Divorce is often an emotionally charged time for everyone involved. It can be full of stress about living space, custody and child support payments, alimony, and division of property. But there are processes that can ease the stress and lower the costs, especially if there are court proceedings. These processes are called “mediation” and “arbitration.” Learning the difference between the two and what your rights are in each case can help you reach the right settlement with less stress and avoid costly court time.

Mediation During Divorce

When you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement about your divorce settlement without outside assistance, mediation may be an alternative step to take. Mediation may also be ordered by a judge. If a trial is already in progress, it may be stayed (temporarily paused) until the outcome of the mediation is reached.

The mediation process takes place outside of the court with the assistance of a mediator—a neutral third party responsible for helping you reach an agreement with your spouse. The mediator does not make a ruling as a judge or an arbitrator would. He is just there to help the two of you work out your settlement together.

Mediation has several benefits for you to consider:

  • Mediation is faster than litigation. Courts are frequently overloaded with cases and act slowly. Mediation is designed to keep the process moving forward.

  • It is less expensive. Court fees add up, and litigation can get costly fast.

  • It can be less stressful for children. Divorce can be tough for children, especially when they have to take the stand to testify.

  • It can ease relations between you and your spouse. Mediation does nothing to prolong the separation process. It is also a less formal process than a trial, which can help put things at ease. However, you don’t need to be in the same room as your spouse for the mediation process, especially if you’re uncomfortable.

  • It stays a trial. The trial process, if there is one in process, gets put on hold while you’re in mediation pending the success (or failure) of negotiations.

  • It ends in a contract. The successful outcome of mediation is not the same as an arbitration decision or a court judgement. It is a contractual agreement between two parties and is enforceable as such.

Mediation does not by law require the services of an attorney. But should you be negotiating for large assets, including real estate or other property, you may consider the services of an experienced law firm to make sure your rights are protected and you have a good negotiating strategy. If you cannot work out mutually agreeable terms in mediation, or your spouse later decides not to abide by the mediated agreement, legal assistance can be helpful to determine how best to move forward.