Hiring an attorney to handle your divorce can be very expensive. Between retainers and hourly fees, the cost can skyrocket before you even set foot into a courtroom. Contested divorce proceedings can take months or even years to go to trial, many times disrupting the ability of couples to move on with their lives or to properly parent their children.
Mediation can help couples settle their disputes at a fraction of the cost of an attorney's retainer fee to go to trial. After all, mediators are helping the couple to come to a mutually satisfying resolution instead of dragging out the case and increasing legal fees.
One of the most cost effective ways for a couple to divorce is to go to mediation BEFORE filing for divorce. This is known as Prefiling Mediation. If the couple can agree to everything at the mediation, the couple can then attach that Marital Settlement Agreement to the divorce petition and be on the fast track to a divorce.
Is attending mediation before filing for divorce right for you? There are several things to consider:
A mediator is not your attorney and cannot offer you legal advice. Although I am also an experienced family law attorney, I am not the attorney to either the Husband or Wife during a mediation. While I can explain to you both the Florida law with regard to divorce, I cannot give either of you my opinion as to whether a particular outcome is in your best interest.
Do you believe your spouse may be hiding assets? An attorney can help you perform financial discovery for an accurate picture of your and your spouse's assets after a divorce filing is made. At a mediation, you and your spouse should already have an accurate picture of the marriage's finances so that you can both make wise decisions regarding the distribution of those assets (and debts).
Can you and your spouse communicate in a calm, respectful manner? Some divorces bring a lot of anger and resentment. While a certified mediator is trained to help both parties to communicate, some couples are too emotional to agree to anything at a particulat moment. In these cases, early mediation can be a waste of time, and couples should consider hiring attorneys.
If you and your spouse can communicate respectfully, neither of you believe the other is hiding assets or debts from the other, and you wish to resolve your divorce amicably without using an attorney, then prefiling mediation may be right for you. At prefiling mediation, the couple meets with the mediator to create a marital settlement agreement (and, if applicable, a parenting plan). If both parties are satisfied with the agreement, they can then take their documents to the clerk of court and jointly file for an uncontested divorce. And uncontested divorce where all documents are properly filed (including parenting plans and settlement agreements) are usually granted within 90 days of filing. This allows couples to move with their lives relatively quickly.
Prefiling mediation is also available for paternity actions, modifications, child support, and timesharing agreements.