Even in the best of circumstances, divorce is a traumatic, life-altering event. It can also be an expensive process if the spouses opt for litigation before a California Superior Court judge. Attorney’s fees and court costs can easily run in the tens of thousands of dollars, which can be a substantial hardship for divorcing spouses with limited assets.
While a court must be involved to approve a divorce order, the parties can resolve the major issues surrounding the dissolution of the marriage without resorting to contested litigation. These issues include division of marital property, child custody arrangements, and whether or not either spouse will pay support or alimony to the other. Settling these issues without resorting to a battle of divorce attorneys will often produce a quicker, less expensive resolution to the marriage.
One way to address divorce issues outside of court is through mediation. A mediator is basically an impartial third party who can assist the divorcing spouses in resolving their differences. It is important to note a mediator is not the same thing as an arbitrator. An arbitrator is a essentially a private judge who conducts abbreviated litigation and issues a decision binding on both sides. A mediator, in contrast, can only advise the parties on how to settle their issues. The mediator has no authority to impose a solution or mandate any particular resolution.
Every mediator has his or her own style. But generally speaking, a mediator will gather information about the parties’ situation, attempt to frame questions for discussion, and then conduct negotiations between the parties. If mediation is successful, the parties may reach a preliminary agreement. At this point an attorney (who may also be the mediator) can be brought into turn the parties’ agreement into a binding legal contract that can be submitted to a judge for incorporation into a final divorce decree.
Of course, mediation is not always successful. If the parties are unable to resolve their disagreements amicably, litigation may still be necessary. And there are cases, such as those involving allegations of domestic abuse, where mediation is simply inappropriate.
But in most cases, mediation can help the parties achieve a quicker resolution than litigation. More importantly, mediation allows the parties to keep their divorce relatively private, as a full-blown court battle may become a matter of public record. Especially if there are children involved, mediation provides couples with a more dignified and confidential way to end their marriage with minimal fuss.
Steven Fritsch is certified family law specialist and divorce mediator. Contact him today if you are looking for a fair and experienced mediator for your divorce.