By Erin Levine
Mediation can be a great alternative to hiring a traditional lawyer for your divorce. It’s a cooperative process that is right for couples who share the same goal: to reach a resolution. That doesn’t mean you agree (yet) about every issue, and it definitely doesn’t mean that mediation is an easy or unemotional process. But it does mean that you both believe there is a better way to divorce than fighting in court and letting a judge make decisions for you.
A mediator’s job is to help you and your ex uncouple outside of court, in a way that best fits your needs. In mediation, you have the power to control the outcome of your divorce. If you end up taking your divorce to court, it’s the judge who decides what’s fair in terms of who gets what, from the marital estate to custody of the children, and the decision you get might not be the decision you want. Add the high cost of lawyering up for divorce – which averages $18,000 – $27,000 per person – mediation is not just a more empowering experience, it’s a far less expensive process as well.
But, mediation is not for everyone. It only works when there is no significant power imbalance, both parties agree to be transparent with finances, each spouse has a serious desire for settlement and neither party has denied access to the children.
That said, here are a few additional key things to know as you think about mediating your divorce:
You don’t have to be in the same room as your ex.
Mediators will work with you to facilitate a style that works for you and your ex. You can decide whether to meet in person with your mediator or remotely via phone or video chat. Some mediators even offer a “caucus” approach, shuffling back and forth so you don’t have to meet together.
That being said, if you do meet in the same room, having a mediator in the room generally can help all parties to stay calm and speak in a respectful manner. (Most people behave better when there is a neutral third person in the room, if for no other reason than they don’t want to look like a jerk.)
The mediator is a neutral party.
You and your ex may not agree who gets the house, but the mediator won’t (and can’t) side with either of you. And keep in mind that while the mediator can provide you with legal information during the mediation process, they cannot provide you or your ex with legal or financial advice. I recommend that you look for a legal coach and/or a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst to speak to separately, who can give you customized advice and counsel based on your legal and financial situation.
Don’t panic if it seems like your mediator is listening to or empathizing with your ex.
Your mediator has to understand your spouse in order to assist you in reaching a resolution. Just because your mediator is nodding or listening intently does not mean that s/he is taking sides or believing one side more than the other. The best mediators listen to what is important to both of you and then facilitate communication to get you to settlement.
Be prepared for tough conversations.
It’s better to start the process expecting that your ex will say things (intentionally or not) that are hurtful, untrue, or counterproductive. Trust that your mediator will be able to see through unreasonable requests. Take a deep breath when communications get heated. I get that it’s hard to negotiate in good faith when your spouse is unreasonable or overly emotional. That being said, listen closely and carefully. Do your best to stay calm and refrain from interrupting or attacking your spouse.
If you think mediation could be a good option for your divorce, be sure to check out my article, 6 Steps to Take Before You Begin Divorce Mediation. It has specific questions for you to ask potential mediators and shares additional advice on extra help you can seek to help you navigate mediation and get the best outcome possible.
If you’re ready to look at mediation but aren’t quite sure your ex is on the same page, my article Tips for Getting Your Spouse on Board with Mediation will help you address the many benefits of keeping your divorce out of court and in the hands of a trained mediator instead.
And if you and your ex are both on board with exploring meditation, my Tips for a Successful Mediation will help you set off on the right foot.
About the Author
Erin Levine is a Certified Family Law Specialist and the owner and managing attorney of Levine Family Law Group, based in Oakland, CA. She is the founder and CEO of Hello Divorce, a platform that helps users divorce on their terms, offering curated articles and resources, DIY videos, instructional form templates, flat-fee legal services and mediation. Learn more or register for a free Hello Divorce starter membership at www.HelloDivorce.com. For advice, inspiration and tips to help you navigate your divorce, follow Erin on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.