Did you ever have a disagreement with someone and then try to pull a trusted third party into the conflict as a voice of reason? Divorce mediation is a bit like that.
The third party is a neutral mediator, trained in divorce law and considered an expert when it comes to aiding couples in working out their divorce issues.
Mediation May Be Mandatory, Compromise Is Not
In some states, such as California, it is mandatory for divorcing couples to sit down with a court mediator to try to work out child custody issues, according to lawyers at Bohm Wildish law firm in Costa Mesa.
However, most mediation is not mandatory, and serves as just one possible way for you to work things out with your spouse. Even in court-ordered mediation, no one is compelled to force you to agree to terms you're not in favor of.
Resolving issues informally with your spouse is less expensive, quicker, and not as emotionally damaging to the family.
Picking a Mediator
The mediation process varies, depending on whether it is court-ordered or privately arranged. Generally, in a court-ordered custody mediation, you are assigned to a mediator and given a time and place to appear for a meeting. In a private mediation, you and your spouse are required to select the mediator yourselves.
Your best bet is to obtain a personal referral from a divorced friend, or to select someone from a list provided by the court. All private mediators do not charge the same hourly fee, so be sure to confirm cost before making your choice.
First Meeting in Mediation
Some mediators prefer to meet with both spouses together, while others prefer to see them separately, according to legal experts at Nolo. If you have a preference, discuss this when you are interviewing prospective mediators.
In either case, the mediator will listen to your position, and to your spouse's position, then facilitate in determining which issues you agree upon and which must be resolved. A good mediator will also assist in identifying the facts required to resolve certain issues. For example, he/she may ask each of you to obtain independent valuations of the family home if you and your spouse have varying notions of its worth.
Subsequent Mediation Meetings
At the second meeting, you and your spouse will be expected to bring whatever information was required, so the mediator can help you discuss ways to resolve outstanding issues. An experienced mediator will be familiar with divorce law and may advise how other divorcing couples often resolve the types of issues you and your spouse are grappling with.
Agreement or Court Trial
If you and your spouse come to an agreement, the mediator—or your attorneys—will put it in writing. You and your spouse must review the written agreement, then sign it and file it with the court. If the two of you cannot agree on every item, you may sign off on just the issues you did resolve, which will reduce the scope of a trial. If you are unable to agree on any major issues, the next step is to set a trial date.
In most cases, mediators are bound to keep confidential any discussions that occurred during your meetings. However, in some jurisdictions, mediators must make a custody recommendation to the court if a mandatory child custody mediation fails.
Gregory C. Frank is the CEO and Founder of DivorceForce.