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SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – Divorce Mediation is fast becoming a popular approach to amicably ending a marriage. It eliminates the cost and formalities of litigation and allows couples to reasonably decide, for themselves, how to fairly and equitably part ways. Although mediation is still a relatively new alternative to divorce, the increase in the divorce rate has sent many people searching, blindly, for answers on how it all works.
I am frequently asked many of the same questions regarding Divorce Mediation, so it seems as though posting my answers may help inform and educate many of you who might still be wondering whether or not it is for you. So, without further ado…
1.) Why should I consider mediation?
Well, why shouldn’t you? Mediation is a cost-effective, client-centered, confidential and amicable option to divorce. In mediated agreements, parties negotiate their own agreements, the time frame is flexible and it encourages mature relationships between parents. Mediating couples are more satisfied and comfortable with the process and results, spend less time and money and are less likely to dispute after the divorce.
2.) What is the mediator’s role?
A mediator is a neutral, third party professional trained to facilitate conflict resolution. A mediator encourages compromise toward reaching a fair and mutually agreeable divorce resolution. The mediator works equally for both parties and guides them to a confidential, voluntary negotiation. A mediator does not act as an attorney and works collaboratively to help couples to part ways positively.
3.) Why does a licensed therapist make a good mediator?
In short, therapists are trained to decrease conflict and lawyers are trained to ‘fight’. Therapists are compassionate, results – oriented, and sensitive allowing them the patience and resources to work through difficult negotiations. One should not expect a therapist who is acting as a mediator to perform couples counseling or try to “save” the marriage. They are two very separate roles and should not be confused in the mediation setting.
4.) How should I prepare for my 1st mediation appointment?
It is possible to begin mediation without preparation, especially if you are unsure what to expect. However, there are things you can do before your first session to minimize the time and money you spend in mediation. First, if you have children, it is a good idea to discuss your general plans for custody and support. Details can be negotiated, but if you have a basic understanding/agreement going on, the smoother it goes. Another thing that is important to discuss is your financial information. Your earnings, expenses, debt and retirement plans are all discussed. Finally, try to have a plan for the marital home… who will stay? Will you sell? Overall, try to keep the best interests of each family member in mind when making important decisions… it helps to avoid conflict.
5.) How does the mediation process work?
The mediation process is a very flexible and relaxed one. You will meet with your mediator and your spouse in a private, peaceful environment at your convenience. Your mediator will go over your contract for mediation services and make sure you are clear of your rights. You will then begin the process of discussing the 25 topics that need to be agreed upon in order to have an uncontested divorce. These consist of your plans for your children, the home, assets, debt and separation of belongings. Once all of the topics have been addressed, the mediator will produce a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ reflecting your wishes that you can submit with your divorce application. You will then meet with your mediator briefly to go over the Memorandum and check for any errors. From there, you will need to fill out your divorce packet from the court. You can go to the court house on your own or hire an attorney to represent at least one of you for the day.
6.) What is the cost?
The average cost for a one hour mediation session runs about $200 – $400. There is then a flat fee (usually $300 – $400) for the Final Memorandum of Understanding.
7.) How long does mediation take?
In my experience, the average number of sessions is 3 to 5. I have had some mediations that lasted 45 minutes and others that took much longer. It really all depends on how amicable you and your spouse are, how much you’ve agreed upon in advance and how complicated your case is.
8.) Do I still need a lawyer if I choose mediation?
I always encourage clients to have their attorneys look over their agreements before submitting them, if they feel more comfortable doing so. I also recommend attorneys that will provide ‘a-la-carte’ services from filling out and filing your court package, representing (technically 1) of you in court and handling the finalization. You do not, however, necessarily need an attorney if you are comfortable with the paperwork and with representing yourselves at your divorce hearing.
9.) What happens if we can’t agree on all of the issues?
Let me put it this way, even if you only resolve half of the items in mediation, it is still well worth your time and will save you money. In my experience, if we are close to being completed couples will work harder to negotiate the final issues to be done with it. Closure and peace of mind are usually the goals of mediation. If you can’t agree on a certain issue, it is always appropriate to seek the help of another professional such as; a financial manager, a parenting coach, a realtor, etc., so that you can resolve your conflict before completion of mediation. If, however, all else fails and there is no way you can agree on a certain subject, it may be worth going to court to have the situation decided for you. The rest of your Memorandum will still be valid and you will still be saving money and time.
10.) Who should not mediate?
You should not agree to mediation if you or your children are being abused, if there are drugs or illegal activities involved or if you are intimidated by your spouse. Mediation is about equal footing, compromise and amicability… if these are not your goals, mediation may not be for you.
As always, please do not hesitate to contact me with any further questions and or concerns!
Good Mental Health!
Sarah Cole Camerer, Psychotherapist ~ Mediator