Much of the uncertainty involved in divorce is minimized if couples reach common ground. Although only courts have the power to dissolve a marriage, judges look favorably upon voluntary agreements between spouses concerning property division, alimony and child custody. With a mediator, a couple can reach an agreement without the adversarial nature of going to court.
In mediation, a neutral person facilitates agreement between divorcing couples over major issues of their divorce. Mediation differs from traditional divorce proceedings, in which parties often do not agree and a judge must decide every contested issue after hearing evidence from both sides. Because mediation involves parties working together, which can help reduce animosity between divorcing spouses, many states require a divorcing couple attend mediation before going to court.
Currently, there are no universal state requirements for who may serve as a divorce mediator. Usually, mediators are attorneys, members of the clergy, or mental health professionals, such as social workers or psychologists, who have training in alternative dispute resolution. Generally, a couple can choose any mediator they wish, but states often require that mediators possess certain qualifications before a court may recommend them. These qualifications might include a minimum number of hours in training, being bound by certain ethical requirements, and attending continuing legal education courses.
A major advantage to mediation over litigation is flexibility. In a traditional divorce, the court sets a rigid schedule for filing required paperwork, securing evidence and witnesses, and trial. Mediation has no specific timetable. For that reason, mediation can be more conducive to reaching an agreement because a couple is not pressured into making decisions within a specific deadline. In some cases, going to mediation will result in a faster resolution because mediation does not involve excessive court motions that may delay the process. Mediation is also usually less expensive than going to court. Mediators often charge a lower hourly rate than attorneys; couples usually split the fee instead of both spouses paying a separate attorney's fee.
Mediation can also reduce the stress associated with going to court. Although judges must follow the law, states generally grant courts wide discretion in divorce cases. Although agreements reached in mediation are not legally binding, judges look upon them favorably and can make these agreements binding in the final divorce order. This means the court can enforce your agreement, even though the agreement itself was not arrived at in a courtroom.