Understand the purpose of mediation for a positive, productive experience
Divorce is one of life’s most stressful experiences that brings up a wide range of very unpleasant emotions. To make matters even worse, while the world as you know it is ending, you need to find a way to make clear decisions that can have an impact on you and your family for decades.
Successful mediation can help you avoid the hassle, stress, and exorbitant expense of a lengthy court battle. It’s hard to have a positive outcome, however, if you don’t know what you’re getting into. Here are answers to some basic questions about mediation and a few tips for making the process go as smoothly as possible.
What is mediation?
Mediation provides a venue to work out agreements on issues related to your divorce. Mediation is also an effective course of action for other types of disputes as well.
What is the mediator’s role?
The mediator is not a mental-health counselor. His or her job is not to take sides or advocate for you. The good news is that the mediator is not there to advocate for your ex-partner either. He or she is there to help the negotiations move forward productively.
What are some benefits of mediation?
The immediate benefit is avoiding court and coming up with an agreement that works for you, your ex-partner, and your children. You and your ex-partner come to an agreement. It isn’t handed down by a judge. Even though it involves negotiating directly with someone you might not like, you have a strong voice if you can craft your own agreement. A longer-term benefit is learning how to communicate effectively with your ex-partner.
Does mediation always work?
No. Mediation is voluntary, so either party can decide to stop mediation at any point. Also, if you or your partner is stubborn or overly emotional during the process, it can be hard to make progress. If you or your partner has a history of violence, substance abuse, or psychiatric problems, mediation might not be your best bet.
How much does mediation cost?
Let’s face it. Divorce is expensive no matter which route you choose. Mediators can cost up to several hundred dollars an hour. The big advantage of mediation in terms of cost is that it is a much more efficient process. If you and your ex-partner can reach an agreement in three or four sessions, it may end up costing less than $1,000. It is not unusual for mediation to cost several thousand dollars, but keep in mind that you and your ex-partner are splitting that cost instead of each paying a lawyer.
After the mediator helps you hammer out an agreement, you still need to pay court fees to finalize the divorce in court. Those fees vary by state.
What does the mediator actually do?
The mediator helps facilitate a productive, respectful conversation, assuring that each party feels heard and understood. He or she will set goals, keep the conversations on topic, and even refer you to resources in the community if your needs are outside of his or her scope.
Some mediators will meet with the parties individually, and some only meet with their clients together.
How can I find a good mediator?
There is no national certification or training requirement for mediators; regulations vary by state. There are classes in general mediation and specific to child custody, visitation, and property matters.
In some states you are required to go through mediation even if you assume you will end up in front of a judge. In that case, the court will normally appoint a mediator to help you and your ex-partner come to an agreement.
Is this the same as collaborative divorce?
No, but the underlying principle is the same: keeping the process peaceful and productive. In a collaborative divorce, each party has his or her own attorney who helps hammer out an agreement.
What happens after we reach an agreement?
You file your documents in court. The court still has a role, but you and your ex-partner are the ones deciding the details of your agreement, not a judge.
Danielle Bostick, a former Solo Mom and ESME’s Wellness–Mental Health Resource Guide, is a Latin teacher, an advocate, and a mom to six kids in Winchester, Virginia. When not working as an educator, Bostick writes about the National Football League for various sites and sexual assault and child sexual abuse for the Huffington Post. You can find her on Twitter: @danibostick, and on Facebook: Dani Bostick.
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