What is Divorce Mediation?
Divorce mediation is a process between you and your spouse where a neutral third party helps you and your spouse reach compromises on the various issues that need to be resolved through the process of the case. Generally these issues include child custody, support and parenting time or visitation, as well as financial issues including property division, debt division and maintenance or spousal support, as well as an award of attorney fees if requested in your case. A mediator does not act as a judge to decide issues, but tries to guide you and your spouse in coming to agreements in accordance with what the mediator believes mirrors what the judge involved in your case would decide if you and your spouse had a court trial. Thus, while people other than lawyers can serve as mediators in divorces in Kansas and Missouri, generally a lawyer is preferred. This is because a lawyer has practical experience with trying cases in front of your judge and can give more detailed, specific guidance than other professionals might be able to.
How is Mediation Used in Kansas or Missouri Divorce Cases?
Mediation is one of the most used methods of negotiating property and custody agreements in Missouri or Kansas divorce cases. Generally, absent extenuating circumstances such as domestic violence, child abuse or other concerns, the court is likely to require or order mediation prior to allowing you and your spouse to proceed to a trial.
What is the Benefit of Mediation in Missouri or Kansas Divorce Cases?
Mediation has the potential to provide many benefits in divorce cases, including the following:
- It's less expensive to come to an agreement through mediation than preparing for and attending a trial generally;
- Mediation has a high success rate in resolving divorce issues, especially when both parties have an open mind to finding compromises and particularly, when each party goes into mediation being committed to finding compromises and reaching an agreement;
- Mediation is confidential—thus it is a great opportunity to meaningfully work through issues. If you and your spouse need to “air some dirty laundry” or complaints about one another, mediation gives you a safe space to do that. If your case requires a trial, that is generally an open forum, and is a public proceeding.
- Mediation allows you and your spouse to work out solutions that are best for the two of you, your family and your children. You and your spouse can seek creative solutions that a judge may not be open to consider if your case is presented in a trial.
- Mediation helps to facilitate future co-parenting. If you and your spouse are able to put aside your discord and come together to find solutions for your children’s needs, you and your spouse have a greater likelihood of being able to continue to co-parent and cooperate with another to meet your children’s needs going forward;
If I want to mediate, do I still need a lawyer?
Although you are not required to have a lawyer to mediate, it is strongly encouraged. You can have a lawyer attend mediation with you to guide you during the mediation, but many, many parties elect to have a lawyer involved with preparing for the mediation attendance and even consulting with you during the mediation. Finally, many parties will elect to have a consulting lawyer involved to either prepare the settlement agreements reached in mediation or to help you discuss and understand the settlement agreement reached or prepared and provide insight about requested changes. The mediator is neutral and will not provide you with advice that serves your best interests, it is important that you have a lawyer who can advocate and protect your interests, particularly for such an important and long-term agreement that may affect your family and future rights in hundreds of ways.
How Long Does Mediation Take?
A divorce mediation process can be as long or as short as you and your spouse determine is necessary to come to a full and fair agreement. Mediation can be concluded as quickly as in one session that occurs in a one-week period or could take place over a period of several months with many sessions involved. Sometimes, if there are difficult issues for children’s special needs, complex financial issues, business valuations or other information needed, parties will mediate, take weeks or months to obtain agreed upon information and then return to mediation at a later time. Almost always, mediation can help bring the case to a conclusion with less time investment than a contested divorce case process.
What Happens at Typical Mediation Sessions?
How the mediation session occurs is largely at the discretion of what you, your spouse and the mediator feel comfortable with. In some mediation sessions, you and your spouse may be in the same room for the entire mediation. In other circumstances, you and your spouse may meet in separate sessions with the mediator so you can each provide the mediator with your own respective opinions and positions individually. After meeting with each of you, the mediator will help make determinations as to where you and your spouse agree, where you need to find some compromise, and how the mediator intends to help you both accomplish this. For example, if you and your spouse are addressing the question of who stays in the family home, the mediator will help you jointly figure out what information and materials you need to make this decision (such as financial records) and may ask each of you to commit to bringing the necessary documents to the next session.
What Happens Once We Reach an Agreement through Mediation?
Once you reach an agreement regarding a particular topic such as a parenting plan or schedule, the mediator will prepare a summary letter in writing, typically with numbers or bullet points summarizing a list of general topics reached. Once both you and your spouse sign the agreement, it is a binding agreement and unless the court determines that it not in the best interests of your children or the financial provisions are unconscionable, it will get entered. From there, your lawyer and your spouse’s lawyer will generally work together to get the final judgment prepared and get a settlement hearing in place or if the court will allow, the submission by affidavit.
What if My Spouse and I Cannot Reach an Agreement in Mediation?
If mediation is not effective and in spite of you and your spouse making every effort, you cannot come to a final agreement, or if you and your spouse are able to reach an agreement on some, but not all issues, you will probably need to work with your legal counsel to get a court hearing or trial date scheduled. The court will make a decision on any remaining issues and provide that decision or determination to wrap-up and conclude your case.
Are There Situations When Meditation is Not Appropriate?
If there is a history of domestic violence, mental health issues, child abuse or substance abuse for example, in your relationship, you may not really be in a position to participate in mediation. For example, if you're the victim of domestic abuse, you will feel that your spouse has the upper hand in mediation, and you may even feel that your spouse is using the mediation process to intimidate you with the threat of further physical abuse in order to force you to accept an unfair agreement. It is important that the agreements made during mediation be voluntary; if you're afraid of your spouse, or if your spouse is forcing you to accept unreasonable terms, mediation probably is not appropriate for your case.
If you want to attend mediation, please consult with our office today. Our attorneys at Pingel Family Law can discuss the mediation process, how to most effectively participate in mediation and advocate for your highest priority concerns and suggest mediators that will be most effective in your situation, based on the court house where the case is anticipated to take place. Call our office today at (816) 208-8130 to schedule your mediation consultation and let our experience work for you.
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