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What to expect from the mediation process during divorce

There are many benefits associated with choosing mediation to resolve issues during a divorce. These include limiting the amount of money spent on attorneys by resolving things before the divorce is presented to a judge and finding mutually tenable compromises that might otherwise require judicial intervention (and a decision that makes both parties unhappy). If there is any chance that you and your estranged spouse may be able to work somewhat amicably through the more pressing issues, such as custody and support of any children and the division of the larger shared assets (such as homes, retirement accounts, and vehicles), working with a mediator may be in the best interest of everyone involved.

What does a mediator do?

A mediator is typically someone with in-depth expertise in California divorce law, often a lawyer. This professional's understanding of what the legal system expects for a divorce to be fair and equitable, as well as one's experience working on negotiations and compromises, can help even the most contentious soon-to-be-divorced couple work through disagreements to reach a mutually satisfactory decision.

An experienced mediator will also listen closely and do one's best to provide insight as to what are legal, permissible solutions for individual divorce situations and scenarios, from child visitation and support to the allocation of shared assets and shared debts during the divorce process.

Mediator should remain cool and calm, no matter how emotional their clients become. They should attempt to be impartial; it is not a good idea to use either party's personal attorney as a mediator. Ideally, he or she will be completely neutral. Mediators will use this neutral position as a means to provide a new perspective or insight to the divorcing couple.

An experienced, professional mediator will be able to bring a fresh perspective to possibly contentious issues without taking sides. Though it requires some tenacity and the ability of the divorcing parties to put their emotions aside, mediation can find fast, mutually beneficial resolutions to the more pressing decisions involved with a divorce.

What doesn't a mediator do?

Mediators won't make decisions on behalf of their clients. This sets them apart from a judge, who will, during a divorce hearing, set their own parameters on a situation, possibly setting aside recommendations from both parties of the divorce. This can result in having no one satisfied with the outcome of the divorce proceedings. A mediator will work tirelessly to help both parties reach a mutually acceptable compromise and will insist that both parties agree to any decisions that are reached.

A mediator typically won't serve as direct counsel to either party. He or she will, however, work with the attorneys representing either or both parties of the divorce. It is typically agreed upon that if one party has an attorney representing him or her, it is in everyone's best interest if the other party is also working with an attorney. Mediators will work with couples with only one party or neither party represented by an attorney.

If you and your former partner are having a difficult time reaching positive decisions leading up to your divorce court dates, consider working with a mediator. How effective good mediation can be is often very surprising to those who were previously at an impasse.

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John T. Chamberlin, Attorney at Law
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