As a family law attorney and mediator for almost 30 years, I spend a great deal of time educating prospective clients and the public about the many benefits of choosing to mediate their divorce rather than selecting the more traditional litigation path. Even though divorce mediation is much less costly, less time consuming, and less divisive and stressful than the adversarial model of litigation, I often hear the same three concerns raised about mediation.
Essentially, a Social Early Neutral Evaluation is similar to mediation in that it is a form of alternative dispute resolution that is voluntary and non-binding. The difference is that with ordinary mediation, the mediator generally will not take a position. Whereas the evaluators presiding over an SENE are specifically tasked to give their recommendations, as a way to help the parties reach a settlement.
Almost every state requires mediation of child custody disputes, and many states' court systems provide services such as early conflict intervention, conciliator services, community dispute resolution centers, education seminars for divorcing couples, mediation, and settlement conferences. Today, mediation, either voluntary or court mandated, is the predominant form of dispute resolution for divorcing couples.
Mediation is a forum in which a neutral mediator facilitates communication between parties to promote reconciliation, understanding, and settlement. Mediation is particularly suited to divorces and other family law proceedings because there is likely to be a continuing relationship between the parties, especially if minor children are involved. Many divorcing couples find mediation allows them to avoid the high financial and emotional costs of a litigated divorce. Because settlement is generally quicker, costs are reduced.
Even if you and your partner do not agree on much, divorce mediation could still be for you. Check out The Divorce Mediation Quiz for typical issues to think about when considering divorce mediation. If you and your partner think that divorce mediation could be a sensible solution for your family, you should learn more by meeting with a divorce mediator who can answer questions specific to your situation.
Fees may be charged on an hourly basis, or by the day or half-day. In general, mediators help the parties meet, explore options, and negotiate a mutual settlement to resolve their dispute. Mediators do not determine who is right or wrong. Instead, they help the parties reach a solution on their own that works for them. Parties should seek mediators with mediation training, experience, and specific knowledge of family law. It's also important to consider the mediator's style and mediation philosophy.
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.
Minnesota is a purely "no-fault" divorce state, meaning that you can't allege that your spouse's wrongdoing was the cause of the divorce. Instead, most divorces are based on the grounds that the parties have irreconcilable differences that have led to the breakdown of the marriage. However, fault may be considered by the court as a factor in dividing property or awarding alimony. To learn more about whether Minnesota uses fault as a determining factor in alimony and property issues, see Nolo's Essential Guide to Divorce, by Emily Doskow.
Probably the most common misconception that I hear from people about divorce mediation it that they believe it is only suitable for couples that are very amicable. Their perception is that since they are not getting along very well with their spouse, they can’t sit down together and discuss anything let alone issues regarding their money and children. In fact, mediation is very well suited to helping parties who are high conflict to work through their differences and come to a reasonable solution.
If you were served with a "Summons and Petition" (you are the Respondent), you should talk to an attorney before you sign the "Answer and Counterpetition," and before you sign a "Stipulated Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order for Judgment and Judgment and Decree" (which is an agreement with your spouse on how to divide all assets and debts).