What You Can Expect at Divorce Mediation

Mediation is a form of dispute resolution used by divorcing couples who want to stay out of court. In mediation, the parties meet together with a trained mediator, who helps to facilitate a dialogue and negotiation of all the marital issues. A mediator is often an attorney but there are many excellent mediators that are not attorneys. A mediator is neutral and does not represent either party. A mediator cannot tell you whether an offer being made is fair to you or reasonable. A mediator CAN tell you the general rules concerning divorce, but they cannot show any bias for either party’s position in the divorce.


Prior to mediation, you should expect the divorce mediator to ask you to fill out some forms, so they have some information on hand to understand the issues you are facing – whether custody or parenting time is in issue, support or the distribution of assets and debts. Once you arrive at the mediator’s office, they will go over the ground rules with you and have you sign a mediation agreement. This agreement governs their relationship with you, which is privileged and confidential, and the payment of their fees. Discussions with a mediator or at mediation sessions are not discoverable in divorce litigation and a divorce mediator cannot be forced to testify in any divorce case for either party.


Once the agreement is signed, you should expect the divorce mediator to want to understand what each of you thinks the issues are that need to be mediated so everyone is on the same page. Both parties should be given a fair opportunity to speak their mind, but communications should remain respectful and polite. Parties that cannot control their emotions may have a hard time mediating. Where there is serious mistrust or an imbalance of bargaining power, those parties may not be able to mediate.


Once the issues to be mediated are identified, you should expect the divorce mediator to ask you each to state your position on each issue to see where there is common ground. A mediator can make suggestions as to how to solve impasses. A mediator may also ask to speak to each party separately in a caucus if they feel that communication with that person in the group setting may not be productive. In this manner, mediation will proceed until an agreement is reached on each issue.


How do I prepare for a divorce mediation?

Knowing what to expect at a divorce mediation is the first step in preparing for your divorce mediation. Make sure you have seen your private divorce lawyer at least once before mediation and that you have all your financial information organized. We recommend that you consult with a private divorce lawyer to understand your rights and responsibilities in the impending divorce. By doing so, you will know what to expect at divorce mediation to better advocate for yourself. This initial divorce lawyer meeting is invaluable to making the mediation successful.


The other way to prepare for and know what to expect at divorce mediation is to gather and organize your financial documents. Your mediator may have asked you to fill out a financial statement in advance. Take advantage of that opportunity to review all of your assets and debts and be prepared to provide back-up documents at mediation for each asset and debt. The more prepared you are for mediation, the more likely you will be successful at resolving your divorce.


How long does a mediated divorce take?

This really depends on the parties. However, when couples come to mediation, they usually have done some talking about how they will unravel their lives and still have some goodwill towards one another. This typically means that couples who mediate their divorce can expect to achieve a resolution of all of their issues in a few (3-4) sessions but everyone is different.


Do I need a mediator for divorce?

A mediator is not required for divorce but is an excellent way to avoid the high cost of divorce litigation in certain circumstances. Not everyone can mediate. To be a good candidate for mediation, you have to be comfortable sitting across from your spouse and be able to have polite and respectful dialogue with them about issues that may seem awkward. If you don’t think you can do this, then don’t bother mediating. In addition, if there is any form of abuse or domestic violence, or if one party suffers from addiction of any kind or severe mental illness, then you are not a good candidate for mediation. And lastly, if you are not willing to compromise and meet in the middle on the marital issues, then mediation may not be the best forum for your dispute.


What happens if you don’t agree in mediation?

It is quite possible for you to resolve some but not all issues in mediation. If you cannot resolve all of your marital issues in mediation, you always have the right to seek independent counsel to start divorce litigation. The time you spend in mediation is worthwhile in any event because it will crystallize the outstanding issues. This information will assist your lawyer in achieving the best possible resolution in the divorce litigation.


How do you win at mediation?

You should not expect to “win” your divorce mediation. There is no “winning” in mediation. Unfortunately, when it comes to divorce, everyone suffers a loss. We like to say that the best divorce agreements are the ones where both parties leave the negotiating table equally unhappy. If you are looking to win a battle with your spouse, then go right to litigation because mediation is not the forum for you.


Can you say no to mediation?

In many counties in New Jersey, mediation is mandatory once you get into divorce court – one time for custody and parenting issues and one time for economic issues after the early settlement panel. You must attend these sessions. However, if you have not filed for divorce, mediation is completely voluntary, and you do not have to participate if you do not want to.


Now that you know what you can expect at a divorce mediation, it’s time to reach out to DeTorres & DeGeorge Family Law. We are trained mediators and are ready to help you resolve your divorce through mediation. Give us a call today.

Carolyn B. Hand
Carolyn Hand is a passionate and experienced litigator specializing in family law. In 2020, she was named partner at DeTorres & DeGeorge Family Law. Carolyn represents clients in family court in all matters pertaining to divorce, custody...
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