Role of Mediator
A mediator is a neutral, third-party with no stake in the outcome of the negotiation process. In short, the mediator doesn't care who is "right" or "wrong." He doesn't offer legal advice and has no decision-making power. Instead, the mediator facilitates a discussion between the parties, helping them to discuss the issues on which they disagree in an environment that is confidential and nonjudgmental. Mediation gives the parties the opportunity to come to their own resolution rather than leaving it up to the judge to decide for them.
Each party is asked to explain their position on different issues and suggest solutions that would be satisfactory. One person speaks and the other listens. The mediator often asks questions to clarify issues. A divorce is fraught with emotions and often parties are angry and upset. The mediator will ask both parties not to interrupt each other and to remain civil. Sometimes the mediator will meet, or "caucus," with one party at a time. The mediator might make suggestions for resolving certain issues in order to help the parties reach common ground.
Mediation is a relatively informal process; the parties are encouraged to raise any and all issues they believe are important. In a typical divorce mediation, financial issues are discussed, including division of the couple's assets and debts. Spousal support, or alimony, is also a typical subject for negotiation between the parties. When kids are involved, reaching an agreement as to legal and physical custody, child support, co-parenting arrangements, and visitation can spare parents and children a tremendous amount of grief and acrimony after the divorce.
If the parties are able to resolve their differences in mediation, the mediator writes up the agreement, covering all aspects of the divorce. The parties review the agreement to ensure it reflects their intentions and then sign it. While a court may order mediation, you are not forced to reach a mediated agreement. If the parties cannot resolve their differences, they go to trial.
Finalizing the Divorce
If an agreement is reached, both parties must review the agreement within the time prescribed by the court. If there are no objections, it becomes binding. At your scheduled court hearing, you present the agreement to the judge who reviews it. He may ask about specific provisions of the agreement to clarify the language. When the judge approves the agreement, he grants your divorce and the agreement becomes part of the divorce decree.