“I’ll go to court with you!”
It’s an easy sentence to say, especially when things start to get rough during a divorce. We’ve all heard it from our friends a million times. Or in movies. Oh, those courtroom scenes where the cheating husband’s wife gets to see him on the stand. Or a judge scolding a woman who squandered her husband’s money for years. Yes, the right thing will happen! You only care about where to sign up.
Not so quickly. Going to court is one way to settle a divorce, but it is not the only way. No matter how good it seems to take your case to court, you should only do so as a last resort after you have tried everything else. And there are other things you can do, some of which are better than others.
Divorce mediation is the alternative way to settle a dispute that I like best. The mediation happens outside of court. A mediator is a neutral third party who listens to both sides of a divorce and makes suggestions about how the two people can find a good middle ground. Mediators don’t have to be retired judges or lawyers. They can also be people who work in social work or mental health. No matter what their background is, he or she should know a lot about divorce and be good at coming up with creative solutions that will help a couple who is fighting reach an agreement.
Any issues and settlement offer that are talked about during mediation are private and can’t be used against the other party if the talks fail. Attorneys don’t have to be there either, but many couples find it helpful to have their lawyer there, especially if the other party will have one. In addition to giving moral support, counsel can point out new problems that need to be dealt with. If you do decide to mediate without your lawyer present, I strongly suggest you talk to a lawyer before signing anything.
If a couple takes mediation seriously, it can save them a lot of stress, time, and money during their divorce. Think of it as a business meeting. Each side gets to talk about the things that bother them the most. Even if a couple doesn’t think so, they are still very much in charge of their lives at this point. The couple sets the scene, and then the mediator comes in. The suggestions a couple gets are exactly that: suggestions. They don’t force either side to do anything, and both sides can add to them. When a couple goes to court, the judge decides, and what he or she says is final.
There are a lot of people in court, and it can be hard to find a date. Not only that, but there are a lot of chances for postponements and other delays in the court system, which can make a divorce last much longer than it should and both sides would like. That can be stressful, not only because of the feelings involved but also because the legal bills keep coming in the meantime. Mediation can help avoid a lot of that, so you might want to try it even if your state doesn’t require it.
Maybe the best thing about mediation is that it can bring peace of mind after a divorce. No one will ever get a huge amount of money from a divorce settlement. But if both sides stay involved in the divorce negotiations, they are more likely to be happy with the settlement because they, not just their lawyer or judge, helped get it.