Pros and Cons of Divorce Mediation
During mediation, couples work with an impartial third-party professional to settle conflicts impeding an amicable divorce. Some couples discuss child-related issues, such as custody or support. Others untangle asset and debt distribution plans.
Often, couples enter mediation willingly – but this isn't your only divorce option. You could work together without a mediator, or you could end your marriage in a courtroom with the help of a lawyer.
What's right for you? Understanding the pros and cons of divorce mediation can help you make an informed choice.
What are the benefits of divorce mediation?
Every couple is different, as are the topics they discuss. But these are some mediation benefits almost all couples cite when asked about their experience:
Divorce court cases can take months, and some require years of preparation, trial, and appeals. Mediation is designed for speedy resolution. Couples come together for one or two meetings with a talented professional, and they discuss differences in detail.
When couples agree (as they often do during mediation), they document terms and file them with the courts. Sometimes, couples can skip the courtroom altogether and use their agreements to complete the divorce process.
Couples enrolled in voluntary mediation programs must pay their mediator, and those costs can vary. But often, even very experienced and talented mediators can save couples money.
Preparing a court case and hiring a lawyer is very expensive, especially if the case drags on. Using a mediator allows couples to spend less on the break-up process.
Improved communication skills
Some mediation forms are designed to help couples build active listening and negotiation skills. While mediators aren't marriage counselors, and they're not trying to help couples mend their relationships, the skills you learn could help you work effectively in the future.
Couples sharing children need strong, long-lasting ties. They must talk about schedules, fees, and future plans. Mediation can make these conversations both easier and more effective.
Couples entering tangled court cases put their futures in the hands of lawyers and judges. They can advise their legal counsel, but they can't work directly with the other party.
Mediation allows two people to talk directly about what happened, what they want, and why their idea seems fair. Eliminating the middleman can help people argue their own cases. For some people, this is the best way to resolve tricky problems.
No lawyers required
Lawyers get paid by the hour, and each case they litigate comes with reams of paperwork. Clients pay their legal professionals for every moment they spend on their case, even when the work won't benefit them directly.
While lawyers can refer cases to mediation, some couples use the process as an alternative to hiring lawyers. Rather than using an intermediary paid by the hour to let the case drag, they'll cut right to the heart of the issue and explain what they want. For people who are strongly opposed to lawyers, this is a huge benefit.
Resolutions are easier to accept
Couples must agree to mediation terms. If they don’t, they can leave the process and go to court instead.
Couples moving through mediation are likely to stick with the plans they’ve created. They participated in crafting those plans and felt the process was fair and understandable. Couples like this don’t feel compelled to lie or cheat to get what they want. They already made their case.
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What are the drawbacks of divorce mediation?
While many couples speak highly of mediation and its results, the process isn't right for everyone. These are known drawbacks associated with mediation. These are some of them:
Pressure to negotiate
Mediators want couples to resolve their differences and agree to terms. Sometimes, mediators apply pressure to encourage people to bend, and sometimes, people feel like they give away more than they should in response.
If you're not ready to give much away (like holidays with your children or various financial assets), mediation could be the wrong choice for you. The process works best when both parties want to work together.
Speak up during the process if a concession doesn’t feel right to you. Your mediator will help you to find a solution that works for both parties.
Unfamiliarity with the process
Most people understand how court cases work and are comfortable with the benefits and drawbacks. Mediation is a newer process, and sometimes, people are uncomfortable with its newness and associated uncertainties.
Power imbalances make negotiation difficult. Couples with a history of verbal abuse can spend the entire session veering toward screaming rather than negotiating. And if one partner has a physical or emotional hold over the other, the weaker party may give up far too much to make the interaction end.
If you can't negotiate clearly and honestly with your partner, mediation isn't right for you. And if you're worried about physical abuse from your partner, a court case could offer more protection.
Potential for regret
Long negotiations can leave couples desperate to leave the conversation. Mediation puts you more in control, but if your spouse is especially persuasive, they may be able to get you to turn over to their desires more in mediation – even if it's not fair. Your mediator won't take sides and will not speak up if they think you're agreeing to something you might regret later. They must remain impartial.
Mediation agreements are legally binding, and the terms will be put in writing. You can't change your mind later unless you reserve the option to come back to the matter in your final paperwork.
Long days with your spouse
Some couples hope to steer clear of one another forever. Mediation can mean sitting across the table from this person for hours, talking about your marriage and your future.
In some cases, spouses are kept in different rooms, and the mediator travels between the two parties in the negotiation process. This could be a solution if you know that you and your spouse won’t fare well in a room together.
Sometimes, couples can't stand the thought of even being in close proximity, and they'd prefer a less intimate setting (like a courtroom) for their divorce.
Outcomes depend on your mediator
Some mediators are skilled professionals with hundreds of satisfied customers. Others are relatively new to the job, or they're not adept at helping people to connect.
Choosing your mediator carefully can help to ensure you get the right helper for your situation. But if you choose the wrong professional, your divorce may not progress as smoothly as you'd like. Don’t rush this process. Take the time to find a professional who fits your preferences.
Choose the best option for your situation
If you're ready to collaborate with your spouse, and you're not struggling with a power imbalance issue, mediation could be right for you. Choose your mediator carefully, and ensure you don't sign agreements you'll regret later.
Interested in mediation services from Hello Divorce? Our team has some of the best professionals out there to help you. Learn more.
ReferencesMediation: A Consumer Guide. Virginia Dispute Resolution Services.
Why Is ADR Growing in Popularity? (September 2020). JD Supra.
Mediation in the Modern Legal Practice: An Overlooked Money Maker? (October 2021). LSE Law Review Blog.
Mediation vs. Arbitration: The Alternative Dispute Resolution Process. (October 2022). Harvard Law School.