I recently attended a 40-hour divorce mediation training. Forty hours is the requirement in my state to practice as a divorce mediator. That’s not why I did it though. As a divorce coach, many of my clients are going through mediation and I wanted to support them as best as possible during the process. I truly believe that mediation is a better way to “do” divorce. And I believe that because I walked out of my first mediation meeting and never went back.
I had to learn the hard way that mediation was the kinder, gentler version of what we think of when we think of divorce. Don’t get me wrong. Mediation is still an emotional rollercoaster, but with mediation, you’re on the kiddie version versus The Tower of Terror. And like the kiddie rollercoaster, mediation feels slow, but it’s a much shorter ride and significantly less expensive than going through lawyers. I know now that walking out of mediation was the worst mistake I made in my divorce. Instead of going through a 3 – 6 month mediation process, my divorce took 2 years. And mediation would have cost me approximately $5,000 (in my state) versus the $45,000 that my lawyers cleaned out of my Roth IRA. Yes, clearly the worst mistake – but I didn’t know anything about mediation and no one gave me the information I needed (including the mediator I had hired) to help me make a better decision.
So, here is what YOU need to know about divorce mediation to help you make better decisions. Don’t make the mistake I did!
1. Mediation Is The Best Option
A generation ago, there were only two ways to get divorced and both involved lawyers. Today, there are actually 4 paths you can take to get divorced. Litigation is the one most people think of. A litigated trial is the Kramer vs Kramer version where lawyers are battling it out in a court room. Litigation is the bread and butter of divorce attorneys because it can take years for the case to go to trial, all at a hefty billable rate. A friend of mine went through a litigated divorce trial – in his case, it took 9 days in court and over a million dollars to get divorced. AND both parties were at the mercy of what the judge decided. Crazy, right? Clearly, the cases that get litigated are indicative of high emotion and a willingness to sacrifice the future (and a ton of money) over hurt from the past. The next most common divorce option is using your respective lawyers to negotiate an agreement. Again, this option can drag on a lot longer and cost a lot more than you’d like. Additionally, you are relying on your attorney to get you the best deal, which of course, they are happy to do -- at their own pace -- at $500/hour. The negotiation is largely out of your hands as both attorneys are negotiating an agreement based on their experience of what a court will consider “usual.” And of course, the court system tries to drive everything to a happy medium, even if it is completely unsatisfactory to both parties. Another option gaining more popularity today is collaborative divorce. In this process, each party has an attorney, but those attorneys are empowering their clients to negotiate for themselves in 5-way meetings that include the two parties, their attorneys and a coach neutral (who keeps the process going). Collaborative divorce puts more control in the hands (and voices) of the divorcing couple to craft an agreement that will work for their family. Unfortunately, that control comes at a fairly high cost considering all the people involved in the process. Mediation is the least costly and time-consuming option since it involves just the divorcing couple, a mediator and whatever time it takes to reach an agreement. And as I’ll discuss next, it gives you more control and latitude over what goes into your divorce agreement.
2. Mediation Gives You Control
Mediation is the only option you have to negotiate whatever you want in a divorce agreement – as long as you both agree. The court encourages mediation since these agreements are less contested and don’t bog down the system (any further than it already is). And some states even require mediation as the first step in any divorce proceedings. In mediation, you are encouraged to craft an agreement that works for you and your family moving forward. Only you and your soon-to-be-ex spouse can know what that is – not your lawyers and not a judge. And rather than being forced into the court’s concept of what is “usual”, you can be as creative as you want with it, as long as it demonstrates fairness for both parties. And while the mediator gives you a general sense of what is “usual” for the court, know that this is the only option where you can color outside the lines as long as it makes sense and is equitable. The role of the mediator is to walk you through the process step by step, so that you can make small agreements along the way which eventually add up to become your divorce agreement. The mediator must remain neutral in the process to ensure that the final agreement will be considered fair for both parties and acceptable to the court. Faced with the shock of divorce, it might seem easier to throw the whole thing over the fence to a lawyer – you can – but know that it will be significantly longer, more expensive and you might not end up with the result you wanted. Mediation puts more control and latitude in your hands than any other divorce option -- without the undue influence of lawyers and the court system. And mediation helps you take charge of your divorce – your life – with intention and purpose.
3. Not All Mediators Are The Same
I discovered in my divorce mediation training that no two mediators