It is often possible for a couple to save money and mitigate stress by using mediation as a means to end their marriage. During this process, a skilled professional will meet with each spouse and provides neutral counsel as a way to help them negotiate and reach a compromise on the terms of their divorce. This is often beneficial to both parties, as it helps them reach a settlement without taking their divorce to trial.
Is Mediation Mandatory for a Divorce?
There are certain scenarios in which a judge must order a couple into mediation during their divorce related to child custody, such as:
- They are unable to reach an agreement on their parenting plan before they file for divorce
- A grandparent or stepparent has requested child visitation rights
- Either parent requests a child custody-related court order
Court orders related to child custody include everything from the initial visitation or custody order to those which modify custody arrangements after the divorce is finalized.
In California family court, parents who refuse to participate in mediation ordered by the court forfeit the right to challenge custody orders issued by the court. The court must, however, allow the parents sufficient time to prepare for mediation. California parents also have the right to participate in mediation regarding step and grandparents’ visitation requests and, similarly, may not object to any settlement resulting from the mediation if they decline participation.
When Is Mediation Appropriate During a Divorce?
A couple may seek a mediator for assistance at any time during their divorce, even if it is after the dissolution of marriage is finalized. Consider the following:
- Before divorce papers are filed. Couples who are seeking an uncontested divorce but can’t seem to reach an agreement on various issues may seek the help of a mediator to ease the negotiation process. This may help them complete the divorce more quickly.
- During the divorce process. Once a couple has filed for divorce, they may decide that a mediator would be helpful. For example, one of the parties may decide they are open to mediation during the discovery process, in which the other spouse requires them to provide documents and other information, as this process may reveal certain hidden assets and other details of their finances.Additionally, couples who wish to use the state’s free court-connected mediation for visitation and custody issues must start their divorce proceedings first.
- After the divorce is final. Divorced couples typically find that once things are finalized, they still have trouble reaching necessary agreements, especially when there are children involved. Engaging in post-divorce mediation is helpful in settling disputes related to making changes to the final dissolution judgment or settlement agreement. This may include details such as spousal or child support payments or parenting arrangements. If either party files a request to modify a visitation or custody order, California family court requires mandatory mediation, as well.
Is Divorce Mediation Expensive in California?
There are various factors that may affect the cost of divorce mediation, such as the type of mediation. Couples may use community, court-sponsored, or private mediation. Private mediation may cost $3,000-$8,000, and there are a number of variables that could influence the final cost. These may include:
- Each party’s willingness to participate and reach compromises
- The complexity of issues the couple needs to work out
- The mediator’s professional background and rate
If a couple is required to see a mediator regarding visitation and custody issues, the service is provided at no charge through the local court. In some cases, a couple may be able to find low-cost or free mediation for other divorce-related issues through nonprofit community mediation organizations.
Although private mediation is somewhat costly, it still tends to be less expensive than taking a divorce to trial when it is effective in achieving a settlement agreement.
What Is the Next Step After Mediation?
After a couple has reached an agreement through mediation, they must prepare a written settlement agreement. At this point, the agreement is filed with the court in addition to the other necessary paperwork to finalize their divorce:
- Court approval. The family court judge will review a couple’s settlement agreement and decide on approval. Minor errors can be fixed easily, but if there appears to be a major issue, such as a custody arrangement that doesn’t serve the children’s best interests or unfair property division, the judge may require the couple to attend a hearing. Typically, however, the mediated agreement is approved, and the judge applies it to the dissolution of marriage.
- Failed mediation. Although the California court may require a couple to employ mediation regarding visitation and custody issues, there is no guarantee they will be able to reach an agreement. In such cases, the couple may need to take further action depending on their county’s requirements, such as:
- Some counties may require confidential court-connected mediation in which the court orders the couple to see another mediator. In such cases, the second mediator makes a recommendation to the judge if the couple can’t reach an agreement.
- Certain counties allow court-connected mediators to report to the judge after an unsuccessful attempt and make recommendations regarding other services, such as a custody evaluator to help the couple find a resolution to their disputes before a hearing.
- Other situations may include counties that allow couples to reschedule mediation with a court-connected mediator if they have tried private mediation and failed.
In situations where court-connected mediation fails or the couple only reaches a partial agreement, the family court judge will set up a hearing to decide on any unresolved issues unless the couple is able to reach a compromise before the hearing date.
Be Sure to Have an Experienced Divorce Attorney on Your Side
If you are facing a divorce, there are many details to examine and keep in order if you want the best possible outcome. Even if you and your ex-spouse are considering mediation as a means of reaching a settlement, it is vital to have legal counsel to advise you on important decisions that may affect your life after divorce. Paula D. Kleinman A Professional Law Corporation has a reputation built on integrity and compassion. We can walk you through every step during this difficult time. Visit our website today to find out how we can help.