Divorcing spouses often use mediation to resolve family law disputes outside of the legal system. Luckily, if you are looking to mediate a divorce in California, you do not need an attorney! Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that encourages divorcing spouses to come together to discuss and resolve their issues. If you’re looking to mediate a divorce in California, read on for a complete guide and checklist!
Family Law Mediation: Overview
Self-represented litigants often use mediation to negotiate divorce settlements. A mediator is a third party neutral who helps couples discuss and resolve issues in their divorce. Mediators are usually not lawyers and cannot offer legal advice. On the contrary, the mediator’s role is to help people work through issues to negotiate a solution. Thus, the mediator does not take sides and does not make a final decision, but rather facilitates positive discussions between the couple so they can reach the best possible resolution. Commonly, mediators help couples resolve child support and custody, spousal support, and asset and property division issues.
There are several benefits to hiring a mediator. For example, hiring a mediator to resolve an issue is much less expensive than going to court and litigating before a judge. In addition, most mediation sessions have a high success rate in resolving issues. Plus, they help improve communication between divorcing spouses. In fact, most couples can resolve their issues without legal help, and some even feel that attorneys get in the way of resolving their disputes.
That being said, if you have been subjected to domestic violence, mediation without an attorney may not be in your best interest. Contact A People’s Choice to find out if mediation is right for you.
How to Mediate a Divorce: The Process
In order for mediation to work, both couples must be willing to attend mediation to resolve their issues. In other words, both parties must be willing to negotiate and compromise.
Usually, the mediation process begins with a phone call to the mediator. During the call, each party will speak to the mediator one-on-one and offer background on the issues they would like to resolve. Then, during the first meeting, the mediator will explain in detail what each spouse can expect from the session and the overall process of mediation. For example, the mediator may instruct everyone to stay in the same room throughout the entire session or to go into separate conference rooms so they can get each spouse’s views in private.
Each spouse will have the opportunity to share their feelings on the pending issues. This way, the mediator will find where the spouses agree and disagree. Furthermore, the mediator will help both parties decide what needs to be accomplished and foster negotiations to help them reach a resolution.
Sometimes, if the parties reach an agreement during mediation, the mediator will draft a formal marital settlement agreement. Ultimately, this agreement can then be incorporated into a divorce judgment.
Three Important Tips for Mediating a Divorce Settlement
In order for your spouse to change their mind or position on important issues, they must first feel that their side is heard. Therefore, in the first part of mediation, discover what your spouse wants and why it is important to them. Then, find a way to accommodate those needs while still feeling good about the result. When both parties get what they need, but not necessarily exactly what they want, they are compromising.
However, if you absolutely cannot find a way to compromise, at least let your spouse feel you have heard and listened to them. This act will go a long way when the mediator attempts to find a middle ground on a particular contested issue.
Also, it’s important to focus on how you communicate with your spouse during mediation. For example, if your spouse has made a request you’re not sure about, you can tell them you don’t know if you feel comfortable with their request, and ask them to consider other options that result in a similar goal. If your spouse wants you to waive spousal support, you could respond with the following:
“I would really like to be able to waive spousal support. I know we are both struggling financially with this divorce and that you are angry about paying me. However, I would be willing to consider a shorter time if we can brainstorm how I can become self-supporting within the next one or two years. Would you be willing work on that together?”
When approaching mediation, don’t start with the biggest problem. Instead, lead with smaller, less contentious issues on which you and your spouse may more easily compromise. For example, addressing splitting the frequent flier miles you both accumulated is much easier then deciding how to value a business or who gets to keep the house.
If you can reach agreements with small items, both of you will feel empowered and confident that you can do the same with more difficult matters. Then, as you successfully compromise and resolve the easier issues, your agreement will start to take shape so you can build on the positive rather than the negative.
Divorce Mediation Cost in California
Couples that use the mediation process and do not litigate contested matters will certainly save money, since most mediators charge an hourly or per-session fee. That being said, court-ordered mediation or that provided through a community mediation agency may be available for free or reduced fee based on a sliding scale.
The number of mediation sessions necessary to gather information and negotiate an agreement will vary with the issues surrounding a couple’s divorce. Furthermore, these variances will also affect the final cost of mediation. However, the cost of mediation is typically substantially less than adversarial litigation through the courts.
