Divorce Mediation: Checklist & More To Help You Prepare

If you're going through a divorce, you know it can get expensive and stressful. Mediation alleviates these burdens by helping you avoid court.

The goal of divorce mediation is to get spouses to agree on all the details of their split — property division, child custody, spousal support, etc. — so they don't have to go to trial.

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What is divorce mediation?

Mediation helps people resolve disputes. The mediator is trained to help people see eye to eye. In divorce mediation, the mediator helps spouses come up with a divorce settlement agreement so they can amicably divorce.

Is mediation a good idea in divorce?

Mediation is recommended for the vast majority of divorces, and often even required. This is because mediation helps the divorcing spouses reach decisions together rather than leave decisions to a judge they barely know.

The benefits of divorce mediation can include a more amicable post-divorce relationship and a court order that works better for the spouses.

When is divorce mediation not recommended?

Generally, divorce mediation is not recommended when the spouses have had a violent relationship or a power imbalance. However, some mediators will work with spouses in those situations, taking special precautions to make sure each person has equal footing in the negotiations.

How does divorce mediation work?

What happens in divorce mediation depends on your location and mediator.

In general, the mediator first meets with each spouse separately to prepare them and to understand the situation.

During a mediation session, the mediator meets with the spouses together for up to a few hours at a time. If this happens in person, spouses with especially combative relationships may sit in separate rooms while the mediator moves back and forth between them.

The mediator introduces the issues up for discussion one by one. They help spouses listen to each other calmly, stay on topic and find compromises that feel fair to both people. For child-related issues, the mediator focuses the parents on the child's best interests.

Divorce mediation checklist

You need to prepare for divorce mediation. Doing so helps negotiations wrap up faster and gives you a better chance of convincing your spouse of your viewpoints.

Here's a checklist of what to prepare for divorce mediation.

1. Premediation paperwork

Your mediator may provide you with a contract or other paperwork to complete before your first session. Make sure to do this so mediation can happen on schedule.

2. Documents filed with the court

If you already have a case open, bring an organized file of everything you've turned in to the court.

3. Financial information

Much of divorce mediation focuses on finances. To have a productive discussion, you'll need up-to-date figures.

Bring paperwork showing the status of all your assets and debts: businesses, bank accounts, credit cards, homes, life insurance policies, loans, etc.

Then list your valuables, and estimate what each is worth.

If you're divorcing with kids or if either of you is asking for spousal support, complete and bring your court's financial statement form. Parents should also bring a list of their child's major expenses.

4. Proposed divorce settlement

A draft divorce settlement presents your ideas in a clear — and often convincing — way. It also saves you time later if you have to write up what was agreed.

Your settlement document should address divorce issues like who will continue to live in the shared home, how you'll divide property and finances, and if either of you will pay spousal support.

5. Proposed parenting plan

If you have a child together, bring a draft parenting plan to divorce mediation as well.

It should cover everything related to your child: physical custody, legal custody, parenting methods you agree to use, etc. You can use the Custody X Change parenting plan template, or your court may offer a template.

Again, putting your proposal on paper can help your spouse see the value in much of what you suggest.

6. Your calendar (and your child's)

This is helpful for agreeing on a custody schedule (part of your parenting plan) and planning any future mediation sessions.

Court-ordered mediation versus private mediation

There are a few differences between mediation when the court orders spouses to attend and when spouses choose to attend.

In court-ordered mediation, the court generally picks the mediator. It may require you to spend a minimum amount of time in mediation before you can give up on the negotiations. If you don't attend for the minimum amount of time, there may be penalties, or your case may simply not be allowed to move forward.

In private mediation, also called voluntary mediation, you choose your mediator with the other parent and have more flexibility when you schedule sessions. Many spouses go to a private mediator before starting their divorce case. Private mediation also costs more than court-ordered mediation.

Divorce lawyer versus mediator

Going to mediation does not necessarily mean that you won't need a divorce lawyer.

