What is Divorce Mediation? Divorce Without Lawyers.

divorce-mediation-faqsIt’s a common misconception that you need to hire a lawyer for divorce.

In fact, there is no law anywhere that requires you to involve attorneys at any point during your divorce negotiations.

And if you so choose, not even for the filing.

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 to represent you is a bad idea, then how can you get a divorce without a lawyer?

Divorce mediation!

Divorce mediation is a non-adversarial, alternative dispute resolution process led by a caring, impartial and neutral professional mediator that helps divorcing parties respectfully resolve the issues of divorce, out of court.

Mediation is an ideal divorce solution for how to get an uncontested divorce without an attorney.

"Believe it or not, divorce is more about finances than about divorce law. In fact, three of the four main issues that need to be resolved during a divorce are financial in nature (and the fourth is about parenting.)

So you are much better off choosing a divorce mediator with a financial background like me than a family law attorney without one."

- Divorce Mediator Joe Dillon

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What are the Benefits of Divorce Mediation?

There are many benefits to mediating a divorce. Here are just a few...

  • Peaceful: Just because a couple has made the decision to end their marriage doesn't mean their divorce has to become a war. A divorce mediator helps parties attack problems, not each other - focusing on respectful dialog and finding agreement and solutions that benefit both spouses and their family. Enabling couples to have a peaceful and amicable divorce.
  • Fair and Equitable: The terms of the divorce agreement are fair because they are reached and agreed to by both spouses. One party cannot "win" at the expense of the other as resolutions must emerge from the process with a fair divorce settlement created and acceptable to both parties.
  • Less Expensive: Divorce mediation costs a fraction of a traditional divorce litigation, court trial or series of hearings.
  • Better for Your Children: Children aren’t caught in the middle of a confrontational family court process or traumatic heated custody battle. Instead, parents work together to resolve the issues with the children’s best interests in mind. A non-adversarial approach fosters more agreement, improved communication, better parenting plans and a better co-parenting relationship.
  • Better for Results: Couples who mediate are more satisfied with the results because they were mutually agreed upon.
  • Dignified: Instead of the cold, traditional court process where a couple is treated like a case file or docket number, mediation is a kinder, more human process. Divorce mediators enable the parties to end their marriage while maintaining self-respect and dignity.
  • Private and Confidential: In litigation, everything submitted to the family law court is part of the public record, whereas in a private mediation session, everything is confidential. No one will know what's being discussed except the two spouses and their mediator.
  • Faster: The pace of the process is controlled by the parties, instead of being at the mercy of a lawyer's or a judge's schedule.

Regardless of whether you’re the initiator of the divorce proceedings or a reluctant husband or wife, you have a choice in which path forward you take.

You and your children will benefit when you choose divorce mediation.

 

 

What is The Role of The Mediator in a Divorce and How Does Divorce Mediation Work?

The role of the mediator in a divorce is to:

  • Facilitate and actively engage you in a series of discussions surrounding all the necessary issues to be resolved in the divorce (parenting plan, time sharing, child support, alimony, distribution of property, etc.);
  • Provide guidance about the financial matters relating to your divorce so you know what your financial picture will look like moving forward;
  • Listen to each of your wants, needs, concerns and goals;
  • Use a variety of conflict resolution techniques to help you and your spouse communicate, understand each other's interests, and negotiate when there are areas of disagreement;
  • Formulate ideas, bring options to the table and work with you to develop fair and equitable solutions;
  • Draft your agreement and a host of other supporting paperwork;
  • Help you come to mutually acceptable agreements on all of the required issues to peacefully end your marriage out of court;

Ultimately, divorce mediation can help you avoid the trauma that often results from more contentious divorce methods.

 

 

What Issues Can Mediation Resolve?

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:

  • A parenting plan outlining parental responsibilities and time sharing arrangements for co-parenting your children post-divorce (some refer to this as custody);
  • Child support which is the financial support each parent will provide the children;
  • The division of marital assets and liabilities (also known as equitable distribution or community property - depending on the state you live in);
  • And how much, and for how long you will pay or receive alimony - which may also be referred to as spousal support, maintenance, or spousal maintenance depending on where you live.

Along with the four main issues listed above, an experienced mediator 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 & Time Sharing:

 

divorce-parenting-plan-emsOnce you and your wife or husband 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 time sharing 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 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.

