spouse are the most knowledgeable about your specific situation and Mediation allows you to have greater control over your destiny. Mediation allows for a more individualized solution than a court can offer. When parenting agreements and financial distribution plans are made by the spouses themselves, there is a better chance of meeting the needs of the family and creating a settlement that will last. Mediated divorce agreements have a higher rate of long-term parental cooperation and far fewer returns to court for post-judgment issues.
Mediated divorces typically take less time than litigated divorces. In litigated cases, when issues arise, lawyers file motions in court to resolve these issues. Litigation is frequently a long and expensive process. Court hearings increase legal fees and, most importantly, raise the conflict level between the parties. Moreover, Covid has slowed down an already overcrowded family law court docket. Recently filed cases are frequently given trial dates that are 18 months in the future.
In a mediated divorce, there is one Mediator. The Mediator remains neutral between the parties and does not represent either spouse. The Mediator does not give “specific” legal advice to either party or act as a lawyer for either party. That said, the Mediator may provide information about the legal system, how issues may be viewed by Judges, and offer alternatives for resolving issues. The Mediator can point out things that both parties need to consider in the decision-making process. This exchange of information helps both spouses to negotiate with each other in confidence. When necessary, the Mediator will refer the couple to third-party experts for services such as property appraisals and valuations of business and retirement accounts. We maintain a Team-100 list of referral sources regarding these types of services. Moreover, the Divorce Mediation Team has both financial and mental health professionals affiliated with the practice to provide rapid and individualized attention on an as-needed basis.
The Mediator knows that the clients need to be fully informed and educated about the issues in their divorce. This is one of the most important decisions the spouses will be making for their future and the future of their family. A good divorce Mediator strongly encourages Mediation clients to meet with an independent attorney to provide each spouse with independent legal advice and the knowledge necessary to make long-lasting, educated, and fully informed decisions. Review Counsel do not attend the Mediation sessions, but instead serve as a resource for clients to get specific guidance regarding strategy. Review Counsel will typically review the final Agreement(s) to reassure clients that the terms are acceptable from their point-of-view. Even with this added cost, a mediated divorce remains substantially less expensive than a litigated divorce because the overall attorney time is far less than in litigated cases.
Mediation Is Less Expensive
On average, most divorce attorneys charge a retainer fee between $7,500 and $25,000 (for each spouse) to litigate a divorce case. Once this initial retainer is exhausted, the attorney will require an additional retainer to cover ongoing legal services. The retainer amount will be substantially more in complex cases that involve child custody or financial disputes. The total cost for both spouses from beginning to end for a mediated divorce is significantly less than in a litigated divorce. Some reports reflect that a mediated divorce is on average 40% less than a litigated case, wherein over 90% of cases settle without a trial. The total cost of a mediated divorce typically ranges between $3,500 and $10,000, of course, circumstances may vary. Most importantly, “cost” should be measured not only in dollars, but also in the emotional cost to the parties and their children.
Finalizing the Divorce in Court
The Mediator will complete all documents required by the court for the divorce. In Connecticut, the Mediator frequently attends the final dissolution hearing and assists the couple at this court appearance. During Covid, the court instituted new procedures and forms that allow the court to grant a final divorce without the parties being present.
Timeframe for a Mediated Divorce
How long a mediated divorce takes depends on the complexity of the issues and the ability of the couples to be flexible as they negotiate a fair and complete Marital Settlement Agreement. The average mediated divorce case takes approximately four to five sessions (1-2 hours each) typically spread out over 3 to 4 months. More complex cases can take up to 6 to 9 months to complete. The diligence and calendars of the clients are a driving factor in the timeline, but the court’s availability typically is not a factor.
High Net Worth or Emotionally Complicated Cases
No case is too complicated to be settled using Mediation. In complex cases, we frequently engage outside experts in the financial, parenting, and mental health fields. The Divorce Mediation Team is just that—a team that is at your disposal. We can help resolve cases regardless of the size of the marital estate. Couples who are committed to avoiding the financial and emotional costs of litigation are motivated to negotiate workable and equitable agreements. The role of a good Mediator is to facilitate and guide spouses through an often painful and complex chapter of their lives.
Find Out If Mediation Is Right for You
Mediation is not easy. It is tough to sit in the same room as your soon-to-be former spouse and resolve how you will parent your children, divide marital assets, and determine support so each of you can achieve the best possible future for you and your family. There are moments of sadness, frustration, and upset. On some occasions, there is anger, but a good Mediator can guide their clients through adversity. To be sure, sometimes clients reach an apparent impasse. If that happens, the Mediator will educate, empower, and provide creative solutions to get through any impasse and help clients reach the finish line. We help couples to focus on the goal of creating a fair, comprehensive, and workable Marital Settlement Agreement. You are no longer going to be married, but, in very important ways you will always be connected. We are big believers in the Mediation process, and we believe it will work for most divorcing couples. That said, it isn’t for everyone and there are times when we do not recommend it. For example, when one party feels powerless when negotiating with the other, or when there are profound mental health issues that impact the ability to have productive meetings.
The Connecticut Divorce Mediation Team offers highly experienced and knowledgeable Mediators as well as financial and mental health professionals. Contact us today for a consultation. Our offices are located in Fairfield, New Haven, New London, and Hartford Counties. To schedule a consultation contact us at: (203) 769-3995 or visit us at www.connecticutdivorcemediation.com.