What the Heck is Divorce Mediation?

The following article by Kristine Rushing was originally posted at Inspired Financial in September of 2022.

couple working in therapy

Those facing divorce know there are a lot of questions that must be answered. What happens with the kids, the house, and the retirement accounts? The sheer number of unknowns can be overwhelming. Deciding how to divorce is a critical first step, as it sets the trajectory for the way the divorce is experienced by the entire family. One method, mediation, continues to grow in popularity. And for good reason.

The Three Primary Ways to Divorce

Most people are familiar with the attorney litigation model seen in the press and television, in which two attorneys duke it out in court on behalf of the spouse they represent. But that is only one approach. There are three primary approaches to divorce.

  • Attorney Representation/Litigation. This is the television model mentioned above, where each party is represented. The attorneys generally control the process and it can be a very expensive road to go down, both financially and emotionally.
  • DIY – The “Do It Yourself” approach. For those who wish to avoid the litigation approach and related expense, most courts provide forms and some level of assistance to help individuals file for divorce on their own. This certainly saves on expenses, but can prove challenging, especially here in California where the paperwork and process can be confusing.
  • Mediation. Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution in which the parties are assisted by a neutral third-party – a mediator – who facilitates the negotiation discussions to help them reach agreement. There are both attorney and non-attorney mediators, and this more cooperative method puts the spouses in control of their settlement agreements. This can be a more cost-effective way to divorce while still providing the benefit of professional knowledge.

More About Mediation

Mediation is a confidential, voluntary process that requires both parties to come to the negotiation table willingly. For those able to sit down together and discuss the issues, whether physically or by videoconference, it can be an ideal alternative to attorney representation/litigation.

This is not only for those rare spouses who are friendly and get along. Even highly contentious couples can opt for mediation if they are willing to work through the issues with the mediator’s guidance. A trained divorce mediator will allow space for difficult emotions while guiding parties through business-like negotiations to reach a settlement that works for everyone. Putting in the effort to reach an agreement can be tough work but the results can be worthwhile.

How to Choose the Mediation Team

Wait, team? Maybe. Some parties only need the mediator. However, each party may wish to hire their own consulting attorney. This is very different from attorney representation. Whereas mediators must remain neutral and do not give legal advice, a consulting attorney may be hired for just a few hours to review a party’s settlement agreement and provide a legal opinion.

Others choose to include a financial professional, such as a Certified Divorce Financial Planner (CDFA®) or Certified Financial Planner (CFP®). Including these professionals can help parties understand all their financial options so they can make optimal decisions regarding their assets, support and taxes. Divorce coaches and child specialists can also have important roles to play.

The larger the team, the larger the cost, right? Again, the answer is maybe. The reality is that having the right professionals doing the right jobs can actually be the most efficient way to divorce. Amicably.

Mediation may not be right for everyone, but it can be an ideal option for many couples wishing to keep their legal fees down while receiving the benefit of professional guidance. And because the process focuses on reaching agreement amicably rather than fighting a litigation battle in court, it can put spouses on the path to healing and better coparenting relationships moving forward. While every situation is unique, anyone facing divorce should explore all the options to see if mediation might be a fit.