The Role of Mediation in Uncontested Divorce Proceedings
When you go to a mediator, the goal is to come away with an agreement that you both feel good about. This will include a variety of issues, such as whether or not there’s going to be alimony, the custody of the children- both physical custody, and legal custody- who will get the house, what happens to any shared debts you may have (think credit cards and student loans)? All this and more are things that are very beneficial to flesh out before you sit down and decide that you’re actually going to file for divorce.
In a Contested divorce, mediation is ordered by the court, and is generally free to both parties. In an Uncontested divorce, mediation is not required, and costs each spouse about $150 / hour, with 3-8 hours being the usual time necessary. However, it can be very helpful to reach agreement on some of the key issues.
An uncontested divorce generally saves a divorcing couple thousands of dollars as there is no litigation and two attorneys- each usually with a retainer starting at $10K- do not have to be hired. It also saves a tremendous amount of time. However, sometimes going into an uncontested divorce, the couples have not settled all of the important issues. They may not have even known to consider them. For example, spouses may agree that the children will live with one particular spouse (known as physical custody), but who has legal custody of the children? Both parents may want legal custody, so if important medical decisions have to be made, they are consulted. Additionally, both parents may want approval if one spouse is to take the children out of the country. This is common in the Northern Virginia area.
If you and your spouse already agree on all of the key issues, mediation is probably not for you. You can skip mediation and proceed directly to hiring a caring, skilled, and experienced uncontested divorce attorney. It is usually a good idea to select an attorney that specializes in uncontested divorce. Even if you do think you may need mediation, this skilled professional will likely have a recommendation for a mediator they know his brought success to couples in the past.
Once you have decided to go to mediation and selected a mediator, you can begin scheduling your mediation sessions. Usually the first session is one where your mediator will spell out the ground rules: who may attend the mediations, what the goals are for your mediation- things of this nature. Again, mediators in Northern Virginia area will charge approximately $300-$350 per hour (so each house we paying about $150 per hour).
Who may attend mediation? It’s not just the spouses who may attend. You may bring friends, financial advisors, even attorneys you have hired. Often, it’s beneficial to get the other spouse’s agreement ahead of time as to who will be there. Can you imagine if you showed up to mediation by yourself and your spouse were to bring a divorce attorney? That doesn’t set things off on the right foot.
Additionally, it is important to note that you may not ask the mediator, who will often be a trained legal professional, with years of experience, for their opinion. This includes whether or not you should accept a deal proposed by the other side, whether or not things are going fairly or “your way” or, even what you should ask for. You may consult with any of these professionals outside of the mediation without your spouse’s consent or knowledge. Just remember, the idea of the mediation is to reach agreement, not to dig in so deeply that it creates more discord and dissent. The uncontested divorce option saves the couple so much time and money that it’s really beneficial for both parties, as well as any children, friends or work colleagues that are connected to the separating couple. Keeping the spirit of agreement and comity are very important considerations.
If you would like to learn more about the benfits of uncontested divorce in Virginia, please see my post HERE. If you would like a recommendation for a top flight mediator, please call or contact my firm, Engel Law Offices and I will be happy to provide one.