If your case does not settle at Early Settlement Panel, you are required to attend a mediation session with a mediator, either from the approved list of mediators or any other mediator. If you choose a mediator from the approved list, the first two hours are free. The first hour is used by the mediator to read and analyze the issues in your case from your attorney’s submission, and the second hour is an in-person meeting with both parties and the mediator. Anything beyond two hours is paid for by the parties.

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The divorce process can be a contentious one. This is because it involves the equitable distribution of assets and property by the divorcing couple, and could potentially involve child custody and support issues, so it can be a very emotional process for those involved. While parties can choose to go in front of a judge to decide these issues, there are a growing number of alternatives available to reduce the burden on the parties which can help them come to a mutual agreement before presenting their divorce case to the court.

Mediation is one of those alternatives. Mediation is a type of alternative dispute resolution in which a neutral party assists the divorcing parties in negotiating their differences with an eye towards resolution and settlement. More specifically, mediation is an informal, out-of-court process which allows the parties to come to a mutual understanding on certain issues typically present in divorce cases, without unnecessary and time-consuming litigation in a courtroom. While a mediator has no authority to force or enforce a settlement, they serve as a catalyst for dialogue between the parties – a dialogue that may otherwise not occur during the divorce.

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With Court backlogs and increasing costs of litigation, many individuals are utilizing the mediation process to resolve their divorce issues. As an attorney that has been trained in alternative dispute resolution, I believe that with the right set of facts, parties should strongly consider mediation in lieu of litigating their matter.

Traditionally, parties engage mediation by hiring a third party mediator without consulting with an attorney prior (and during) the process. When speaking with divorced individuals that proceeded without legal representation during the mediation process, I find that many of their final agreements did not adequately protect their legal rights. Problems often arise due to the fact that mediators, while qualified professionals, are not legal representatives of either party. The role of the mediator is to facilitate agreement and not necessary discuss the legal ramifications to the parties regarding their suggested settlement terms.

For instance, I recently met with a client that agreed to a provision in mediation five years ago that both him and his wife would agree to equally split the costs of the children’s college. When taken at face value, the provision seems harmless. However, this provision has created thousands of dollars of legal costs to both parties due the vaguely drafted language by the mediator.

Continue Reading Divorce Mediation: Utilizing Attorney Resources during the Divorce Process