If you're looking to peacefully end your marriage in Washington State, divorce mediation is your best option. And we're not just saying that because we're Washington State divorce mediators!
While other states have only recently begun promoting the use of mediation for divorce, Washington State has been working to offer its residents alternative dispute resolution options, as opposed to the adversarial legal system, since the 1980's.
It’s that long history and community-wide commitment to keeping a divorcing couple away from litigation that makes us proud to practice in the state.
That's why if you're in the early stages of planning for a divorce, and want to avoid the destructive process of lawyer led litigation, you're smart to want to learn more about mediation. And below, you'll find answers to common questions about divorce mediation in Washington State.
Or, if you and your spouse already know you want to mediate with us, and you live in King County or anywhere else in the Evergreen State, you can book an initial meeting to get started.Book an Initial Meeting
The most notable observation about working with Equitable Mediation was that the process Joe and Cheryl follow is really well described on their web site, through all the documentation they provide and make available, and via the meetings we had with them.
I am impressed by how organized they were and how smoothly our mediation went working with them!former client, Bellevue, WA
What I most appreciated about working with Equitable Mediation was their efficient and well-structured process, Cheryl's help in preparation, and Joe's constructive tone and approach during the mediation.former client, Seattle, WA
Joe and Cheryl were extremely professional and their thorough divorce mediation process was efficient and well-executed.former client, Redmond, WA
Cheryl and Joe went above and beyond throughout the entire process.
Joe did a great job of keeping the mediation going with just the right amount of personality.
And I appreciated the kind ear and warm support from Cheryl during these difficult circumstances.former client, Mercer Island, WA
In Washington State, divorce mediation may either be conducted using a family law court-supported Washington State Dispute Resolution Center (DRC), or conducted privately by working with divorce mediators like us.
And while a DRC is certainly a viable conflict resolution option for those with simple cases, it may not be best equipped to handle the complexities that most divorcing clients typically have.
With that in mind, at a very high level, the Washington State divorce process using private mediation (with us) would be as follows:
The parties (you and your spouse) would engage the services of divorce mediator Joe Dillon - instead of using divorce lawyers to litigate or engage in a collaborative law process.
Next, you would complete our discovery process which includes completing a series of proprietary forms and worksheets to provide the mediator with a better understanding of your financial picture and situational complexities. Discovery sets a good foundation for the negotiations that follow.
Next, during a private and confidential mediation session or sessions, the mediator will use his expertise to help and guide you and your spouse to agreement on all the necessary issues (parenting plan, child support, spousal maintenance / alimony, and community property division) in your divorce case. The mediator does not give advice, take sides or make decisions for you. Instead, he helps you and your spouse negotiate and reach fair solutions that work for each of you (and your children).
Upon reaching a settlement agreement, the mediator would then draft a document called a Memorandum of Understanding, to memorialize all of the decisions and agreements reached during the mediation sessions pertaining to all the issues.
After the mediation is completed, you would complete your divorce proceedings - choosing the filing option best-suited to your unique needs. You may also wish to have the divorce agreement reviewed by a family law attorney which we encourage, however, it is ultimately your choice as to whether to do so.
For couples with no children or grown children, there are two primary subject areas that need to be resolved in a divorce in Washington State. For couples with minor children, there are four:
Washington State issues pertaining to the care and custody of your children are known as "parenting functions" and must be mutually agreed upon by you and your spouse prior to your divorce, and drafted into a document known as a parenting plan.
The plan covers all aspects of how you will work together to ensure your children have the care they need, how you will make decisions that are in their best interests, how each of you will share parenting time with them, and how you will resolve a dispute should it arise.
To learn more, read: Divorce with Kids: The Importance of a Good Parenting Plan.
While every state is required to have some sort of repeatable way for determining child support, the method by which it is calculated can vary greatly from state to state.
Some states take a percentage of one party's income and give it to the other party. So in effect, one party is paying 100% of the child support.
While in other states, both parents pay child support. Each providing a share of their income for the care of their children, based on the number of overnights the children spend with each parent, as well as a host of other factors.
Washington State uses a simplified “income-shares” model which takes into account the number of children you have, and your net income. But unlike other states, it does not factor in the number of overnights they spend with each of you. Or really much else for that matter.
The child support number you'll pay or receive comes from a table developed by the State of Washington. Which may or may not meet your family's unique needs.
Add to the mix that a number of other expenses such as college and after-school activities must be negotiated separately, and you've got real potential for disagreement.
To learn more about how child support works in Washington State, read: How to Safeguard Your Kids' Well-Being with Washington State Child Support.
The payment of money from one divorcing spouse to another in Washington State is called spousal maintenance (sometimes referred to as maintenance, spousal support or alimony).
Unlike child support where every state has a guideline on how much a party will pay or receive, with spousal maintenance in Washington, there is no such formula.
It is up to the parties to come to agreement on both an amount and a duration.
Which given the emotions most divorcing couples are undoubtedly feeling, can be quite challenging without the help of a neutral third-party expert.
To learn more, read: Determining Alimony in Washington State.
The division of marital assets and liabilities is another issue mediating couples will need to discuss, make decisions on, and resolve, in their Washington State divorce.
In the United States, there are two methods used to divide marital assets and liabilities in divorce: equitable distribution and the concept used in the State of Washington known as community property.
Washington is a community property state - meaning that marital assets and liabilities are split 50-50 unless the parties come to agreement otherwise on their property division.
