California couples contemplating divorce should seriously consider mediation as an alternative to a long, costly and contentious court battle. The American Bar Association points out that mediation usually costs 40-60 percent less than a traditional divorce.
The reason for this dramatic cost savings is that when a couple decides to mediate their differences rather than litigate them, they hire a neutral mediator rather than two separate attorneys. While either or both spouses can bring a private attorney into the mediation process, often this is not necessary.
The mediator’s role
The mediator is a neutral third party who represents neither spouse. Instead, he or she first meets with each spouse separately to listen to his or her goals, issues and concerns. Then the mediator provides a non-threatening atmosphere in which the spouses are encouraged to resolve their differences in a respectful, cooperative way. Unlike a judge, the mediator makes no decisions. He or she simply encourages the couple to resolve their differences themselves and guides them through this process, making sure that each spouse has ample opportunity to express his or her views without doing so in a demeaning or hostile way.
Mediation usually takes far less time than traditional divorce. It also has substantial positive effects on the couple’s children. When they see their parents cooperating with each other, even though they have differences, this gives them their best possible role models for conflict resolution. It also gives them a sense of security that even though their family is breaking up, their parents both love them and will continue to be a large part of their lives.
As good as mediation is, it is not for all couples. The prime example is if there has been a history of physical, mental or emotional abuse. The whole purpose of mediation is to resolve conflicts in the most cooperative and reasonable way. It is highly unlikely that an abuser will miraculously transform into a reasonable person during mediation.
In addition, in a high-asset divorce situation where one spouse strongly believes that the other is hiding assets, litigation, with its investigatory powers to discover and access both spouses’ financial records, tax returns, real estate holdings, etc., may well be the better option. Finally, should the couple fail to resolve their issues through mediation, all remaining unresolved matters will have to be litigated.