Mediation is an effective tool for resolving conflicts—including divorce—outside of the standard litigation system. This approach offers a positive, cost-effective alternative to dispute resolution in a number of family law areas, including division of property in divorce, child custody, child support, and alimony.
The Fairfax mediation lawyers at DiPietro Law Group, PLLC can help you reach an amicable settlement to your dispute. With over 60 years of combined experience, we are adept at helping our clients reach agreeable resolutions to all types of family law conflicts.
Contact us today to request a consultation to find out more about how mediation might work in your situation.
Divorce Mediation: Why Choose Alternative Dispute Resolution?
Divorce mediation allows both parties to identify, negotiate, and resolve the many intricate issues that must be addressed in divorce. Parties can schedule multiple sessions so that there is adequate time to review and address complex matters in detail before reaching a decision.
The mediator establishes firm ground rules and a comfortable environment so that emotionally charged issues can be discussed with minimal conflict. The mediator helps both spouses gather necessary information and review it systematically. A mediator often helps formulate a more creative solution than the court could offer. When parenting agreements and financial distribution plans are made by the spouses themselves, there is a better chance of meeting the needs of the entire family. Instead of winners and losers, like you tend to find in a litigation outcome, both spouses can walk away from mediation feeling satisfied.
Mediated divorces typically take less time and cost less money than divorce handled through litigation. Proceedings are private, unlike matters litigated in court. Over time, mediated divorces have shown to have a higher rate of long-range parental cooperation, and usually have fewer costly returns to court.
How the Mediation Process Works
While most mediators are trained as attorneys, when they are acting in the role of mediator, they perform very differently than in court. They do not represent the interests of one party but instead remain neutral throughout proceedings. Regardless of their legal background, mediators cannot and do not give legal advice to either party. They also do not have authority to make a decision the way that a judge would. Instead, they guide the parties to reach their own agreement.
During open sessions, the mediator can point out things that both spouses need to consider in the decision-making process. That exchange of information frees up both spouses to negotiate with each other in confidence.
Since a mediator cannot provide legal advice, however, it is a good idea for each spouse to consult an attorney outside of mediation sessions. Their attorneys can explain their legal rights and obligations, and ensure that any agreements the parties reach are fair and legally enforceable.
Is Mediation Right for Your Situation?
The benefits of mediation are hard to ignore. Unfortunately, however, there are some situations where mediation is not the right option. Spouses considering mediation for divorce must:
- Be willing to communicate cordially
- Share information openly
- Devote time to discussing a variety of issues
- Expect to compromise and not get everything exactly as they want it
Mediation is not a good way to proceed if one spouse tends to bully the other, or one spouse is afraid to speak openly in the presence of the other. If you suspect your spouse may be trying to hide assets, then that spouse will probably not share information openly, and mediation will not be the best route for obtaining a fair division of assets. If there’s a history or abuse or one partner has an untreated substance abuse disorder, mediation is also not likely to be an effective way to settle divorce issues.
Mediation is a good option for spouses that feel they will be able to reach agreement on the various terms of the divorce. Remember, in order for mediation to be successful, you and your spouse must be able to compromise. If a disagreement between the two of you cannot be overcome, mediation will not be successful because the mediator does not have authority to rule on an issue if you reach an impasse.
Steps in Divorce Mediation
Just as every marriage is unique, every mediated divorce is also unique. However, there are some general stages most couples go through as part of divorce mediation.
- Introduction. The mediator collects intake information and explains what to expect.
- Assembling information. The parties list the issues to be resolved (property division, custody, alimony, child support, etc.) and share information related to these issues such as bank statements and the children’s school calendar. The mediator can suggest documentation to bring and how to find certain information.
- Framing Issues. With guidance from the mediator, each party develops a description of their desired outcome, interests, needs, and values. By successfully identifying each spouse’s key goals, the mediator can help the parties find a resolution that addresses their most important concerns.
- Negotiating Terms. The mediator helps spouses explore potential solutions and outcomes. To arrive at a short-list of options, both parties will need to make some compromises, but the mediator can help find ways for parties to obtain the objectives that mean most to them.
- Drafting an Agreement. After parties have reached an agreement on the terms, the agreement will be set down in writing. It is a good idea to have an attorney review the agreement before signing it. Once signed, the agreement is enforceable as a contract.
Your attorney or the mediator should then file the agreement with the court and ask the court to incorporate the terms into the divorce decree.
Is mediation legally binding?
A mediator lacks the authority to issue a binding ruling the way a judge would. However, when parties reach an agreement through mediation and sign that agreement, then the terms of the agreement are binding so long as the agreement was prepared in accordance with legal requirements. It is wise to work with a mediator with the right legal knowledge and to have agreements reviewed by your own attorney who can ensure that they properly protect your rights and interests.
Do I have to meet my spouse in person when mediating?
While mediation sessions are traditionally conducted face to face, they can be handled through a video conference or similar means. However, you do need to be willing to communicate with your spouse because communication is an essential component of the mediation process.
Do I need to prepare anything for mediation?
It is a good idea to locate and organize all documents pertaining to the issues that will be covered during the mediation session. For instance, if you are determining which assets and debts belong to you individually and which are marital property, then you should bring financial records that show when you acquired assets and how much money you contributed from funds that belonged to you at the time of the marriage.
Can we mediate even if we’re unsure about divorce?
The mediation process is an effective tool for resolving all types of disputes and is not limited to divorce. If you are considering divorce but not certain whether to end your marriage, you can use mediation as a means to establish a parenting schedule or reach agreement on the division of certain assets, the payment of debts, or other issues. Your agreement could be incorporated into a divorce decree later or simply used an interim protective measure while you decide on your next steps.
Is mediation required for divorce in Virginia?
Virginia law does not require every divorcing couple to participate in mediation. However, judges will often order couples to attempt to resolve differences through mediation before they can have their case heard in court, particularly when the divorce involves a custody dispute. Mediation saves money and time for the courts as well as divorcing couples.
Can we use mediation in modifying divorce orders?
When one or both parties want to modify the terms of a divorce decree, the mediation process can provide a cost-effective way to reach an agreement that satisfies both. The court should still approve the modification to ensure that the terms do not violate public policy. If parties enter an agreement on their own without court approval and one party later decides to ignore it, the new agreement will not be enforceable in court.
What can be achieved through mediation?
When two parties are willing to negotiate and make compromises, they can resolve disputes on all types of issues associated with their divorce and develop an agreement that sets all the terms of their divorce. Mediation could also be used to resolve some but not all issues.
How does mediation work in Virginia?
The process usually begins with an orientation session. Next, the mediator will help the parties identify the issue they need to resolve. Together, the mediator will help the parties explore possible solutions to the disputed issues. When they find mutually acceptable solutions, the mediator will help the parties negotiate specific terms and incorporate those terms into an agreement. Many people find it helpful to work with an experienced attorney who can help them prepare for mediation and provide advice and coaching during negotiations.
Work with a Family Law Firm Experienced at Handling Divorce Mediation
The knowledgeable attorneys at DiPietro Law Group, PLLC are ready to help with your divorce mediation, whether you are looking for an experienced mediator or you need legal advice to protect your own interests during the mediation process.
Contact DiPietro Law Group, PLLC today to find out how our Fairfax mediation attorneys can help. We are happy to answer any questions and address any concerns you may have.
Call our Fairfax office or fill out an online contact form to request your consultation today.