If you choose mediation, you and your spouse will meet with a neutral third party who will help you resolve your custody, property and support issues. The goal is to obtain a legally binding, stipulated Judgment of Dissolution. In addition to dealing with legal and financial issues, an effective mediator is trained to help you and your spouse:
You will make your decisions in a private setting. Unlike a judicial officer, the mediator does not make decisions for you. Nor can he or she give you legal advice. Instead, he or she will help you explore alternatives. The aim is for you and your spouse to reach solutions tailored to the specific needs and wishes of you and your family.
You should, however, hire a consulting attorney to advise you during the process or to review the final agreement. Or, you may choose to have an attorney accompany you to your mediation sessions. Or, if your spouse appears to be hiding important information, you may need an attorney to conduct formal discovery (to request information or take a deposition, for example). This is unusual in mediation but can be done with an agreement from you and your spouse.
Generally, mediation is less expensive than traditional adversarial representation. The cost is greatly reduced in many instances because you and your spouse voluntarily exchange important financial information, jointly retain experts when necessary and avoid the expense of trial preparation and court appearances.
Mediation also can significantly reduce the time it takes to finalize a divorce. And mediators point to other benefits as well. Working through divorce issues with a trained mediator may help you and your estranged spouse better handle family and parenting issues in the years to come. In addition, you may prefer hammering out your own solutions in private mediation rather than going to court. Mediators suggest that divorced couples also may be more likely to abide by a mediation agreement because it was reached voluntarily.
To find mediation services in your area, you might try checking with your county bar association or with the family law facilitator or family court services at your local court.