If the case does settle, the mediator will urge the parties to sign a settlement to memorialize the agreement. A written settlement agreement is a contract between the parties, which is generally enforceable in the same manner as any other written contract. Generally, there's no record of the mediation session, and the only document produced is the settlement (or mediation) agreement.
Many of those who have successfully gone through divorce mediation note it is a much less expensive alternative to litigation. The costs of litigation are generally an unknown until the case settles. At that time the spouses may be shocked at the level of fees they have incurred through attorney’s fees, expert witnesses, depositions, preparation of the case for trial, filing motions back and forth and many other things associated with divorce litigation. Mediation, on the other hand, allows couples to have a good estimate of the number of hours it will take to resolve the issues at hand. The ultimate goal of mediation is to resolve the issues quickly, and this translates to financial savings.
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Finally, the parties in mediation are often surprised to hear their mediator suggest that they consider retaining consulting attorneys. The thought is that they chose to mediate to avoid fighting their case out with attorneys and they don’t want that extraordinary expense. However, the role of a consulting attorney in mediation is very different than the role of a litigation advocate and is a very helpful assistance when mediating.
Through a series of joint sessions we work through the three main components of a legal divorce settlement (property division, financial support and parenting plan). Generally speaking we follow these steps: 1) make an action plan and prioritize issues to be addressed; 2) determine what information needs to be gathered and shared; 3) assess if additional professional assistance from appraisers, accountants, therapists, attorneys, etc. is needed; 4) share and document your property (assets and liabilities); 5) make decisions about dividing your property; 6) create budgets for separate living; 7) determine financial support needs (child support and/or spousal maintenance/alimony); and 8) develop a detailed and workable parenting plan. In all cases, your personal and private information is treated confidentially with the same care and concern as in the legal process. The final product of mediation is a Memorandum of Agreement which is a comprehensive document detailing your agreements and which serves as the basis for your legal documents which are filed with the court.
Legally, there can be no discrimination based on the sex of the parent. For a father willing to bear the time and expense of the contest, chances for custody are more or less equal to those of the mother, all else being equal. Having said that, I do think there is some lingering bias, even though judges and custody evaluators and guardians ad litem will always deny it. Often I do not believe it even occurs on a conscious level. Yet there is a gut feeling one gets, representing a father, that the job is just a little more difficult, or representing a mother, that the job is just a little bit easier.
All divorce mediators will work hard to put everyone at ease, allowing the process to proceed in an informal, comfortable atmosphere. Most divorce mediations last from two to five sessions. While these sessions are structured to address specific issues in a specific order, one party or the other may need to gather additional information or consult with their attorney. In this case the specific issue may be skipped, and readdressed later. If both spouses agree, other professionals such as child psychologist, accountants or attorneys may be allowed to attend the mediation in order to clarify specific issues. If both parties agree, a relative or trusted friend may attend mediation, however their participation in the process is extremely limited. Children may be present during later sessions if the parents agree, but rarely during the first session.
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Divorce mediation still feels like a new idea in some parts of the country, but it’s increasingly well-known and widely accepted. Mediation means different things to different people. In the form I recommend, you and your spouse would sit down in the same room with each other and with a neutral mediator. With the mediator’s help, you would work through all the issues you need to resolve so the two of you can get through your divorce.
To ensure you cover everything, create a master list of all your assets and possessions—regardless of whether an item is thought to be yours or your spouse’s. The master list should include all real property (house, rental properties, vacation homes), personal property (books, DVDs, furniture, artwork, jewelry), vehicles (including boats, motorcycles, ATVs), bank accounts (joint and separate, checking, savings), credit cards, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, annuities, stocks and other financial products. Account for everything you own.
Then the respondent's attorney calls the respondent’s witnesses. After the respondent's attorney rests, the petitioner's attorney may call witnesses to respond to the testimony given for the respondent. The respondent's attorney may do the same. When all of the testimony is completed, the attorneys argue the case, saying why the judge should rule in his or her client’s favor. Then the judge ends the trial. The judge may announce a decision at the end of the trial. He or she may take time to think about the case and make the decision later. By law, the judge has 90 days to decide the case. Usually the judge sends copies of the decision to the attorneys. The divorce becomes final when the court clerk enters the Judgment and Decree for the court. The clerk tells the attorneys when the Judgment and Decree has been entered. The Judgment and Decree is the final decision in the case.
Each spouse has the right to sell, give away, or dispose of any property the couple owns. For example, either person can withdraw money from a joint bank account. Either can charge on a joint credit card. There are some exceptions to this general rule. Neither spouse has the right to cash checks made out to the other spouse. Neither spouse can withdraw money from a bank account if it is in the name of the other spouse only. Neither spouse can sell a motor vehicle that is in the name of the other spouse. Neither can sell real estate that is in both names or in the name of one spouse.