These issues and many more must be covered in a good parenting plan.

The well-being of the children is often the most important concern for divorcing parents. And 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:

 

child-support-emsMany 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 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:

 

division-of-assets-liabilities-emsThe process of splitting marital property and debts in some/most states (including Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, among others) are done under the guiding principles of Equitable Distribution. While it's done under the guiding principles of Community Property in California, Washington, and 7 others.

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 in court.

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:

 

alimony-emsAlimony 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:

  • What if your income is variable?
  • How about bonuses? Are they included in the alimony discussion?
  • And the biggest question of all… when does alimony end?

We rarely 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.

Divorce is a negotiation. So you will get the best possible result if you negotiate - and that's exactly what the mediation process is all about!

 

 

Who are Good Candidates for Mediation in Divorce?

Good candidates for divorce mediation meet all of the following criteria:

  • Couples 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.

  • Couples who are willing to engage in an honest and good faith negotiation;

    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.

  • Couples where both spouses are 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 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.

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.

If meet the criteria listed above, you are good candidates for divorce mediation.

 

 

How Long Does The Divorce Mediation Process Take?

Every mediator's process (if they have one) is different, so we can only speak to how long divorce mediation takes working with us. Most couples need just 1 to 4 sessions with our divorce mediator and on average, the family mediation process takes 2-3 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 by the mediator drafting the divorce agreement (which in mediation is called a Memorandum of Understanding) and other paperwork.

The good news is that the speed and length of the divorce mediation process is entirely within the divorcing couple's control!

 

 

How Do Mediation Sessions Take Place?

Our sessions take place in-person or online via phone and easy-to-use meeting software.

In fact, we pioneered the use of online divorce mediation and have been offering it since 2011. It's so popular, 98% of our clients choose to mediate this way.

Online mediation provides couples a modern and convenient dispute resolution solution and is beneficial for those who live or work far apart geographically, have busy schedules, travel frequently or are simply not comfortable sitting in the same room together based on their relationship dynamic or the conflict level between them.

 

 

What Does Divorce Mediation Cost?

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.

Every private mediator has his/her own fee structure, but the average total cost of a mediated divorce is generally between $7,000 and $10,000.

Fees for our mediation services vary depending on case complexity and services selected.

The good news is that even the most complex mediation still costs significantly less than a traditional attorney-driven process, collaborative law process or litigated divorce.

 

 

Who Pays for a Mediator in a Divorce?

Who pays for 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 mediation together (equally).

However, on occasion, one spouse may choose to pay for the total mediation fee him/herself.

No matter who pays, one mediator is far less expensive than two attorneys. And if each spouse hired their own attorney, they'd be separately responsible for those costs.

 

 

How do We Choose a Good Divorce Mediator?

The key is to choose a mediator who has been professionally trained, knows the issues that need resolution, is truly neutral, has mediated hundreds of cases and is skilled in resolving the complex financial matters surrounding divorce.

There are four characteristics of an experienced and competent mediator for divorce:

  1. The ability to expertly guide two opposing parties through a complex negotiation and ultimately to settlement while remaining neutral at all times;
  2. The ability to create a series of settlement options for the parties to discuss and consider based on the mediator's involvement with a variety of other cases similar to theirs;
  3. A command of the complex financial matters surrounding divorce;
  4. A comprehensive knowledge of and ability to remain current on the issues that may impact a couple's divorce agreement.

Some 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 family law matters, 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 a divorce dispute.

Non-attorney mediators may have taken a 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.

For many couples, the decision to mediate is a very smart choice. But divorce mediation is an unregulated profession and there's no such thing as a certified mediator (other than a term some mediation associations designate to their members), so it’s also critically important to hire a good mediator.

 

 

Do We Need to Have Everything Figured Out Before Starting Our Negotiations?

No! You do not need to have everything decided before starting your mediation negotiations.

The only thing you need to agree on is the decision mediate itself. Your mediator (if you choose wisely), is a skilled professional who will help you negotiate all issues.

In fact, many couples specifically 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.

By working through the issues in mediation, you can be assured that everything will be discussed thoroughly - in the proper order and given the necessary time and attention it deserves.

 

 

Divorce Mediation vs Divorce Attorney: What are The Differences?

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 divorce mediation vs a lawyer.

