Mediation in divorce is a process by which a mediator or a trained neutral, often a lawyer or mental health professional, helps divorcing spouses reach agreement. The mediator works as a facilitator to guide the divorcing spouses through the process to resolve the outstanding issues. Some divorcing spouses have reached agreement on certain issues, but need assistance resolving other ones, and they attend mediation to address just those issues. Others need assistance with all of the issues. But those who elect mediation are electing to work together to maintain control of their lives. (When individuals litigate and go to court, the judge makes the decision. Those decisions are often not what either side really wants, but once the judge makes the decision, it is the one that controls.)
The complexity of the issues and ability of the individuals to be flexible as they negotiate a fair agreement determines the length of the mediation. Every case is different, but the average case usually takes at least three to four two-hour mediation sessions, spread out over at least a month or two. More complex cases can take four to six months to complete.
Case in point: I had a client once who — contrary to my advice — chose to engage in settlement negotiations for several months prior to commencement and filing of the divorce, rather than filing first and then working on settlement. The pre-filing settlement negotiations did not bear fruit, and because of the delay, the valuation date did not occur until much later than it otherwise would have, with the result that a $180,000 dividend payment received by my client was treated as martial property, when it otherwise would not have been.
Prior to the temporary relief hearing, as indicated above, both parents have custody. One the one hand, it is a disadvantage to agree to a parenting time schedule — even on an interim basis — which is less than what you want on a permanent basis, because even though this is not legally relevant, I have seen judges swayed by arguments about who has had the children prior to the court appearance. On the other hand, children shouldn’t have to witness their parents fighting at the day care center doors about who gets to take them home. Sometimes the best approach is just to share the time 50-50 for the sake of compromise, until the matter is heard by the Court. If for the sake of the children you feel it is best not to fight about it, it is very important to send written notice to your spouse explaining your strong objection to the interim arrangement, e.g.:
If the parties are hostile or overly emotional, the mediator will separate the parties and shuttle back and forth between them in "private caucuses." A private caucus is a conference between the mediator and one party, without the other party being present. The mediator passes offers and demands between the parties. Conversations between a party and the mediator during private caucus are confidential unless a party authorizes the mediator to disclose information to the other side.
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).