A private divorce mediator might charge anywhere from $100 an hour to several hundred dollars an hour. On the other hand, some mediators provide services to couples at a flat rate. Furthermore, some mediators include preparing the marital settlement agreement or other divorce paperwork in their fees, while others don’t. However, you may be able to cut the overall costs of mediation by suggesting that you wish to use the mediator only to negotiate the terms of settlement. Then, you can then hire a legal document assistant to merge the terms of your mediated settlement into a formal marital settlement agreement.
How Long Does Mediation Take?
Mediating issues in a divorce could take as little as a few hours! Overall, divorce mediation should run no more than twelve hours, and can usually be completed in four to seven. That being said, these sessions may be spread out over several weeks. However, sometimes it’s beneficial to have a longer, intensive session that resolves all issues at once. The length and number of mediation sessions typically depend on the disputed issues and the couple’s needs and urgency.
If a couple is unable to reach a resolution of disputed issues in a few sessions, it is highly unlikely that things will change with more divorce mediation sessions. Usually, mediation that goes on week after week with discussions on the same points of conflict just wear the parties out with no beneficial outcome.
Preparing for California Divorce Mediation
In order to get the most out of your mediation sessions, those participating should prepare for each session. The better prepared the parties, the more effective and efficient the mediation process.
You can prepare for your California divorce mediation by:
- completing any paperwork requested by the mediator;
- compiling a detailed list of all issues you believe are relevant to the resolution;
- collecting copies of relevant material to bring to the mediation; and
- brainstorming some different ideas to settle the issues that you are mediating.
California Divorce Mediation Checklists
Furthermore, you can categorize and identify your issues and concerns as referenced in the following checklists:
- Access to Information/People: Educational and medical records, teachers, doctors, etc.
- Medical Emergencies: Decision making, notification, legal consent
- Daily Schedule: Children’s living arrangements for a typical week, time between parents
- Holidays: Secular, religious, birthdays, reunions
- Vacations: Summer vacations, winter and spring breaks, travel
- Transportation: Arrangements regarding pick-up and drop-off
- Change of Residence: Restrictions and notice to other parent of intent to move
- Decision-Making: Major decisions about medical treatment, education, religion, discipline, safety
- Renegotiation: Periodic review of plan
- Conflict Resolution: How will you settle future disputes
- Complete Disclosure of Assets and Debt: Gathering and sharing financial information and documentation about assets/debts
- Procedure for Division: Identification and valuation, community vs. separate property division
- Categories of Assets: Vehicles, household furnishings, boats, collectables, other personal property, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, funds. real estate, life insurance, business interests and assets, pensions, IRA, 401(k), etc., patents, stock options, etc.
- Categories of Debts: Mortgages, bank loans (e.g. car loans), loans on life insurance, loans on retirement accounts, credit cards, personal loans
- Budgeting: Parents’ expenses and children’s expenses
- Income: Identifying all sources for both parties
- Child Support: Calculating basic support level, school tuition, childcare, camp fees, extracurricular activities, extraordinary medical expenses
- Alimony: Establishing needs, amount, type, and duration
- Adjustments: Cost of living, changed circumstances
- Medical Insurance
- Life Insurance
- College Tuition & Expenses
- Taxes: Claiming tax exemptions for children and dividing refunds, liabilities, alimony vs. child support
Remember: mediation is a voluntary opportunity for each party to bring up any issue they feel is relevant to the resolution. That being said, mediation agreements are binding and will be the backbone of your divorce settlement.
How to Find the Right Mediator
When searching for a divorce mediator, try to get a referral from someone you can trust. You can ask legal professionals, financial or spiritual advisers for referrals. Additionally, you can read The American Bar Association’s Model Standards of Practice for Family and Divorce Mediation, which outlines principles for divorce mediators. Make sure to look for a mediator who provides services consistent with the standards outlined in this article.
If you are researching how to mediate a divorce in California, you can contact A People’s Choice for help with preparing your divorce paperwork as well as locating a low-cost mediator. Call 1-800-747-2780 today to speak with a representative.
At A People’s Choice, we offer statewide legal document assistance to residents of Ventura and Los Angeles County as well as all other counties in California.