Before couples commit to using mediation for their divorce, they want to know exactly what’s involved in the divorce mediation process. While every case is different, there are essentially six steps. Let’s walk through each one, so you know what to expect, how to prepare, and how long it could take.
Step 1 – Initial Consultation
Before we begin working together, it’s important to establish whether divorce mediation is the right path for both of you. In addition to making sure we have a good rapport, we’ll discuss:
- My role as your mediator – I’ll explain what I can and cannot do as a neutral party.
- Your legal rights – I’ll educate you on California’s divorce and child custody laws.
- Anticipated timeline and cost – I’ll estimate how long the process could take and the total cost for divorce mediation services, based on the number of matters to negotiate and the complexity of your estate. We can also discuss any additional expenses like court filing fees or hiring experts such as financial advisors.
- Emotional readiness for mediation – We’ll talk about preparing for divorce mediation mentally, and see if you both feel capable.
With this information, you and your partner can make an informed decision about whether you’d like to move forward with the divorce mediation process.
Step 2 – Mediation Preparation
1. Financial Overview
We’ll begin by gathering documentation about your finances, insurance, and taxes so you’re not making any assumptions. The goal is to have everything available to reference during the mediation sessions. This typically includes:
- Assets (bank accounts, property, vehicles, retirement funds, etc.)
- Liabilities (mortgage, student loans, car loans, etc.)
- Income (pay stubs, W-2s, 1099s)
- Taxes (personal or business tax returns)
- Insurance (health, car, homeowners, long-term care, etc.)
This is also the time to engage any professionals if you need to assess the value of your home, property, business, or other valuables.
You’ll need to give some initial thoughts to your budget for two separate households. I’ll provide a form to guide you through this process, and make sure you don’t overlook any important details.
3. Legal Advice
Even though I’m an attorney, I’m acting as your mediator. That means I cannot provide individual legal advice or representation to either of you. Therefore, many clients find it empowering to obtain an hour or two of individual legal information and advice from an attorney. This legal consultation can enhance your comfort and confidence in the mediation process and also boost your commitment to the fairness and quality of the final agreement.
4. Getting to Know You
Equally important to the legal and financial details, I’ll get to know you through an individual questionnaire (provided to each spouse). It’s helpful for me to understand your motivations and concerns heading into the mediation. That way, I can be prepared for any triggers or hot button issues.
Step 3 – Mediation Sessions
Now that we have all your information and you feel ready, it’s time to schedule your mediation sessions. The goal of these meetings is to negotiate the terms of your marital settlement and/or parenting agreement (legal documents that outline your decisions).
Most couples have a good sense of where they are in agreement, so we begin by documenting these points. Then, we move into the areas of least contention, so we can make some quick wins and help you feel more comfortable with the process.
Lastly, we focus on matters that are complex and/or where you’re most divided. Although I can explain California law and offer ideas and options for when you feel stuck or unsure, all final decisions are yours alone. Depending on the situation, you may want to engage an expert to advise you, such as a financial planner, tax accountant, or child therapist.
Typically, mediation sessions focus on:
- Alimony and Spousal Support
- Child Custody and Visitation
- Child Support
- Paternity Issues
- Parenting Decisions
- Tax Issues
- Asset/Property Division (real estate, retirement, investments, business)
So, how long does divorce mediation take? My experience is that a comprehensive divorce mediation generally requires three to six approximately two-hour meetings. However, as I noted earlier, this is quite dependent on the number and complexity of issues to negotiate.
Step 4 – Legal Agreements
Once you’ve agreed to a set of terms, I’ll draft your legal agreements. These documents will clearly outline everything you both agreed to during mediation. Depending on your circumstances, this may include:
- Marital settlement agreement (MSA) – A legal contract that defines asset and debt division, tax considerations, divorce costs, spousal and/or child support, and other important details. The MSA can also clarify when certain payments will end, what would prompt a change to the terms, and how to enforce the agreement. I can also prepare a legal separation agreement, similar to an MSA.
- Parenting agreement – The parents’ written agreement about when the children will be with each parent and how the parents will make decisions about their children’s health, education, and welfare. The parenting agreement is usually part of the MSA in a divorce. However, I can also draft a parenting agreement for a trial separation.
You’ll have ample opportunity to review the documents. I’ll make any necessary revisions and then I recommend an independent attorney review, which is the next step.
Step 5 – Attorney Review
Many clients find it reassuring to hire an independent attorney to review the final legal agreements on their behalf. If you’ve already spoken to someone at the beginning of the divorce mediation process, they’ll be familiar with your case and can provide valuable feedback.
I’ll make any agreed-upon changes based on your attorney review, and then you’ll be ready to sign and finalize the divorce paperwork.
Step 6 – Divorce Filing Paperwork
Although this is the last step, we often initiate the paperwork much earlier in the divorce mediation process. It’s up to you. Since there’s a six-month mandatory waiting period in California, most couples prefer that we start the paperwork first, so by the time we complete all the other steps, their waiting period has ended (or is close to ending).
The California Courts describe how to file for divorce on their website, but there are variations by county. My team can take care of all the details, including submitting the appropriate paperwork with the county clerk, completing financial disclosures, and filing your finalized legal agreements.
Hopefully, this gives you a clearer picture of the divorce mediation process. Although there’s always a little overlap in the steps I’ve described, most cases follow this progression.
Have more questions? Contact me for a consultation.