(3TV/CBS 5) -- In an age where couples are choosing to remain "partners in parenthood" if not "partners in marriage," as so wonderfully put by Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale, divorce mediation seems to be the more appropriate path when considering the heartbreaking decision to divorce or separate.
The traditional model of retaining two attorneys and "going to the races" down the litigation track does not make sense for a lot of couples these days. However, many still do not know that mediation is even an option, what it actually entails, and what the difference is between working with a divorce mediator versus a divorce attorney.
Mediation is a process where a couple meets with a neutral third party, the mediator, to craft creative agreements that are workable for everyone. In mediation, the couple explores options, discusses individual and family goals, addresses the best interests of the kids (and fur babies), talks about their personal sense of fairness, and considers realistic financial positions.
All final decisions are made by the couple and they are not bound by anything until they are in full agreement and have the chance to review, or have mediation-friendly attorneys review, their final divorce documents.
Some key points:
Typical time-frame: 3-5 months
Typical cost: Depends on the mediation company with Affordable Mediation around $2,900-$3,900 plus court filing fees
Typical types of agreements: Nothing typical. Most couples create arrangements unique to them and their family that address their personal situations
Typical involvement with the court: Minimal. Usually 3 simple filings at the court filing counter. No hearings, no trial, no motions, no expert witnesses, no testifying before a judge
Typical outcome: Productive and, often, friendly co-parenting relationships, or for those without kids, a lasting friendship or, at least, respectful parting
In litigation, on the other hand, each party hires a separate lawyer who must fight for the best position for his or her client, thus, thrusting the family into a win-lose situation. The divorce lawyers usually prepare motions, argue at hearings, hire experts to support their opposing positions, and eventually, hammer out a settlement or take the case to trial. As you can imagine, most couples find the process to be stressful and unpleasant. Many report that they are dissatisfied with the outcome and the couple's relationship may deteriorate further.
Some key points:
Typical time-frame: 1-2 years
Typical cost: Depends on the lawyers, but attorney sources report an average in Arizona of $30,000 - $50,000 in legal fees and court costs
Typical types of agreements: Win-Lose outcomes unless a settlement is reached
Typical involvement with the court: Considerable. Motions, hearings, conferences, testimony, appearing before a judge.
Typical outcome: Exhausted, battle-weary, couples with an even more strained relationship. The litigation process tends to reduce or eliminate communication between the couple and increase conflict.
Mediation may not be appropriate for every situation (e.g., where there is physical or emotional abuse, substance abuse, vastly unequal bargaining positions). However, for most situations, couples are really just trying to move forward past the pain in search of some sense of peace and usually want their frustrations and fears to be heard by the person who was their partner in life.
I believe that if we, as mediators, can provide a supportive setting, where couples can get back to the basics, honor each other and the marriage that was shared and be open and honest, agreements will be reached in almost every situation. In the words of famous psychologist, Carl Rogers (who I personally consider the founder of mediation), "what is most personal is most universal."
Quote from Carl R. Rogers, On Becoming a Person: A Therapist's View of Psychotherapy