It’s a common misconception that you need to hire a lawyer for divorce.
There is no law anywhere that requires you to involve attorneys at any point during your divorce. Not even for the filing.
Anyone who tells you otherwise isn’t being truthful.
Most couples hire divorce lawyers because they don’t know there’s a better alternative or they think their case is much too difficult to be handled any other way.
There's no doubt the issues surrounding divorce are complex so it’s best to work with someone who is well-versed in the areas that need to be resolved.
But that person is not necessarily a lawyer.
So if something in your gut is telling you that hiring a divorce attorney is a bad idea, how can you get a divorce without a lawyer?
Believe it or not, divorce is more about finances than about family law. In fact, three of the four issues that need to be resolved during the divorce process are financial in nature.
So you are much better off choosing a divorce mediator with a financial background than a family law attorney without one.
Divorce by mediation is a non-adversarial, alternative dispute resolution process led by a caring and neutral professional mediator that helps divorcing couples resolve the issues of divorce, out of court.
Divorce mediation can resolve all of the issues necessary for your divorce.
These issues will vary in complexity based on your unique situation and may include, but are not limited to:
Along with the four main issues listed above, divorce mediators can also help couples resolve a host of other important issues such as who will care for the family pet, religion your children will be raised in, etc.
Let's take a closer look at each of the four main issues...
Parenting Plans & Timesharing:
Once you and your spouse divorce and establish separate households, there isn’t much you can do to eliminate the loneliness you might feel on nights your kids aren’t with you.
But you can make things easier on yourself and your children by negotiating a comprehensive parenting plan and timesharing arrangement.
In addition to the standard topics such as where the kids will spend nights, weekends and holidays, you’ll also need to agree on things like how they’ll get from house-to-house, who will help them with their homework and who will attend parent-teacher conferences, just to name a few.
Do you or your spouse travel overnight for work?
Will you need to change up the schedule occasionally?
And what about overnight guests during parenting time?
It may be hard to think about that now, but there will come a day when you’ve moved past your divorce and you'll start seeing someone new. All of these issues and more must be covered in a good plan.
The well-being of the children is often the most important concern for divorcing parents. And divorce mediation is the best option if you want to create a thorough, customized and flexible parenting plan that's in the best interest of your kids.
Child Support & Expense Sharing:
Many people think child support is a simple calculation. But there’s so much more to it than simply calculating a support amount.
As it turns out, it's quite a complex negotiation.
There are a number of factors that can come into play when determining child support. And to make matters worse, every state in the US has a different formula.
Most parents think child support calculators output a specific dollar amount and that’s that. But the reality is these guidelines are just a starting point for negotiations.
Not only that, but there are a number of other expenses not covered by the basic support amount.
Figuring out who pays for what, who approves which expenses and what contribution is required from each parent can be tricky. And requires a skilled divorce mediator to help moms and dads ensure the financial needs of their children will be met.
Much like when it comes to developing a parenting plan, if you have children, mediation is a great way to put them first and ensure your children don't become economic victims of divorce.
Division of Marital Assets & Liabilities:
The process of splitting your marital assets and liabilities is done in some (most) states under the guiding principles of Equitable Distribution. While in others, it's done under the guiding principles of Community Property.
Regardless of whether you live in an "equitable distribution state" or a "community property state," it doesn't necessarily mean assets and liabilities will be split 50-50. It's up to the parties to decide.
Unless, of course, a judge gets involved and then they get to decide.
No matter whether they’re assets or liabilities, you’ll need to value them, negotiate how they'll be divided and move them from one column to another.
You need to be aware of the tax implications of certain transactions. And the paperwork required in executing such transactions. You’ll also want to be clear on what exactly is a marital asset or liability as some can be both marital and pre-marital.
The division of marital assets and liabilities is less about the law and more about money and negotiation. Making mediation an ideal forum to negotiate and come to agreement on this issue.
