You may have read about lengthy, adversarial and expensive legal fights in the tabloids or seen them reported on TV. However, the recent divorce of actors Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck is an example of how high-profile couples can resolve their differences over property and parenting issues without the glare of publicity and the uncertainties of going to trial.
The glamour couple used the same process that any other couple would use when seeking a divorce settlement through mediation. Although Washington state does not require mediation in a divorce, some local court systems, such as those in Snohomish County and King County, demand that couples go through some form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) as a condition of proceeding with divorce. This means attempting to work out disputed issues with the help of a neutral third party.
The benefits of mediation are that it is usually:
- Less stressful
- Less expensive (sometimes 50 percent less expensive than divorce)
- Less time-consuming
- Less rigid (not limited by court schedules and other rules)
- More private and confidential (no records kept of mediation sessions)
- More subject to control by the parties
The length of the process depends on the individual situation of each couple. Most people need multiple meetings with a mediator to resolve all the issues. If they cannot agree, they can still pursue litigation.
The mediation process includes these steps:
- Selecting a mediation services provider. In Washington, mediators may be lawyers or other professionals trained in conflict resolution. They work in the private sector, either in law firms or dispute resolution centers, and usually charge hourly fees.
- Attending the first meeting (sometimes called a “general caucus”) with the mediator, who reviews the ground rules of mediation, discusses the process, obtains signed agreements to mediate, and emphasizes the importance of complete confidentiality
- Drafting opening statements outlining their issues
- Engaging in supervised conversations with each other about those issues
- Attending private meetings with the mediator about issues that are difficult to resolve
The mediator generally moves back and forth between the parties to come to an agreement on all issues. He or she then prepares a settlement agreement for the parties to sign and present to the court. If the judge approves, the terms of the settlement become part of the divorce decree.
You can be represented during mediation by a family law attorney who can present your position and negotiate in your behalf. While not required, having an attorney is especially important if your spouse has retained one.
At Bottimore & Associates, P.L.L.C., we advise clients in all aspects of divorce, including mediation. To learn whether mediation is right for you, call 253-272-5653 or contact us online for an initial consultation at our Tacoma office.