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Divorce Mediation Basics

During divorce, you and your partner will need to settle on issues concerning property division, spousal support, and child custody. Rather than fight over these issues in court, some couples may be able to work them out in divorce mediation.

What Is Divorce Mediation?

In mediation, a neutral third party (the mediator) helps guide and structure conversations between both parties for the purpose of reaching an agreement. The mediator doesn’t make decisions or push anyone to make certain choices.

Is Divorce Mediation a Good Idea for You?

Mediation can be beneficial for a couple before, during, or after divorce. Before officially filing for divorce, some couples opt to participate in mediation. A mediator can help a divorcing couple understand what the impending process will entail; they can also help you settle on issues efficiently so that you can file uncontested. Settling out of court can also be helpful if you and/or your partner want to maintain your privacy, as mediation records are confidential. The court may also require you and your partner to go to mediation, which we will discuss later.

After you filed or your divorce has been finalized, mediation is still an option for you and your partner. If you or your partner wishes to modify a part of your divorce decree (i.e. child custody/visitation or support), you may consider mediation instead of litigation.

When Might Divorce Mediation Be Required?

Under California Family Code § 3170, § 3171, and §3173, mediation can be court-ordered for certain parties. A judge will require a couple to participate in mediation if:

  • The couple has not agreed on a parenting plan when they file for divorce.
  • A parent requests a court order regarding child custody or visitation, such as a modification or initial order.
  • A grandparent or stepparent has requested visitation rights with the child.

If a parent fails to participate in mediation, they forfeit their right to challenge the court’s final decision. However, parties must be given time to prepare for mediation.

The Stages of Divorce Mediation

If you have decided to pursue mediation, you will need to find a mediator. There are three types of mediation that you may partake in:

  • Private mediation
  • Court-sponsored mediation
  • Community mediation

Once you’ve chosen the individual mediator or agency you want to work with, the process typically entails a(n):

  • Initial intake meeting. You and your soon-to-be-ex will meet the mediator who will explain what you can expect going forward. During this meeting, you may be asked to provide some background information (i.e. the length of your marriage, if you have any kids, etc.), if you haven’t already.
  • Information stage. To get a clear picture, your mediator will ask what you agree and disagree on when it comes to your divorce terms. They may also ask you to gather information or relevant documents (like tax forms, bank statements, children’s schedules, etc.)—similar to a discovery period in court settlements.
  • Framing stage. Both parties will be invited to share their desired outcomes, fears, priorities, etc. Some mediators meet with each party separately, while others complete this stage in the presence of both parties. Either way, this is your chance to have your voice and goals heard, and shared goals and fears can also help a couple realize that they have common ground.
  • Negotiation stage. During this time, you will explore and discuss your options for settling each issue. With the mediator’s guidance, both parties can brainstorm and share their potential solutions.
  • Conclusion. Mediation ends with the divorcing couple drafting an agreement with their mediator. If both parties were unable to successfully reach an agreement on the terms of their divorce, they may need to forgo mediation and instead pursue litigation.

It is important to note that both parties can bring their own attorney to mediation. Because mediators are neutral and do not represent the direct interests of either party, securing your own legal representation is highly recommended. A reliable attorney can help you prepare for mediation and navigate each stage of the negotiation process.

How Long Does Mediation Take?

There is no exact timeline for mediation; it can take anywhere from a month to 8 months. It will depend on how long it takes for you and your spouse to reach an agreement on all terms of the divorce.

How Much Does Mediation Cost?

The cost of mediation will depend on whether you elect private, community, or court-sponsored mediation. If you are required by the courts to participate, then the mediation will be provided at no cost to you through the Family Court Services. Community mediation can also be free or low-cost if a non-profit organization in your area offers mediation services.

On the other hand, private mediation typically costs thousands of dollars, on average $3,000-$8,000. The exact cost will depend on the mediator’s rates, each party’s willingness to participate and compromise, and the number of complex issues to work out.

Contact Our Mediation Attorneys Today

Getting divorced can strain your emotional and financial tanks. Divorce mediation can help cut down on stress and allow both parties to feel heard and seen throughout the divorce process. At Singleton Smith Law Offices, we offer divorce mediation services and want to help divorcing couples amicably reach an agreement.

To schedule your free, initial consultation or learn more about divorce mediation, contact our office online or by calling (951) 779-1610.