Couples who decide to end their marriage have a few options to consider when it comes to handling the divorce process. For example, they can decide to do it themselves; hire their own attorneys, or hire a mediator who will work with both spouses together. Since litigation can be very expensive and a Do-It-Yourself divorce can lead to many headaches and mistakes, many couples are now opting for divorce mediation. However, it’s easy to wonder whose side the mediator is on.
To answer this question, it’s important to understand how divorce mediation works. When a marriage ends, many decisions have to be made regarding the distribution of the couple’s assets, debts, retirement and pension plans, child custody arrangements, child support, and spousal support (alimony). Once all of these decisions have been made, they enter in a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) which is then submitted court. If couples can’t agree on everything, a family court judge will decide for them. But before reaching this step, couples can hire a mediator to help them reach a compromise and a final agreement. A family law mediator’s job is to act as a neutral third party who helps spouses communicate better and find common ground. The mediation process starts out with the mediator evaluating which issues both spouses agree on, and which issues need further discussion to reach an agreement.
As a neutral participant, the mediator cannot take either side, or decide if one spouse is right or wrong, or tell either spouse what they should do. The mediator is neither an arbitrator, nor a referee, but rather a facilitator, or a negotiator who levels the playing field. He merely presents options to the parties from which they get to select the one best for them. The mediator has gone through extensive training to learn and develop techniques to peacefully guide the couple through all of the issues to be resolved, while making sure that the rights and needs of both spouses (and children if applicable) are addressed and protected. By not taking sides, the divorce mediator is able to help the couple focus on life after divorce, rather than dwell on past disagreements and resentment. He/she can also assist spouses in improving their communication style and problem-solving skills, enabling them to reduce friction and make wiser decisions in the future. Divorce mediation ends when the divorcing couple has agreed on all outstanding issues and has put the agreement in writing for submission to family court.