The divorce process can be overwhelming. Emotions aside, there are many nuances that can make the process a lengthy and complicated one without the proper guidance. Once a divorce complaint is filed, a case can be caught up in the morass of court calls and hearings. The lines are long and courts are backlogged after Covid-19.
In most cases, it makes sense to engage with a mediator to streamline and expedite the divorce process. There are many benefits to mediation. Mediation occurs in a relaxed setting, and oftentimes on Zoom. Mediation typically results in cost savings for the parties. Most importantly, the parties involved steer the final resolution instead of a judge who is not acquainted with the case.
When does mediation occur?
For cases involving minor children in the state of Maine, mediation is required by law prior to a contested trial. In fact, mediation will not be waived unless there is extraordinary cause shown. For divorces without minor children, mediation is not mandatory but the Judge will often refer the case to mediation prior to a trial.
If the divorce has been filed, parties can take advantage of court mediation at a low cost. Court mediations are held via Zoom due to the Covid-19 pandemic. A mediation fee is paid by both parties and entitles them to up to two mediation sessions of approximately three hours in length with a court-rostered mediator. When agreements are made at mediation, they are memorialized by the mediator and sent to the assigned Judge on the case.
If the divorce has not been filed, parties can engage in private mediation before retaining attorneys. Private mediation is more expensive than court mediation because you pay hourly. However, there are significant benefits. First, as the name implies, mediation is private and a complaint does not need to be filed on the public record. Parties can pick an exact date and time that works for them. Importantly, the parties can select a mediator of their choosing. Many divorce attorneys offer divorce mediation services. If and when an agreement is reached, the mediator drafts a final divorce settlement agreement, which is reviewed by the parties and their respective attorneys. Thereafter, all forms are filed along with the agreement indicating to the Judge that the divorce is resolved. A final uncontested “hearing” is held by phone 60 days after filing. Private mediation allows parties to sidestep all preliminary hearings with the Judge.
The most significant benefit of mediation, whether it be in court or private, is that parties typically save a significant amount of time and money. It saves parties from the emotional and financial costs of protracted litigation and gives them more control over their future financial obligations and other responsibilities.
What you should bring to mediation
The mediator will require certain financial disclosures prior to mediation, including tax returns and income information. Often, the mediator will ask for positions and proposal ideas from the parties (or their attorneys) prior to mediation. If parties have children, proposed residency and contact plans should be developed in advance of mediation. Documents related to the cost of childcare, school, and health insurance should be provided to the mediator.
Additionally, financial statements should be prepared in advance, listing out assets and debts. If parties have real estate, it is suggested that real estate deeds and mortgages be reviewed and exchanged, as well as valuation ideas. Oftentimes, real property must be appraised. With respect to accounts, it is helpful to have collected statements showing present values. The mediator will draft a property chart to assist with an equitable division of assets and debts.
Perhaps most importantly, participants should come to mediation with the right mindset for compromise, flexibility, and resolution. In fact, in court mediation, there is a requirement that parties mediate in good faith. Mediation best serves people who are willing to fully disclose and exchange information and who are interested in working collaboratively.
Ultimately, mediation can offer solutions to provide a satisfactory outcome for the parties involved. Murray Plumb & Murray’s mediators are available to assist with divorce mediation and other alternative dispute resolution needs.