Divorce Mediation What You Need to Know
If you’re thinking of getting divorced but don’t want to fight your divorce in court, you might want to explore divorce mediation in Seattle, Washington. A divorce mediator can help you peacefully divorce your spouse and find amicable solutions to some of the crucial questions that must be addressed when drafting a divorce settlement.
In this article we’ll define divorce meditation, discuss the goals of mediation, explore the benefits of hiring a divorce mediator, and discuss how you can find a Seattle, Washington divorce mediator. We’ll look at what the divorce mediation process looks like, and we’ll also discuss situations where you may want to take your divorce to court and not hire a divorce mediator. Finally, we’ll explore the cost of mediation and next steps.
Table Of Content:
Divorce Mediation Defined
When you choose divorce mediation, you and your former partner will hire a divorce mediator, who will serve as a neutral negotiator, there to help you and your former partner discuss difficult questions that must be resolved to file for divorce. It’s important to keep in mind that when you hire a divorce mediator, you are not hiring the mediator in the capacity as your lawyer (though many mediators are lawyers). Couples who hire divorce mediators will also often each have their own lawyer present during the divorce mediation process or at a minimum they will have a divorce lawyer on retainer that they can work with before and after mediation sessions. When the mediation process is complete, and you and your former spouse have reached an agreement about all major concerns in your divorce, your lawyers will draft and review all legal documents related to your divorce (your parenting plan and divorce agreement).
When you file for divorce, you and your former partner will need to make crucial decisions about how to split assets, property, and debts. In some situations, you’ll need to make decisions about spousal support. If you have children, you’ll need to create a parenting plan, which can include decisions about shared parenting time, visitation, major decision-making, and child support. A divorce mediator cannot provide legal counsel on these issues but can help you understand your options and help you and your former spouse negotiate the best possible solution. In Washington state, divorce mediators typically don’t draft divorce settlements or agreements. You and your former spouse will need to each hire a lawyer to represent your interests when drafting this agreement.
Goals of Divorce Mediation
Whether you and your former spouse agree on most issues related to your divorce and are seeking an amicable divorce, or you disagree about most issues in your divorce and fear that your divorce will be contentious, a divorce mediator can help. The goal of divorce mediation is the same: filing for uncontested divorce. Filing for uncontested divorce has many benefits. You can save money on court fees and save time waiting for a court date and avoid fighting over personal issues in public (everything you say and do in court ends up on the public record).
Some couples take their divorce to court thinking that it’s best if a judge helps them resolve their unresolved issues. The reality is that judges rarely make decisions on behalf of divorcing couples. In many cases, judges will send couples to court-ordered mediation if a couple is unable to reach an agreement about child custody, division of assets and debts, or alimony. In fact, under the Revised Code of Washington (RCW 26.09.015), “in any proceeding under this chapter, the matter may be set for mediation of the contested issues… The purpose of the mediation proceeding shall be to reduce acrimony which may exist between the parties.” This means that for any court case involving child custody, the court may, at its own discretion, require divorcing couples to seek mediation. Basically, if you and your spouse aren’t getting along, and you take your case to court because you can’t reach an agreement outside of court, the judge might send you to mediation anyway. By choosing divorce mediation before you take your case to court, you and your former partner can avoid waiting for a court date just to be told by a judge that you need to go to a mediator.
Even if you agree about most aspects of your divorce, and you and your former partner have each hired your own divorce lawyers, a divorce mediator is a skilled negotiator who can help both parties address the more difficult questions and issues that can arise during the divorce negotiation and settlement process. When you hire a lawyer, your lawyer’s job is to represent you, their client. Even in the case of collaborative divorce, each party’s lawyer is ultimately responsible for serving the interests of their client. The mediator’s job is to find common ground between both parties and to serve as a negotiator when common ground cannot be reached. A skilled mediator can help offer new perspectives and solutions, offer different options for compromise, and help you pace discussions so that things don’t get too heated.
