Mediation In The Divorce Process
Once the divorce process has begun, there are predictable steps that follow in many cases. Each of the beginning and subsequent phases is designed to bring about fair and reasonable determination of the key factors of divorce: property division and, if applicable, spousal support, child custody and visitation (both aspects of parenting time), and/or child support.
Discovery is the process of finding out information. In divorce, it involves getting information about employment, income, retirement benefits and health care benefits. It is also a time to learn about witnesses, bank information, debts and information about real estate. Often clients know much of this information, but it is not unusual for a client to know part, but not all. In some circumstances, clients do not have access to any of the information. During discovery, there may be questions asked by each party in writing that have to be answered under oath. These are called interrogatories. There may also be depositions, where parties and witnesses are actually put under oath and answer questions verbally, asked by attorneys. Discovery can include asking third parties questions about what they know about each spouse, finances or even information about parenting skills.
The discovery process can take very little time or can take months. It really depends on how much information there is to gather and how much information is easily available.
Mediation can and should (if done correctly) keep most cases out of the courtroom. Mediation occurs when all the parties, their attorneys (if applicable) and a trained family law mediator go through all the issues that apply in the divorce, step by step. The mediator does not decide the case, but helps the parties to identify issues and options, and explains the process. The mediator is trained to help people reach resolution on all the issues and allows each party a voice in the mediation process. The mediator is a very useful guide who can keep parties from having all-out litigation, which is expensive and time-consuming. Mediation allows the parties to handle all the important issues at once, without court delays or time limitations. Any agreements that are reached during mediation can be reduced to a court order or judgment of divorce.
Mediation is now becoming a court-ordered option. It is often ordered before the parties are allowed to get a trial date, to see if resolution can come in a different format. Mediation is highly encouraged. Parties should always talk to their attorneys about mediation and when it should occur. Mediation can occur before the filing of the divorce or after, depending on the decision of the parties and attorneys, if involved.
Shon Cook is a trained family law mediator who uses those skills in divorce cases, as well as mediates for family law cases privately and for the court.
See also our pages on:
- Friends of the Court matters (child issues)
- Divorce settlement and pretrial conferences and trial
- Divorce settlement agreement and judgment