Alimony is the most emotional, most challenging and most difficult topic of all.
Simply stated, alimony is a payment from one ex-spouse to the other and is intended to aid the lower earning spouse in making the transition from married to single. It is not intended to unjustly enrich the recipient party, or punish the paying party.
It is strictly based on need and is gender neutral. Both men and women can receive alimony.
But unlike child support in which each state is required by the federal government to have a guideline calculation, there are very few guidelines available for alimony. And the ones that exist are open to interpretation and are quite controversial.
In addition to the difficulty in coming to an agreement, there are a host of other implications such as:
We have yet to encounter any of our clients choosing to use the alimony amount that any guideline in their state outputted. Instead, they want to discuss and negotiate and amount and duration they both think is fair.
Alimony is less about the law and more about money and negotiation. Once again making mediation the ideal forum to negotiate and come to agreement on this delicate issue.
I am happy I chose to mediate because during the entire process, I was completely in control of the settlement outcome and remained amicable with my now ex-husband.
We have been divorced almost 2 years and our family still interacts as a unit for holidays and birthdays. None of that could have been possible if we had chosen to battle our way through the legal system with divorce lawyers.
Using mediation for divorce allows couples to settle their differences like adults rather than fighting like children while avoiding litigation in court.
There are many divorce mediation benefits. Here are just a few...
Regardless of whether you’re the initiator of the proceedings or a reluctant spouse, you have a choice in which path forward you take.
Our expert divorce mediator Joe will:
And ultimately help you and your spouse come to mutually acceptable agreements on all of the required issues to peacefully end your marriage.
There's a lot more to these divorce methods and how they work, but here are just a few of the many differences between using a divorce mediator vs a divorce lawyer.
In an attorney-driven process, each spouse hires his/her own divorce attorney to represent them.
The two divorce lawyers will argue back and forth during negotiations and in court on issues of child custody and a parenting plan, division of property, alimony and child support.
Each lawyer will create strategies to fight and weaken the other party's position in order to "win" the divorce case for their respective client - even if it's at the detriment of the other spouse, the couple's children or the overall health of the family unit.
Divorces using attorneys are adversarial, expensive and take a long time to complete.
In the divorce mediation process, both spouses work with one mediator.
The divorce mediator is a neutral third party who does not take sides and does not give legal advice. Instead, the mediator helps both spouses communicate, negotiate directly (privately and out of court) and resolve all issues that pertain to their divorce. Couples have the opportunity to voice their individual concerns, be heard and have direct input into the terms of their settlement agreement.
In mediation, there is no "win-lose" as the divorce mediator's goal is to help the couple reach fair and amicable solutions with their children's best interests in mind.
My ex and I made the right choice by mediating our divorce. No lawyers, no fighting with strangers involved... We were able to negotiate and collectively make decisions with our children in mind.
I don't know why everyone wouldn't just mediate and go through this difficult process with dignity.
Divorce mediation sessions traditionally take place in the mediator’s office with both spouses present.
However, technology has advanced considerably in recent years and some mediators also offer the choice of online divorce mediation, which enables the couple to mediate “virtually” either via conference call and/or online meeting software.
The best candidates to use divorce mediation meet all of the following criteria:
Couples where both spouses who are both willing to voluntarily attend and actively participate in divorce mediation;
If one party wants to mediate but the other does not, mediation will not be a viable option for that couple's divorce.
Spouses who want an experienced professional to help them identify and discuss the issues while retaining full control over the decisions they will make and full control over their settlement agreement;
The divorce mediator will help the parties identify the issues and present a number of possible solutions, but will not give the parties legal advice or tell either party what to do.
Spouses who are both mentally capable of making their own decisions;
Each party must be of sound mind and have the capacity to think, reason and understand for him/herself.