Benefits of Hiring a Divorce Mediator
There are many benefits of hiring a divorce mediator. Here are some key ones:
- Save Money. Filing for uncontested divorce can save you money by helping you and your former spouse avoid costly court fees, legal fees, and other expenses involved with taking your divorce to court.
- Save Time. Traditional divorce that involves a trial and court appearance can take at least a year, and even longer. If you’re looking to finalize your divorce faster, a mediator can help you negotiate a divorce agreement so that you can file for uncontested divorce. When couples take their divorce to court, they are often focused on their disagreements. A skilled divorce mediator can help both parties find common ground.
- Privacy. If you take your divorce to court, anything you say in court will end up on the public record. When you choose divorce mediation, you can hash out the details in private.
- Control the Outcome. If you and your former spouse take issues like child custody to a judge, you are taking a risk that the judge might make a decision that neither you nor your spouse wants. Furthermore, if you go to court, under the Revised Code of Washington (26.09.015), “the court shall use the most cost-effective mediation services that are readily available.” By hiring a divorce mediator to help you reach an uncontested divorce, you and your former spouse are always in control. You get to choose your own mediator without the court getting involved. If you don’t like the way mediation is going, you can always hire another mediator or other professionals to help you resolve difficult issues. It can be very difficult to change a parenting plan once a judge has made a decision.
- Protect Yourself Legally While Also Negotiating. Divorce mediation offers the “best of both worlds.” When you choose the divorce mediation process, you and your former partner will each hire your own lawyers to represent your interests, but you’ll also hire a divorce mediator who can serve as a neutral party at the negotiating table. This can protect both you and your partner from ending up in a contentious divorce and help make the process as amicable as possible.
- If your former spouse hires a lawyer looking to protect his or her client at any cost, a divorce mediator may be able to reign this in and guide the discussion back toward an uncontested solution.
- If both you and your partner are looking for a peaceful divorce, one that avoids court, you might want to consider the collaborative divorce process, where parties agree to resolve the divorce outside of court. But for the collaborative divorce process to work, both parties must choose it.
- If your former partner is ready for a fight (or has hired a lawyer who wants to fight), a mediator can be the next best option to collaborative divorce. And even couples who choose collaborative divorce sometimes also choose to hire a mediator to help them reach an agreement.
Divorce mediation may be able to offer you and your former spouse a path toward an uncontested divorce.
Finding a Seattle, Washington Divorce Mediator
There is no Washington law governing who can become a mediator. Basically, any neutral party can serve as a mediator to your divorce. Some people choose to ask a pastor or rabbi to serve as a mediator. Other couples choose to hire three lawyers, one who works as a mediator, and the other two to represent each party collaboratively in the divorce.
Divorcing couples who take their case to court may be subject to any mediator the court deems fit. Under the Revised Code of Washington (26.09.015), “the mediator may be a member of the professional staff of a family court or mental health services agency, or may be any other person or agency designated by the court.” This means the mediator could be a social worker, therapist, or any other person determined competent to mediate the matter.
The benefits of hiring a divorce mediator with the goal of helping you and your former spouse file for uncontested divorce is that you have the power of choice. If you want to hire a pastor or rabbi, you can. If you want to hire a lawyer, you can. If you want to hire a therapist, you can. The choice is yours. You can also visit the Washington Mediation Association website and find a privately certified mediator from their list of mediators skilled in mediating cases in divorce and family law.
What the Mediation Process Looks Like
Every divorce mediator’s process will be slightly different depending on their approach. In general, at the start of the process, the divorce mediator will get to know you and your spouse, take the time to understand what each of you hope to get out of the divorce process, and note areas of common ground and areas where there might be conflict.
