How Does Divorce Mediation Work?

Mediation allows both parties to identify, negotiate and resolve the issues raised by the decision to divorce.

Beginning Phase

Introduction to mediation begins in the first telephone call you make to DFMS.  We are happy to take the time needed by phone to answer all your questions and explain what steps you would need to take after it is completed.

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The initial session begins with a detailed explanation of how mediation works, and what the expectations are of both the client and the mediator.  You have an opportunity to ask all your questions about the process and decide if mediation is right for you.  If you are agreeable to the process and its guidelines, everyone will sign an Agreement to Mediate.  

Mediator Zinner helps you establish firm ground rules and a confidential environment so that emotionally charged issues can be talked about safely.  She provides you with informational hand-outs about the mediation process, and explains the required forms and information needed to accomplish a property settlement.

An agenda and order of issues to be discussed is formulated together.  Each topic, such as alimony or holiday schedules, is discussed separately so that the task of creating a complete agreement is broken down into manageable pieces. The mediator provides structure and guidance, checklists of issues to cover,  yet allows the parties to shape the conversation.

Middle and Final Phase

The mediator provides direction so that both partners can review information gathered systematically, with their stated goals as a starting point.  For example, if one person's goal is to stay in the family home, but there is not enough income to support that, the mediator will encourage parties to discuss how to solve that problem (usually meaning generate more income or cut expenses).

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In mediation, participants often create solutions that are more creative than the courts. When both partners are part of the process of creating parenting agreements and financial distribution plans, there is a better chance of meeting the needs of the entire family.   During each session, points of agreement are noted on a flip chart, and between sessions those points are added to the evolving Memorandum of Agreement.

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When all points have been considered, the couple usually attends a last session to review in person the completed document and make corrections and revisions.  The final document is emailed to both clients within ten days of the last session.  If new disagreements arise, couples have the option of returning for another session to iron out the problems.  Couples may sign this document or use it as the basis for an attorney to draft.  Nothing is signed in the mediation office. 

The mediator is not a notary and does not assist with filling out legal forms or filing them.

How much time does mediation take?

Parenting plans (custody) usually take 1 to 3 sessions; property and other financial matters usually take from 1 to 6 sessions.  Mediation is shortest and least expensive when participants have done their homework --- brought the information needed to make decisions.  Other factors that influence the number of sessions are how complex the situation and finances are, whether there is a mutual interest in solving problems cooperatively, and how much difference there is between what each person wants.

Sessions are usually 2 hours, but can be adjusted to meet a particular situation.  For example, if one person has come in from out of town, a 4 hour or longer session can be scheduled.  When one person lives out of town and is unable to come to Maryland, for example with military families, Skype is used to hold sessions in video.   Shorter sessions are sometimes planned to make the service more affordable.