There is apparently a widespread misconception that if you are contemplating divorce, you have two options – either to hire lawyers and fight in court or go to mediation and save money.
What you might not know is that having a lawyer does not mean that you can’t engage in mediation with your spouse. In fact, it can be very helpful if you each have attorneys to advise you during mediation before you make significant decisions that impact your legal rights and obligations.
At the same time, you and your spouse have the opportunity to resolve in mediation all issues with respect to your children, division of property and debts, and payment of any financial support before involving the court.
Once a divorce complaint is filed with the court, the litigation process begins, forcing you to comply with court-mandated timelines and appear for mandatory court settlement conferences. Unfortunately, these do little or nothing to further constructive resolution of the real issues to be resolved, while costing you and your spouse hefty fees to your lawyers.
Instead, there is a better way – so long as you hold the 3 keys to a successful outcome in divorce mediation:
1. The right mindset. Success of the mediation process hinges on the mindset of both you and your spouse. Ideally, both of you have accepted that the divorce is going to happen and are able to make the necessary emotional commitment to reaching an agreement. You should each be willing to try to see the other’s perspective and be able to focus on achieving your most important goals while letting go of some of the less significant issues, however difficult that might be. Perhaps most important is that you both believe that your children should maintain a strong, healthy relationship with both parents.
2. The right lawyer. Be sure to do your homework to find a lawyer who is settlement oriented and encourages the use of mediation. Get recommendations from friends and family. Search online to identify lawyers that appear both knowledgeable and have a sincere desire to help their clients. Consult with more than one to find the right fit.
3. The right mediator. Not all mediators are created equally and just like anything else, mediation is only as effective as the mediator you use.
Many mediators are lawyers who will simply just give you a “legal opinion” that you can get from your own lawyer.
Others are mental health professionals who can help mediate custody and parenting time issues although not the economic issues of child support, payment for college and extracurricular activities, division of assets and debts, or alimony. Again, make sure to do your homework to find the best fit.
Typically, once you and your spouse have reached an agreement in mediation, your mediator will put it in writing to take to your lawyers to incorporate into a legal agreement (often called a “Marital Settlement Agreement”). Then all that remains to finalize the divorce is to file the divorce complaint and other appropriate documentation with the Court so that the Court can enter the Judgment of Divorce.
For a complete evaluation of all of your options and to help you determine if mediation is right for you, call me directly at 973-292-9090.