Mediation for Divorce in Washington State

by Heather Frances J.D. Google
Mediators provide neutral assistance to help spouses agree.

Mediators provide neutral assistance to help spouses agree.

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When Washington spouses divorce, they can agree on the terms of their divorce, and the court can adopt that agreement in the divorce decree. Washington law and the Washington court system encourage spouses to attend mediation, which involves a neutral third party who helps the spouses resolve their differences regarding child custody, spousal support or other issues so that they can reach agreement.

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Mediation

Mediation can help spouses avoid litigation, since the court won’t have to resolve any issues if the spouses reach agreement on everything, but Washington does not require spouses to attend mediation. Washington law gives courts the authority to order mediation in particular cases, but Washington law does not require mediation. When the court orders mediation, the purpose is to resolve any contested -- or disputed -- issues before the court hears the issues at a hearing.

Advantages of Mediation

Mediation can be a beneficial alternative to having the court resolve a couple’s disputes. Mediation is less formal than a court hearing, and it provides flexible scheduling, confidentiality and few rules. Mediation may be cheaper than going straight to court, since it is less formal and rarely requires either side to provide evidence in favor of his arguments. Mediation agreements are voluntary, so spouses cannot be forced to reach agreement.

Agreement

When spouses reach agreement during mediation, they can choose to make their agreement legally binding. This allows the spouses to avoid litigation -- and the accompanying costs and delays -- because the Washington court can simply adopt the agreement as it is written. Without such an agreement, the court would have to hold a formal hearing, or trial, to receive evidence to make its own determinations.

Certification

Washington does not have a governmental certification process for mediators, but Washington does have an association of dispute resolution centers as well as a mediation association. These professional organizations offer a certification process, and divorcing spouses can choose a mediator through these organizations. Washington’s Dispute Resolution Centers are private organizations that are authorized by the state legislature, and they provide low-cost mediation services by trained professionals.