The typical, adversarial, litigious method of divorce isn’t for everyone. Some couples opt for mediation to work out the specifics of their divorce.
Finding a mediator is not difficult – many counties have community-based mediation centers while the state bar association also lists mediators in your area. Both lawyers and non-lawyers can be mediators and their fees vary from case to case.
Once you and your spouse agree on a mediator, you will schedule your first meeting
A ‘general caucus’
Each mediator has their own approach, but typically mediation usually begins with a general caucus, or a first meeting. This meeting usually occurs in a conference room between the spouses and the mediator. Each spouse can be represented by an attorney who can also attend the general caucus.
At this meeting, the mediator will establish ground rules, including a guarantee of confidentiality. Usually, all records and discussions will remain private unless both parties agree to disclose them.
Once the ground rules have been established and the agreements have been signed, the mediator will allow the spouses to make opening statements in which any contentious issues can be identified. In some cases, spouses opt for their attorney to make the opening statement.
If the meeting becomes emotional, hostile or unproductive, the mediator may put the spouses in separate rooms and shuttle between them in confidential, private caucuses.
More information will often be necessary. Issues surrounding child care, property ownership, pensions – these are all complicated and require additional information.
The end result
Sometimes the parties can reach agreement on all the issues. If not, the mediator may recommend a second mediation meeting.
If that doesn’t result in a settlement, the spouses can move forward with litigation.
If an agreement is reached, the mediator will write a settlement agreement to be signed by both spouses. The settlement agreement will be the only written record of the mediation.
The settlement agreement holds the force of any contract. You can file for divorce with the county and the mediation settlement will become part of your divorce judgement.