What is a Mediator?
A mediator is a neutral, objective third party who assists people in resolving differences by facilitating constructive conversation. Family mediators have received extra training in divorce, child custody, and other family-related disputes. More and more often, couples are using mediators to divorce rather than engaging in costly and time consuming litigation. Mediators don't make decisions for you, as a judge or jury would if you went to court; they facilitate a discussion between you and your spouse to decide together what's best. The process is confidential, and allows you to complete your divorce more inexpensively, and usually more quickly than if you go to court.
Mediation works for almost all couples and has a long list of proven benefits:
Mediation is much less expensive than a court trial.
Mediation allows you to come to resolution in your own time rather than when the next hearing is scheduled. It is possible to walk out of a day of mediation with most, if not all of a divorce settled.
Most mediations end in a settlement of all of the issues in your divorce.
Mediation is confidential, with no public record of what goes on in your sessions. Anyone can sit in a trial, and it is recorded.
Mediation allows you to arrive at a resolution based on your own values, rather than having solutions decided for you by an impersonal judge or jury.
You can still have an attorney provide you legal advice when and if you want.
You and your spouse can be creative in the solutions you reach; there is less room and time for creativity in the court room.
The mediation process can improve communication between you and your spouse, helping you avoid future conflicts.
By engaging in mediation, you model healthy, constructive conflict resolution for your family, friends, and greater community.
The Power of Story
Mediators vary in the approaches they use. At Houston Parenting Coordination and Family Mediation, we believe in the therapeutic, long-term benefit of a couple sitting down together to decide how to end their marriage story. People's lives and the relationships in them are comprised of stories, and those we look back on fondly or reflectively, both in our lives and in fiction, are those with a clear ending that brings the main characters together to solve a problem. When you married, you definitely did not envision the story ending in divorce, but divorce does not negate the good that has come to others in your lives or the ways in which you have grown individually during the marriage.
A talented and creative mediator can help you and your spouse understand the story of your relationship and write and help you write and ending that brings appropriate closure and helps you to move forward with some healing already underway. This concept of story is especially important when children or adolescents are involved in a divorce. Your story, even if you don't speak it, becomes part of their story, and is one they will tell and retell. It will guide who they believe themselves to be and who they are in relationship with others. Does this narrative approach mean that mediation is a therapy session? No. Stories unfold as we seek resolution of the practical matters that must be settled in a divorce.
What to Expect When Mediating Your Divorce
Mediation begins with a phone call with each spouse in which you can provide us some background information about your marriage, your family, and what issues need to be settled. You will schedule your first session, and we will send you a number of forms to complete about the issues to be mediated. Expect to spend a good bit of time gathering information and documents related to the marriage, your finances, your property, and your children if you have them. Coming to mediation with all of this information in hand saves you time, stress, and money.
When you meet for mediation, you will be seated in a comfortable conference room or office with the mediator, your spouse, and if you choose to have them present, your attorneys (see section below about attorneys). You will be asked to sign that you agree to keep what's said in the mediation process confidential, and that you understand that the mediator can't disclose any of what goes on there either. You and your spouse can then begin a conversation about the issues to be settled.
Most of your time will be spent all together, but sometimes, it's useful for a mediator to speak privately with each of you for periods during your mediation so that they can hear perspectives and positions that you might not feel comfortable sharing in front of your spouse. At times, you also might want help putting things in perspective privately before you move forward with a joint decision. The mediator will always spend the same amount of time privately meeting with each spouse.
This time you spend together is especially important if you have children. The conversations in mediation can lay the groundwork for how to talk together about raising your children in the years to come. Also, you are modeling, even if from afar, how to handle conflict and work through difficult situations.
How long Does it Take to Mediate a Divorce?
This depends on the issues you need to mediate, your preparation for mediation, and yours and your spouses's willingness to negotiate and compromise. Mediation can be completed in a little as one or two half day sessions in one week, or in a number of meetings over the course of a month. Mediation is always less time consuming than going to court.
Lawyers in Divorce Mediation
Attorneys can have a wide range of involvement in a divorce mediation, from none at all, to being present for all of the mediation, and even choosing the mediator. If you are planning on divorcing, consider contacting us before engaging an attorney, to talk about the benefits of divorce mediation. If you are not represented by an attorney, I can refer you to some who can file appropriate documents with the courts when we have reached a mediated settlement of your divorce.
If you are already represented by an attorney, you and they will decide whether is in your best interest for them to attend mediation with you. Many couples choose to attend divorce mediation without attorneys to keep costs down, create a less adversarial environment in which to negotiate, and to make sure these important conversations are between them and their spouse rather than through attorneys. One way attorneys can be minimally involved is to not attend, but be on standby to consult privately with their client by phone if they feel they need counsel. and If your spouse is bringing an attorney, you the question will arise whether your attorney should attend the divorce mediation with you.
The Completed Agreement
After you have discussed and agreed on all of the issues you want to resolve in mediation, the mediator will write an agreement called a Mediated Settlement Agreement (MSA). Once this document is signed, it is binding and irrevocable. It, along with other divorce paperwork, becomes part of your final divorce judgement and is enforceable by a court. People more often abide by the agreements in a mediated settlement than other kinds of orders because they helped create the rules themselves!
Post Divorce Mediation
Even if you did not mediate your divorce, you can mediate modifications to your divorce judgement. Doing so, rather than re-litigating issues, will save you time and money. Mediation for post-divorce issues is tailored to your family's specific needs, and can be used to address these very specific problems creatively.
Changes to Child Custody and Visitation
It is impossible to anticipate all the ways children will grow and their needs will change when you first divorce. A parent may wish to relocate, family structures may change, or a child may require more or less supervision than they did when the divorce was first settled. In post divorce mediation, we can address needed changes to possession and access, child support, and parenting plans with the children's best interests always first in mind.
Child Support Modification
Child support is modifiable when circumstances change. Changes may be in your income, your spouse's income, a child's needs, or some combination of these. The court can effect support modifications based on verifiable income changes, but mediation can produce more creative outcomes based on a child's well-evidenced needs.
Property Settlement Mediation
Although property settlements are final as part of your final divorce paperwork, sometimes issues come up. Perhaps you still jointly own a home and it’s time to sell, but you cannot agree on a purchase price with your former spouse. Maybe your Judgment wasn’t as clear as you’d hoped on your property rights. We can help you resolve these issues.