When you’re faced with the tough decision to get a divorce, the typical instinct is to lawyer up immediately. But hold on a second! There’s a fantastic alternative that’s often overlooked – mediation. I want to share with you why starting with mediation is a smart choice, dispel some common misconceptions, and highlight the numerous benefits of this incredibly flexible process.
Legal Protections Are Already in Place
It’s essential to understand that divorce laws already provide many of the legal protections needed in a divorce. You do not need to immediately hire an attorney and engage in a lengthy and costly legal battle in order to be protected by these laws. Instead, mediation can help you navigate the divorce process in a way that considers your unique circumstances while still allowing you to make sure your legal rights are upheld.
Legal Support in Mediation
Choosing mediation does not mean forgoing legal support altogether. In fact, it is often recommended to have a consulting attorney on your team while in mediation. These attorneys can provide guidance, ensuring that you are making informed decisions during the mediation process. Just be sure that you chose your consulting attorney wisely. An attorney who is primarily a litigator is not often the best choice as a consulting attorney because they’re looking at things through the lens of a litigator. If you are choosing mediation, you want to make sure that your consulting attorney is trained in alternative dispute resolution, like mediation or collaborative law. More importantly, you want to make sure that they spend a higher percentage of their time working in resolving disputes outside of court rather litigating inside of the courts.
Focusing on Key Issues
The reality is that most of the issues that need to be resolved in a divorce are not legal issues but rather personal issues. The only “legal” part of a divorce is the filing of the court documents and the final judgement. In a divorce, the primary issues that need to be addressed are the division of assets and debts, support (spousal and child) and a parenting plan if you have children. Mediation is an ideal platform for couples to collaboratively work through these crucial matters. Unlike litigation, where a judge makes decisions, mediation allows the involved parties to shape their own future.
Mediation empowers you to make decisions that will impact your life directly. This process fosters creativity in problem-solving and allows for a customized resolution that suits your family’s unique needs. With mediation, you are not restricted by arbitrary court procedures or impersonal judgments. Remember that you’re the expert in your life and should be the one making the decisions that will have a long-term impact on your life.
Mediation is not only more empowering; it is also much more cost-effective than litigation. Many couples can complete their divorce through mediation for as little as $5,000 or less, which pales in comparison to the exorbitant legal fees often associated with litigation. In fact, some individuals spend $5,000 with an attorney merely to file the initial petition and complete the required disclosures. In mediation you also have much more control over the costs. Mediation allows you to decide what decisions you and your spouse can make by yourself and what issues are going to require additional guidance from a mediator.
Mediation also offers the advantage of speed. Litigated divorces often take a year or more to reach a final resolution. In contrast, mediation clients can often resolve their issues in just a few months, provided both parties are willing to cooperate. This efficiency can help reduce stress for you and your children and allow you all to move forward with your lives more swiftly.
Even in cases with a high level of conflict, mediation is a viable option. Litigation tends to escalate conflicts, making an already challenging situation even more acrimonious. In contrast, skilled mediators can manage and de-escalate conflicts, creating an environment conducive to productive discussions. For couples who feel they cannot be in the same room, shuttle mediation—where the mediator carries proposals back and forth—can be a valuable option.
You don’t have to resolve all issues through mediation. Couples can come to agreements on some or most matters and submit them to the court to make them legally binding. This allows you to isolate only a few issues for potential litigation. Too often I see people litigating EVERYTHING and then the things that they were in agreement on become chess pieces in the litigation process.
Better Preparation for Litigation
Should mediation ultimately fail, you will be better prepared for litigation. You will have gained insight into your spouse’s positions and motivations, and also completed most of the necessary court documents/disclosures. This means you won’t need to pay high attorney fees to gather this information from scratch.
Mediation is a powerful and often overlooked option for couples going through a divorce. By choosing mediation as your first step, you can save both time and money, reduce conflict, and gain more control over the decisions that shape your future. While there are certainly situations where litigation is necessary, don’t make it your default choice. Embrace the opportunity to mediate and find common ground, making the divorce process as smooth and amicable as possible.