At first you may think that dividing all marital assets and liabilities should be easy if they are to be split equally. But as previously stated above, the parties can agree otherwise, so equal is not always the case.
It’s really up to you and your spouse to decide if the split of your marital assets and liabilities is going to be 50-50.
You also have to determine what marital property is, what the difference between marital and separate property is, and what happens when separate property is converted (transmuted) into community property or vice versa.
None of which is very easy to do.
To learn more, read: Washington State Community Property: Not Always 50-50.
Some people choose to speak with a lawyer who specializes in family law during or after mediation is completed, while others explicitly choose to get a divorce in Washington State without a lawyer.
This is your divorce, so if you’d like the perspective of a family law attorney on a particular issue(s), you are encouraged to do so.
No! In fact, many couples specifically wait for the mediator to help them resolve the issues.
This way, they can make certain all of the necessary issues will be covered fully - in the appropriate order and given the attention and time required.
While we can’t speak for all divorce mediators, for us the answer is yes!
Most of our cases have a high degree of complexity including complicated compensation, variable compensation, deferred compensation, divorces involving a business, high assets, divorce after long-term marriage, and grey divorce.
While the goal of both of these divorce options is to help couples avoid court, there are significant ways they differ.
You can learn more in our post: Divorce Mediation Versus Collaborative Law Process.
Mediators come from a variety of different backgrounds. Some are attorneys, some are mental health professionals. While others, like Joe, have a financial background.
No, they cannot - even if they are an attorney-mediator. In their role as a neutral third party, they must not provide legal advice.
You can learn more about the differences between divorce mediation and divorce lawyers in this post.
Divorce mediation costs vary depending on the skill level and experience of the mediator, scope of services included and case complexities.
If you’re wondering about the cost of divorce mediation, you might be focusing on the mediator’s hourly rate, or in our case, flat-fee.
But there are a number of other equally, if not more important factors contributing to the overall cost of divorce mediation.
One is the mediator’s experience.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Well of course the more experience a mediator has, the higher their fee will be.” But that’s not what we’re talking about.
An experienced mediator is going to be sure to cover present and known and potential future issues,. This way, you’ll likely avoid having to return to mediation (or worse yet, court) and spend more money down the line when circumstances change.
It’s expensive (and stressful) to try to resolve a missed issue and modify your divorce decree, so the more thorough your agreement is at the time of your divorce will be a cost-avoidance for you in the future!
Another factor attributed to cost are the services included in the mediation.
For example, some mediators like us include divorce coaching for emotional support, while other mediators don’t.
An experienced mediator drafts a thorough written agreement, while others write a simple agreement that would need to be re-written by an attorney at an additional cost to you.
And some mediators require each spouse to hire an attorney to review their agreement, while others who believe in the power of self-determination, don’t.
You can work with an inexperienced mediator for what you think is a low fee, but once mediation is completed, spend another few thousand dollars to have your agreement re-written by an attorney, or potentially another $10,000- $20,000 in the future to resolve missed issues. Or you can choose an experienced mediator who might have a higher fee, but who will provide a more thorough service, written agreement, and resolution on present and anticipated future issues, which in turn, will save you a lot of money in the long run.
Fees for our divorce mediation services vary depending on mediation package chosen. But the good news is that even the most complex cases cost a fraction of traditional litigation using family law attorneys or collaborative law process.
To learn more, read: What’s Really Behind Divorce Mediation Costs?
Mediation is a feasible option if:
Whether you work inside or outside the home, have minor children, grown children or are child-free, have been married for a short time or for many years, a divorce in the State of Washington using mediation is the best way to peacefully and cost-effectively end your marriage.
Or if you’re early in the process, learn about the benefits of mediating.
While both the Divorce Mediation and Arbitration processes involve gathering information, working with multiple parties, and conversations taking place between the participants and a third-party, there is one significant difference between them.
In arbitration, the solution to the parties’ disagreement is decided by the involved third-party arbitration professional. Whereas mediators believe the solution to the parties disagreement lies with them, and helps them come to it on their own.
We feel divorce mediation is a better alternative than arbitration, as it empowers the parties to make the decisions that are in their mutual best interest. Rather than allowing a total stranger to make decisions for them that may or may not work in their particular case.
Divorce mediators come from a variety of different backgrounds.
Some are attorneys, so they may refer to themselves as a "divorce mediation attorney." Some mediators are mental health professionals. While others, like Equitable Mediation founder, Joe Dillon, have a financial background.
Shuttle mediation is where the mediator would help the two spouses resolve the relevant issues (parenting plan, child support, alimony, division of assets and liabilities, etc.) without both of them being present in the same room.
Shuttle mediation can be useful in cases with special circumstances (where the parties truly do wish to mediate, but they are unwilling or unable to be in the same room at the same time). However, whenever possible, we prefer direct negotiations - working with both spouses at the same time, as we have found this breeds more trust among the parties.
There is no requirement in Washington state for a mediator to be licensed or certified. Virtually anyone can be a mediator. And while that may be a positive in that it can provide Washington state couples alternatives to the adversarial legal system, it's critically important to ensure that the mediator you choose has the proper skills and experience to guide you through your Washington state divorce.
Learn more about how to find a good mediator.
Divorce mediation in Washington requires the parties to both be willing to work together to come to agreement.
And while it's perfectly normal for spouses to disagree or have conflict, if the arguing is going to prevent the two of you from having a respectful dialogue, compromising, and coming to agreement, then mediation may not be a viable option.