In an attorney-driven process, each spouse hires his/her own respective attorneys to represent them.

The two lawyers will argue back and forth in court on issues of child custody and a parenting plan, division of property, alimony and child support.

Each divorce 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, contentious, expensive and take a long time to complete.

 

In divorce mediation, 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 that prioritize their children's best interests.

Mediation is a more peaceful, less costly, confidential divorce method that takes significantly less time and produces better outcomes for divorcing spouses and their children.

 

 

Divorce Mediation vs Collaborative Divorce: What are The Differences?

There are many differences between divorce mediation and collaborative law including cost, time to complete and approach.

The Collaborative Law Process is a hybrid between a traditional attorney-led divorce and divorce mediation.

Each party retains their own respective lawyer trained in the collaborative process to represent them. Both spouses and their respective counsel sign a contract called a “participation agreement” that states that they are all committed to using cooperative techniques rather than combative tactics to resolve custody, support, etc.

In the Collaborative Process, a series of meetings take place between both spouses and both lawyers and possibly other outside professionals such as a divorce coach or therapist, child specialist, accountants or financial planners as needed to negotiate and try to come to agreement on the issues.

If agreement cannot successfully be reached on all relevant divorce issues using the Collaborative Divorce Process, the lawyers will be disqualified from representing the two parties as they continue into the litigation process.

While for some problematic cases, Collaborative Process can be worth a try before resorting to divorce litigation, it can get very expensive and drawn-out, and there are no guarantees of success.

 

In the mediation process, there are three participants working together in direct negotiations: each spouse and one mediator.

The mediator is neutral and helps the two parties negotiate directly to resolve all required issues pertaining to their divorce. Couples have direct input into the terms of their agreement.

In mediation, there is no "us against them" as the goal of the mediator is to help the parties reach an agreement they are both satisfied with and that keeps their children front and center.

Mediation delivers better outcomes for divorcing couples and their kids, takes less time to complete and is less expensive than a collaborative divorce.

More about the differences between Collaborative Law and Divorce Mediation.

 

 

If I am Mediating, Can I Also Have an Attorney?

There is no legal requirement that you must have an attorney and many people specifically choose not to involve attorneys and instead have a no lawyer 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.

This is YOUR divorce so if at any time during or after mediation, you’d like to get a lawyer’s perspective on a particular issue(s), you are within your rights (and encouraged) to do so.

 

 

Can Divorce Mediation be Binding?

Like many decisions in divorce, the answer to the question can 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 binding.

But once all issues are resolved and agreed upon, drafted into a proper document by a qualified professional, signed by both parties (you and your spouse), and approved by the courts, the agreements made will become binding in your divorce decree.

 

 

What are Some Tips on Preparing for Divorce Mediation?

Choosing to use mediation is a great first step towards making your divorce go as smoothly as possible. But here are some additional tips to ensure your case stays on track:

  • Hire an experienced, competent and highly skilled divorce mediator. Mediation is an unregulated profession in the United States, and the complex matters that need to be resolved require expertise that only comes with training, certifications, continuing education and years of experience in the field.
  • Be ready and willing to cooperate. In order to have a successful mediation, each spouse must be willing to negotiate to find middle ground.
  • Don't make financial commitments before your divorce agreement is worked out. All assets and liabilities aren't equal in a divorce and many of the issues that need to be resolved can impact other seemingly unrelated issues. To avoid creating an agreement that could be financially favorable to only one party and not the other, it's wise to wait until you are working with a mediator skilled in the finances of divorce.
  • Make a conscious choice to balance both the tactical and emotional aspects of the process and address each equally. This will enable you to complete the divorce and mediation process as quickly, confidently and productively as possible.

More tips on preparing for divorce mediation and a divorce mediation checklist.

 

 

What if We Want Separation Mediation, Not Divorce Mediation?

Whether you are divorcing or separating, the issues that need to be resolved are the same and the mediation process itself is the same.

The difference is in what you choose to do with your Agreement after mediation is completed.

How Do We Start Mediation?

To start mediation, take the next step and book an initial mediation meeting for you and your spouse.

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.

Getting divorced without lawyers is possible if you choose Equitable Mediation - a peaceful, fair and cost-effective alternative.

We practice in New Jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania, California, New York, Washington, or Michigan.

Book an Initial Meeting

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