Both parties must be willing to participate in divorce mediation – it cannot be forced onto a partner or spouse. In many cases, one partner contacts a divorce mediator for information about the procedure. Every mediator has their own procedure. In our firm, each party must complete the intake form and schedule an initial one-hour meeting before mediation can begin. Once the initial meeting is completed, and both parties agree to mediate, an agreement is sent out to be signed. In this agreement are the guidelines for the mediation process and fees are clearly defined.
Prior to The Mediation
The following issues should be addressed:
- It is recommended that the parties seek legal advice before the mediation process begins as each party must understand their rights and obligations.
- Many employers have employee assistance programs (EAP) attached to their group benefits where you can arrange a 30-minute free consultation with a local family lawyer.
- Mediators must remain neutral and therefore can not give legal advice.
- Personal attendance is strongly preferred although telephone participation can be accommodated.
- It is important that the financial documents requested by the mediator get sent to the mediator as soon as possible once the agreement to mediate is signed.
- Financial information given to the mediator assists all parties in making realistic settlement decisions during the mediation.
- The mediator expects the parties to specify if there is any additional information that is coming, such as an appraisal of a property or pension information.
At the Mediation
Generally, for divorce mediation, there is a series of meetings that run from 90 minutes to 2 hours in length. Both parties are in attendance. The parties decide what is discussed at the meetings. Each family is unique, so the key issues for each are different. These meetings are generally very productive. The number of meetings depends on the cooperation of the clients, as well as the complexities of their particular situation.
All meetings are private and confidential. The mediator will assist both parties in exploring options so that the parties can be empowered to make informed decisions.
Between Mediation Sessions
There are usually a series of sessions and, because of the nature of the topics, the sessions are usually scheduled in advance. Each party needs time to review what was discussed, as well as have an opportunity to meet with their lawyer, psychologist or advisor. In some cases, there is still information that has to be gathered. Sessions are usually scheduled 2-3 weeks apart.
The agreement that is created is called the Memorandum of Understanding. It is not intended to be a legally binding document. The intent is to incorporate the decisions described in the MOU into a Settlement Agreement which will be prepared by a lawyer and registered with the Court.
Partners take the Memorandum of Understanding to their lawyers and review the document with them. In most cases, one of the lawyers creates the Settlement Agreement and the other lawyer reviews the agreement with their client. Both parties must sign the Settlement Agreement and have it registered with the Court.
In some cases, clients know there will be a review of child and or spousal support, so there may be future mediation sessions to have those reviews.