The role of a divorce mediator is one of neutrality. Mediators guide divorcing couples through the process, helping them reach an agreement on the division of assets and debt, alimony and child support, as well as child custody. Divorce mediators do not make decisions for the couple though. Instead, they provide guidance that helps the couple make their own decisions. The high cost of litigation leads many people to try mediation first, and some do find success. But, before deciding to follow suit yourself, read on for the pros and cons of using a divorce mediator. When it works, it works well, but mediation isn’t necessarily for everyone.
Advantages of Mediation
Divorcing couples who choose mediation often end up forging a more communicative and emotionally healthy relationship in the long term because there is no fighting involved. The amicable approach is also easier on children and it can be expedited, as opposed to the protracted litigation that often accompanies a court battle. In addition, since the mediator does not make any decisions for the couple, the couple maintains complete control. Mediation is also private, whereas litigation is public. The process is also less expensive than litigation which can require multiple hearings and, often, a trial.
Disadvantages of Mediation
If negotiations fail, the parties will have wasted both time and money because they will have to start the process over again. Another disadvantage to choosing mediation is that it could result in an agreement that is unenforceable. That is, if the mediation agreement ends up plainly favoring one party over another, it can be challenged. Also, all information that is disclosed is voluntary, so one party could potentially hide assets from the other. If one party is dominant, that could also carry over into the mediation process, leaving the submissive partner in an unfair position.
Tips for Choosing a Mediator
If you and your spouse feel that mediation is a good fit for your situation, the next step is to find a mediator that you both agree on. If you know someone who previously used a divorce mediator, that’s a good place to start. Word of mouth referrals are valuable because family and friends will offer honest feedback.
However, if you search for a mediator on your own, you won’t have the assurance of a personal referral. So, it will be incumbent upon you to filter the bad from the good. After all, this is the person who will be guiding you through your divorce. Here are eight questions to ask that will help lead you in the right direction:
- How much specialized training has the mediator had?
- Does the mediator have a law or mental health degree?
- How familiar is he with your state’s divorce laws?
- How long has the mediator been practicing, and how many divorces has he mediated?
- What is his mediation style (directive, facilitative)?
- What does he charge?
- Will he provide a free introductory consultation?
- Can he provide current, local references?
Mediation is not for all couples. It will not work if one or both parties is emotionally or physically abusive, unreasonable and unwilling to negotiate, or hiding assets. But, it can work if both parties can get along reasonably well, are honest, open to compromise, and willing to negotiate fairly.