Lawyers sometimes attend mediation sessions. Even when they don't, they prepare their clients and review any agreements the spouses reach. Keep in mind that while a lawyer looks out for their client, a mediator works for both spouses.

If you are divorcing without a lawyer, you're probably better off reaching an agreement in mediation than litigating in court. In litigation, you'll have to deal with court hearings, protocols and deadlines on your own. Mediation is much more straightforward, and you'll have the mediator there as a guide.

Collaborative divorce versus mediation

Collaborative divorce (aka collaborative law) is like mediation with more structure and support. In collaborative divorce, each spouse has their own lawyer with them during negotiations. The spouses may also share neutral specialists in finances or child development.

Collaborative divorce tends to cost more and take longer than mediation. It's becoming popular for spouses with complex disputes.

How to hire a mediator

Generally, you can select any mediator you and your spouse agree on. You can usually find a list of mediators through your court, local legal aid organizations, or your state's bar association.

If you're ordered to attend mediation, the court will either pick your mediator or give you a list of people to choose from.

How much does divorce mediation cost?

If you're lucky, it won't cost you anything. Many courts and legal aid groups offer several hours of mediation free (or at a discount), though this may be limited to spouses who make less than a certain amount.

Otherwise, mediators charge roughly $150 to $500 an hour. Some may offer a flat fee, usually with a cap on the number of hours or sessions included. Generally, mediators require partial payment before the first session.

Most spouses split their mediator's fees evenly.

How long does divorce mediation take?

Most spouses resolve their issues within eight hours of mediation, and some only need a couple of hours. Divorce mediation generally spans at least two sessions. If you're participating in free mediation, you may be limited to one or two sessions.

What happens after divorce mediation?

Your mediator will write up a summary of what you agreed on. In many places, spouses can sign this document directly. In other places, one of the spouses or their lawyer has to create a separate document with the same information.

Parents then turn the signed agreement into the court together, along with any other required paperwork (e.g., a divorce petition).

If the agreement covers every issue in the case, the case closes as soon as a judge approves the agreement as a court order. You may have to first attend a final hearing (potentially online) so the judge can confirm that you're entering the agreement willingly and that any terms related to your child are in the child's best interests.

If the parents didn't manage to settle every issue in their case, they continue through the divorce litigation process to decide the remaining issues. In California custody mediation ordered by a court, the mediator may recommend a ruling to the judge.

How long after mediation is divorce final?

Even if you reach a full agreement in mediation, you may have to wait a while to finalize your divorce. Courts usually have some type of waiting period in place to make sure that spouses don't rush into a divorce they'll regret.

In many places, you have to live separately from your spouse for a certain amount of time — often one year — before you can even file for divorce.

It's also common to face rules about how quickly your case can resolve. For example, your divorce might not be allowed to finalize until at least 30 days after you file it or 90 days after you serve your spouse.

Once the judge approves your agreement, you may encounter another waiting period before the divorce finalizes — typically 30 days.

Regardless of waiting periods, the court will generally need at least a couple of weeks to process and review your agreement.

What to wear to divorce mediation

Choose clothing that will show you're taking divorce mediation seriously and that won't be distracting.

While your appearance technically has no role in the discussions, and the mediator's opinion of you is irrelevant because they must remain neutral, you still want to set the mediation up for success in every way possible.

Preparing for the custody aspects of divorce mediation

Preparation is as important when you decide custody in mediation as when you decide it in court.

You'll still be trying to convince someone — just the other parent instead of a judge.

A proposed parenting plan with a custody schedule presents your argument persuasively. You may also want to present messages exchanged with the other parent, a log of important interactions with the other parent, your child's expenses, and more.

The Custody X Change online app lets you create all of this in one place.

It has:

Custody X Change prepares you for any method of deciding parenting arrangements.

It empowers you to get what's best for your child.

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