Separating couples who choose mediation rather than litigation can benefit from more privacy, lower costs, and more. Divorce mediation can be handled by professionals who coordinate with divorce lawyers. Your divorce lawyer might also be qualified to be a mediator. Divorce mediations can be more informal and less contentious than courtroom proceedings, but how do they work, and must they be in writing?
Things can become stressful when a marriage ends, and the divorce process can be complicated when alimony, property division, child support, custody, and more issues are involved. Meeting with a mediator may be a wise decision because they are trained to stay neutral when negotiating the terms of the divorce.
Depending on the provider, you and your soon-to-be-ex could attend mediation sessions with a mediator either in-person or online. In the best case scenario, minor and major disagreements could be resolved without having to go to court at all, although this is not always possible. Mediators cannot make the final decisions for you or provide legal advice, however. They act as third-party facilitators who help spouses arrive at acceptable solutions. At the conclusion of the sessions, the mediator may draft a divorce settlement agreement to be reviewed by a judge.
Some states require divorcing spouses to attend court-mandated mediation sessions. Otherwise, couples engage private mediators who can provide the services. Mediators have different personalities but are trained to remain neutral during the sessions. Before sessions take place, the couple will usually be contacted about providing information regarding the dispute. The mediator might also want copies of financial documents, parenting plans, and anything else that will be part of the decision-making process.
The meetings can take place online or in informal office settings and usually begin with introductions, an overview of how things will proceed, and an explanation of the rules to be followed. There can be joint session with both parties and private sessions as well. All information is kept confidential throughout, as the mediator works to bridge gaps and come to agreements. There may be a final meeting where the agreement is put in writing. If disputes are not resolved, further meetings can be arranged.
Couples who do not have minor children will likely prioritize alimony and property division at their mediation sessions. Some of the most important topics for this include:
- Is one spouse entitled to alimony, and if so, how much and for how long?
- How will the marital property be divided? This includes real estate, the contents of shared homes, vehicles, boats, joint bank accounts, pension accounts, and retirement assets.
- If any marital property will be sold, how will that happen?
- Is there any shared or individual debt that must be settled? This might be from credit cards, medical expenses, car loans, college loans, and property loans.
Divorcing parents who have minor children will need to discuss the following in detail:
- Legal custody and physical custody.
- What the amount of child support will be, and how and when it will be paid.
- Which parent will carry the children on their health insurance.
- Who will get the federal/state tax benefits that come with raising minor children.
These topics are a basic outline of what needs to be resolved during mediation sessions, and every situation is different. You will also want to have plans in place in case either party’s circumstances change.
Just like any other verbal agreement, divorce mediation that is not recorded properly will hold little weight should questions or challenges come up afterwards. A mediation session should be written down, and attorney guidance and review is crucial before it is filed in court. This is why it is best for both parties to have legal representation, even when a private mediator is used.
Private and court-ordered mediators are familiar with state laws and other important details that pertain to divorces. They can offer spouses more options to think about, but keep in mind that couples usually meet with these professionals quite a few times before agreements are reached. It is also good to know that even if you opt for mediation, you will still be entitled to litigation if things do not work out.
Signed mediation agreements are binding contracts and are sometimes incorporated into court orders. Experienced divorce lawyers have a better understanding of how courts work and how these final settlements impact families. Again, even if your attorney does not participate in the mediation sessions, it is best to have one to review any agreements drafted in writing.
Is Divorce Mediation Always an Option?
There are some situations that call for the guidance of an experienced lawyer, with few exceptions. If you fear for your own or your children’s safety and/or there has been domestic abuse, mediation sessions might feel intimidating or traumatic. Untrustworthy or deceitful spouses who do things like lie or hide assets might be dishonest in the sessions, hampering your ability to successfully negotiate acceptable terms.
Spouses who keep delaying scheduled mediation sessions, avoid paying child support, or claim that their partners are at fault for ending marriages are also showing red flags that mediation might not work. If your spouse has already hired a lawyer and started the divorce proceedings, it may be in your best interest to do the same.
Towson Divorce Lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC Offer Trusted Legal Guidance in Mediation and Divorce Proceedings
Divorce mediation agreements can be less invasive than courtroom cases but should always be in writing to protect your interests. If you are considering a divorce and/or need help with mediation, speak with one of our experienced Towson divorce lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC. Complete our online form or call us at 443-589-0150 to schedule a free consultation. Located in Hunt Valley and Towson, Maryland, we serve clients in Baltimore, Baltimore County, Bel Air, Bentley Springs, Columbia, Freeland, Hereford, Hampton, Westminster, Essex, Monkton, Sparks Glencoe, Parkton, Phoenix, Pikesville, White Hall, Carroll County, Harford County, and Howard County.