Mediation in Divorce Cases

This Week’s Blog by Carole T. Orland

What is Mediation in the Context of Divorce?

Mediation can be a helpful approach in certain divorce cases. Typically the mediator is a lawyer who objectively tries to help resolve your case or specific issues within the case.

Are There Different Kinds of Divorce Mediations?

Yes.  Sometimes the parties hire a divorce mediator before either one has filed for divorce or shortly thereafter. Often the reason is that they are desirous of an amicable process and resolution at a moderate cost.

In other instances, the parties litigate the divorce with counsel and at some point decide they want assistance in settling the case, typically before trial. In this model, they usually hire a retired judge or elder statesman of the bar to conduct a session with the parties and counsel. This process can last anywhere from several hours to a full day.

On occasion, parties who are represented by counsel may hire a mediator near the beginning of the case to help resolve disputes as the case is litigated.

Is Mediation the Opposite of Litigation?

Not necessarily. As described above, mediation is often done in the context of litigation. Litigation is not necessarily a scary term and does not have to be contentious or nasty. It is often a conventional way of moving the divorce process along. In some instances it can be easier, quicker, and less expensive than mediation.

When Does Mediation Without Counsel Work Best?

If the parties have trust in each other and share the same objective and timetable for resolving their divorce, mediation can be a good approach. Of course, it is key to hire a reputable, experienced mediator. 

When Does Mediation Not Work Best?

Often, trust has eroded leading up to divorce. Also, sometimes the parties are on such unequal footing with regard to an understanding of financial issues, that the well informed party has an inherent advantage to the detriment of the other party. A common refrain is: “Let’s go to mediation. We will avoid lawyers and save money. We can work this out!” Sometimes, that obfuscates the underlying motive of trying to “put one over” on the other party. A failed mediation can be a real detriment to ultimately resolving the divorce as it can be a waste of time and money, as well as a disappointment when it is perceived that a spouse has not acted in good faith.

Is Mediation a Good Approach to Resolving the Part of the Case Relating to Child Custody and Parenting Time?

It can be. Good divorce lawyers make it their business to resolve custody and parenting issues at the beginning of the case. But an alternative might be that the parties resolve these issues on their own with a mediator. In that case, the mediator may be a mental health professional, such as a family therapist.

What Does it Mean to Have a Mediation Coach or Review Counsel?

Most of the time, parties who hire a mediator on their own will also separately hire lawyers to coach them as to divorce laws, strategy, and outcomes. They also may hire review counsel to review the Separation Agreement drafted by the mediator. The coach and review counsel are often the same person. This adds another layer to the process and additional cost. There is also the potential that review counsel’s opinions may de-rail the process at the end of mediation. It is important for parties to stress to their review counsel that they are not looking to re-write the proposed Separation Agreement, but rather looking for any potential minefields.

At Broder & Orland LLC, with offices in Westport and Greenwich, CT, we are experienced in all forms of divorce mediation. We act as mediators for parties who have or do not have counsel, and attend mediation with our clients in many of the cases we litigate.