Because the goal of divorce mediation is to file for uncontested divorce, your divorce mediator will lay out an agenda that includes all the major issues that must be discussed and agreed upon. These issues will depend on the unique circumstances of your divorce but could include: property division, debt division, asset division, spousal support, retirement plans, business division, child custody, and child support. During the process you might be asked to bring in information to help with the mediation process, and other professionals may also be hired to assist you and your spouse with complex divorce matters. For example, some couples might hire a child psychologist or therapist to assist them with drafting their parenting plan and with making choices about child custody. Other couples might need to hire a forensic accountant or a business valuation expert if they have a complicated financial situation. The mediator’s job is to help gather as much information as possible, help you understand the decisions you need to make, and help you negotiate an agreement that involves compromise from both sides.
Rarely in divorce does one person “win.” Divorce is almost always a compromise. A divorce mediator can help you and your former partner communicate what you really want and don’t want, so that you can find a workable compromise you both can live with. A good divorce mediator will help you see the common ground you and your former partner still share (even if you think you can’t agree about anything) and offer a range of possible solutions to choose from. For example, when drafting a parenting plan, your shared goal of your children’s well-being can be the common ground from which you negotiate.
When You Should Take Your Divorce to Court
While taking your divorce to court can be more costly than choosing mediation or collaborative divorce, there are some situations where it might be in your best interest or your children’s best interest to choose to take your divorce to court. Here are some situations where mediation may not be right for you:
- Domestic Violence. If you and your former partner have a history of domestic violence, or if you fear for your safety or the safety of your children, you may want to speak to a lawyer who works with domestic violence divorce cases to assist you. Cases of domestic violence often involve situations of coercive control. Furthermore, the time when you may be most at risk of violence is precisely when you are leaving a relationship. A person with a history of abusing his or her partner might manipulate the mediation process. A person scared for his or her life or safety is usually not able to have a fair chance at the negotiating table.
- Your Former Partner Doesn’t Want to Negotiate. For mediation to be successful, both parties have to agree to the process. If your former partner doesn’t want to negotiate, or doesn’t agree to mediation, you may have to go to court and wait for a judge to order it.
- You Suspect Your Former Partner Just Wants to Drag Out the Divorce. This is a rarer situation, but if your former partner doesn’t want to get divorced and you think he or she is trying to use mediation to delay getting divorced, mediation might not be for you.
- You Think Your Former Partner Might be Hiding Assets. Taking your divorce to trial has the benefit that you and your former spouse will be subject to the discovery process. While a mediator or collaborative divorce lawyer will ask that both spouses reveal all their assets and debts, by bringing your case before a judge, these requests become a legal obligation.
In most cases, divorcing couples can benefit from choosing divorce mediation or the collaborative divorce process, but if you are concerned that mediation might not work in your situation, you may want to speak to your divorce lawyer or the mediator about your concerns before you begin the process.
How Much Does a Divorce Mediator Cost?
The cost of a divorce mediator will vary depending on the complexity of your case. According to Forbes, estimates vary between $3000 and $10,000, but the costs can be higher or lower depending on who you choose to mediate your divorce. For example, if you choose to ask your pastor or rabbi to serve as your mediator your costs might be nothing. If you choose an attorney to serve as your mediator, your costs might be higher. Costs can also vary depending on whether you need to hire forensic accountants, therapists, and other professionals.
Alternatives to Divorce Mediation
One alternative to divorce mediation is collaborative divorce. With collaborative divorce, both you and your partner will each hire your own lawyers, but at the start of the process, you’ll both agree that your goal is to file for uncontested divorce. Collaborative divorce, like divorce mediation, is meant to be an amicable divorce process. If your goal is a peaceful divorce, and you believe you and your partner agree about most issues, you may not need a divorce mediator. Collaborative divorce lawyers often have experience in helping couples negotiate peaceful divorce settlements without the need to take a case to court.
If you’re thinking of getting divorced, are considering divorce mediation, or are looking for ways to make your divorce amicable and avoid going to court, consider reaching out to Truce Law. Our collaborative divorce lawyers can help you explore your options and alternatives to divorce mediation.