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Utilizing Mediation for Divorce
Divorce mediation allows both parties to identify, negotiate, and resolve the issues raised by the decision to divorce. The mediator establishes firm ground rules and a comfortable environment so that emotionally charged issues can be discussed. The mediator helps both spouses gather necessary information and review it systematically. A mediator often helps formulate a more creative solution than the court could offer. When parenting agreements and financial distribution plans are made by the spouses themselves, there is a better chance of meeting the needs of the entire family.
Mediated divorces typically take less time and have a higher rate of long-range parental cooperation and fewer costs associated with multiple return visits to court. The mediator remains neutral between the husband and the wife. Importantly, the mediator cannot give advice to either party, and also cannot act as a lawyer for either party; however, the mediator may provide information about the legal system, how issues may be viewed by lawyers or judges, and what alternatives there are for solving issues. The mediator can point out in open sessions to both spouses things that they both need to consider in the decision-making process. That exchange of information frees up both spouses to negotiate with each other in confidence. When necessary, the mediator will refer the couple to third-party experts for services such as appraisals.
Mediation is Less Expensive & Less Acrimonious
- Many litigation lawyers charge a retainer fee of between $3,500 and $20,000 (for each spouse) for most average litigation cases and bill the client for services in addition to the time covered by the retainer. Once this initial retainer is exhausted, the attorney will charge a new retainer or invoice the client monthly. The retainer amount will be substantially more in complex cases, involving custody disputes or complex financial disputes.
- The total cost for both spouses from the beginning to end for a mediation divorce can be less than one retainer made by one spouse in a litigated divorce. A good range of the total cost of a mediation divorce is between $3,500 - $9,000, but of course, circumstances may vary.
- “Cost” should be measured not only in dollars spent but also in the emotional cost to the parties and their children, which can also be significantly less in a mediated divorce.
Independent Attorney / Review Counsel for Mediation
The best mediation client is an informed and educated client. Because knowledge is golden, a good divorce mediator strongly encourages a mediation client to meet with an independent attorney to provide each spouse with independent legal advice and the knowledge necessary to make long-lasting, educated, informed decisions.
Some spouses may choose to meet with their reviewing attorney at the end of the mediation process so they can look over all the financial documents prepared in mediation and the draft separation agreement. Some spouses go to a review at attorney only once at the beginning of the process, others go to an independent attorney a the beginning and end of mediation, and others don’t go at all.
An independent reviewing attorney charges by the hour and the cost should not be more than one to three total hours of his or her hourly rate.
Finalizing the Divorce in Court
If you use a mediator who is also an attorney, they can help you file all the court paperwork which can include:
- starting the dissolution of marriage action
- preparing and filing the necessary financial disclosure agreement, and final papers to be presented to the court
Often a state marshal or sheriff does not need to be used to serve the divorce papers if a waiver of service is signed by the defendant in the presence of a divorce mediation who is also an attorney. In Connecticut, the divorce mediator frequently attends the final hearing and assists the couple at this appearance. The mediator will be the person who will canvas the spouses about the agreements reached rather than the Judge.
 Most family law cases resolve without a trial; however, in the context of the "flat fee" option we are referring to "uncontested cases" where both parties want to dissolve their marriage, agree on most issues, believe the case can be resolved on their own, but would still like an attorney to help navigate the system.