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  • Writer's picturepaulamwaterman

How To Get The Most Out Of Your Divorce Mediation

Why should you use divorce mediation when you choose to divorce? Well, the answer to that is it depends: are you ready to process the reality of divorce? Can you participate meaningfully in the negotiation process? Are you ready to compromise, mediate in good faith, and tell the truth?

If the answers to these questions are yes, then mediation may be the solution for you and your spouse to use when seeking to get divorced. Mediation is significantly cheaper than using attorney’s and in 95 percent of the time, can help you and your divorcing spouse reduce the level of conflict between the two of you. However, there are times when mediation won’t work, especially if one partner is extremely narcissistic, hiding assets or debts, or unable to process the reality of a divorce.

This last reason is why I was unable to mediate for the first five times that my spouse wanted to mediate. He was the one initiating the divorce due to an affair, of which I had been totally unaware. Consequently, I was completely unprepared to face the realities of divorce as well as the divorce process itself. Because of my inability to accept the fact that my husband of 24 years was involved with another woman, I was not able to emotionally grapple with the financial and emotional facts of a divorce. Eventually we were able to mediate our parenting time and come to resolution, but it took me many months to get to the mediation table and participate in a meaningful and productive way.

I also always recommend that if one party has retained a lawyer, then the other party should as well. Unless the party without a lawyer is extremely experienced in family law or the divorce process, they probably don’t know the procedure of divorce in their state as well as the statutory ruling concerning divorce. Many lawyers are now offering what is called “unbundled services” or “limited representation” which simply means attorneys can provide affordable legal assistance by helping with certain aspects of your case, rather than handling a divorce case from beginning to end. This usually results in lower attorney’s fees than the common practice of paying a large retainer. I often recommend that people on the fence about whether or not they want to engage an attorney for their divorce, book a one-hour consultation and ask the following questions concerning fees:

  • What is your hourly fee?

  • How do you charge? By the hour, half-hour or 15 minutes? You will find that many lawyers actually charge by increments of 5 minutes.

  • What is the initial retainer? How do I get my retainer back if I change my mind?

  • How much do you think the total cost will be if I retain you? Remember this can vary wildly depending on the details of your case, i.e. whether you go to court or settle, how conflictual, if you need to hire professionals to consult on your case.

High fees are one reason I think that every divorcing couple should at least consider using a mediator before deciding on attorneys. In the state of Colorado where I have my mediation business, the average cost of a divorce is $14,500 per party. This obviously ranges depending on whether a divorce is uncontested, has minor children, has significant assets, or is highly conflictual. I have seen divorce bills in the range of $130,000 for one party only. Another thing to remember about attorney’s fees is that the higher-paid spouse may be ordered by the court to pay all or some of the lower-paid spouse’s attorney’s fees. This can result in thousands of dollars for one party. In most cases, choosing to use an experienced mediator can save you thousands of dollars and is often required by the courts even if you retain an attorney or not. My advice is to try mediation first and if you are not able to get anywhere in the mediation process then retain a lawyer to be your advocate.

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