Couples who are willing to engage in a good faith negotiation and be honest throughout the divorce and mediation process;
Divorce mediation is a transparent process so both parties must be willing to openly disclose all relevant information, whether financial or otherwise, to the mediator and to the other party and ensure the information is accurate, complete and truthful to the best of their knowledge. If either party is hiding assets or defrauding the other, mediation should not be used.
It doesn't matter if you are a high conflict or low conflict couple, whether one of you controlled the finances or you both balanced the checkbook, or if you have or don't have kids.
The only thing you need to agree on is the decision to use divorce mediation itself. Your mediator is a skilled professional who will help you negotiate all issues.
In fact, many couples specifically choose to wait until mediation to discuss all of the issues.
Divorce is a complex matter and you may not “know what you don’t know” when it comes to the issues you need to identify, discuss and resolve in order to come to a complete agreement.
While you might think a lawyer is the best choice, they really get a good part of the money that would be otherwise distributed amongst the two of you and your children.
If you are smart people, you can accomplish the discussions timely and cost-effectively with the guidance of a good mediator.
There is no legal requirement that you must have an attorney and many people specifically choose not to involve attorneys in their divorce.
However, there are some people who feel the need to have a single meeting with a family law attorney after mediation and others who may feel the need to speak to one throughout the mediation process.
Like many decisions in divorce, the answer to the question can divorce mediation be binding is up to you and your spouse.
While the two of you are mediating, you both still reserve the right to change your mind at any time during the negotiations. So during the negotiation phase of the process, mediation is not yet binding.
Most couples need just 1 to 4 sessions with the divorce mediator and on average, the family mediation process takes two to three months from start to finish.
Some of that time is spent gathering documents and submitting them to the mediator, some is spent negotiating the issues and some is spent drafting the divorce agreement (which in mediation is called a Memorandum of Understanding) and other paperwork.
Divorce mediation costs and fees vary significantly based on the experience and skill level of the mediator, the scope of services they include and individual case complexities. They also vary from state-to-state.
Generally, the average cost of divorce mediation is between $5,000 and $8,000.
Who pays for the divorce mediation is up to the parties (you and your spouse) to decide.
Since both spouses benefit from the mediator's guidance and expertise, most couples choose to pay for divorce mediation together (equally).
However, on occasion, one spouse may choose to pay for the total mediation fee him/herself.
For many couples, the decision to use divorce mediation is a very smart choice. But divorce mediation is an unregulated profession, so it’s also critically important to select a competent mediator.
There are four characteristics of an experienced and competent mediator for divorce:
Some divorce attorneys feel that attending law school provides them the skills they need in order to practice mediation.
But while they may have a grasp of the laws, they may or may not know how to be an effective mediator. And they may not know how to be fully neutral. They also may not have the financial acumen required to resolve the many complex financial issues surrounding divorce.
Non-attorney mediators may have taken a divorce mediation training class and understand basic mediation techniques, but may or may not in-depth knowledge of the issues or have the financial expertise required to be an effective mediator.
Mediation was a great tool for us to keep the divorce as amicable as possible. We chose Equitable Mediation and it gave us a chance to work with an unbiased third party who had OUR best interests in mind – not lawyers who fight for each person individually.
We were able to come to an agreement fairly easily because Joe showed us the numbers, asked questions and explained things thoroughly. It wasn’t some canned approach of 'you get this, you get that,' but instead a real negotiation tailored for our situation.
We saved thousands of dollars compared to friends of mine who used lawyers to 'fight it out,' and came out of mediation with a clear plan that we both agreed to - and our actual court hearing was a breeze.
There's a big difference between a highly skilled, neutral third party divorce mediator who can successfully guide you to resolution in a fair and equitable way versus a lawyer who is a one-sided advocate and not necessarily interested in settlement, but rather in winning at all costs – even at the expense of the other party, your children or your family.
If you and your spouse have both agreed to divorce, want to mediate and are ready to start the process, take the next step and book an initial mediation meeting for the two of you.
We practice in New Jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Southern California and New York City.