Turn to a Seattle Divorce Mediation Lawyer for Your Divorce Resolution
Mediation is a process in which opposing parties attempt to reach an agreement outside of court with the assistance of a neutral third-party facilitator. A Seattle divorce mediation lawyer at our firm can help you understand the process and navigate the proceedings.
Early mediation involves working with a mediator over a period of time, starting early in the case, to make decisions about gathering information, developing greater understanding of what is important to each party, brainstorming possible solutions, and reaching an agreement. This is an option for couples who can work together and do not need to have attorneys included in most discussions. The mediator does not make decisions, but works with both parties to help them find common ground for agreement. The mediator helps the parties to explore a variety of possible solutions suggested either by the parties or by the mediator.
Settlement conference mediation is where the parties (and their attorneys, if they have attorneys) meet with a mediator shortly before trial to see if they can come to an agreement based on what they think the court is going to do. Unlike early mediation, this typically happens in a single extended meeting, with detailed information about the case provided to the mediator in advance.
If you are interested in having one of our attorneys act as your mediator, we ask that the initial meeting be with both you and your spouse, so that the other party is not concerned about what might have been said behind their back to influence the mediator.
Our mediators also encourage each party to have an attorney he or she can consult with for legal advice and who can prepare any legal documents that are needed.
Answering Your Mediation Questions
What does the process for Early Mediation look like?
Our divorce mediation attorneys generally start with a meeting with both parties to discuss the process in more depth, as well as explore what issues the couple hope to resolve in mediation. We also want to find out a bit more about the couple’s communication style. If the couple determines that they do want to move ahead with mediation, we will generally schedule several meetings. We usually try to limit the meeting to several hours each as we find that if we run longer, the parties wear down and the meeting becomes less productive. Often the parties will also find that there is information they need to develop before they can move forward, such as getting property appraised or gathering and sharing financial records. They may also find that they want to meet between mediation sessions with an allied divorce professional such as a financial specialist, a divorce coach, or a parenting specialist to work on specific issues. In the mediation sessions, the mediator will guide them through a discussion of the various issues, helping them get past stuck points, develop alternative solutions, and look for ideas that they feel would be attractive to the other party.
What does the process for a Settlement Conference look like?
Generally a Settlement Conference will be scheduled by the parties’ attorneys with a mediator they both trust. This kind of mediation is generally done after both sides have done most of their trial preparation and are close to their trial date. Both sides submit letters to the mediator outlining their positions and arguments, as well as information needed to understand those positions and arguments (essentially a shortened version of what they will be presenting to the court at trial). Because time is short, a Settlement Conference is typically scheduled for a full day, rather than shorter meetings over time. Depending on the style of the mediator, they may take one of two different approaches to the mediation session. In “evaluative mediation” the focus is on how the court would likely rule. The mediator evaluates the positions of both parties and then offers their own opinion as to what they think a court would do, and then pushes both sides towards that resolution. On the other hand, “facilitative mediation” is more like the process in Early Mediation. The focus here is on helping to facilitate the discussion between the parties and helping them each recognize what it will take to find a solution that will be acceptable to the other party.
Can the mediator prepare the legal documents for us to complete our divorce?
A mediator is a neutral person in the case. For the mediator to be effective, both parties need to be comfortable that the mediator is not taking sides. While a mediator can record what the parties agree to, it is generally understood that when those agreements are put into the form of final divorce documents, there are inevitably choices of language made that easily favor one party or the other. Also, when a mediator prepares final legal documents for the parties, they are acting as a lawyer, and there is an ethical rule that a divorce lawyer cannot represent both parties, because of similar conflict of interest reasons. Therefore an ethical ruling has been made in Washington that mediators should not prepare the legal documents for a divorcing couple. While some mediators interpret the rules in different ways, we believe it is a bright line and ask that you have outside attorneys prepare the legal documents to complete your divorce, based on the agreements reached in mediation.
For Early Mediation, are there documents we need to bring to the initial meeting with the mediator?
The initial meeting is only for you to learn about the process and the mediator to learn about you and the issues you need to work on, so there is no need to bring any documents with you at that time. In the course of the mediation, the mediator will help the parties decide what documents and other information they need to help them come to informed decisions and which person should locate what information to share.
Divorce Mediation: The Basics
Divorce does not involve a high-pitched, adversarial courtroom drama. For couples who are able to communicate openly and possibly compromise, a mediated divorce is an excellent option. However, it is important to understand the fundamental aspects of mediation before agreeing to participate.
The mediator can be any neutral third party. They do not need to be a licensed mediator or lawyer. Conceivably, they could even be a friend or family member, although they may not be as neutral as you might hope.
It should be emphasized that the mediator’s role is to remain neutral throughout the proceedings. This means that they do not take either side but rather help the parties reach a resolution that is mutually agreeable. Many times, people become frustrated because they expect the mediator to act like an arbitrator or a judge and take their side in a conflict.
In our experience, an experienced mediator is worth the potential expense, especially if they have a background in handling divorce mediation. They are skilled in resolving differences or disagreements that you may not otherwise be able to resolve. They may also be able to propose solutions that you may not have considered. An experienced mediator understands their role in the process and has the skills and experience to bring about a fair result for everyone involved. Your divorce attorney can likely recommend a mediator that they believe will be well-suited to handle your case.
You Do Not Need to Be Represented by an Attorney
Either one or both parties can enter into mediation. Before deciding to forego legal representation, however, it is important to understand the role that an attorney can play in the mediation process.
First, it is important to understand that a lawyer cannot represent both parties in a divorce case – this would be an obvious conflict of interest. As a result, a lawyer can only represent one of the divorcing spouses, and they will act purely in service of their sole interests. Do not assume that the other party’s attorney will protect your interests out of a sense of fairness.
A lawyer can provide valuable guidance through the mediation process. They can give advice as to what is reasonable to expect when you should compromise, and when you should stand firm. They can also counsel you as to when going to court may be a better option.
Whether or not to hire a lawyer for your mediation is your decision to make. If the other party has chosen to proceed without an attorney, do not let that influence your decision.
Mediation is Not Required
Couples who are divorcing are not required to enter into mediation. Even if it is required by local rules, the requirement is waivable.
While not required, mediation is strongly encouraged. Couples who are able to resolve their differences through divorce mediation often are happier with the result and spend less time seeking amendments to their parenting plans and litigating other post-divorce matters.
The Mediation Process
Every mediator has their own approach to reaching a resolution. The mediation could take place over a series of meetings or in one single session. The parties may be together in one room or separated with their attorneys while the mediator acts as a go-between. One of the advantages of the mediation process is that it allows for creativity and flexibility with a focus on achieving mutually-agreeable solutions.
The Role of the Court
Engaging in mediation does not mean that the court is not involved at all. If you are able to reach an agreement, the role of the court is limited to approving the terms of your agreement. This means that your divorce agreement will be able to be enforced through the court should the other party fail to perform their obligations. And if your mediation ultimately fails, it will not compromise your ability to go to court. For these reasons, mediation is an excellent option for couples who can commit to work together in good faith.
The Expense of Mediation
Unless the parties otherwise agree, the cost of mediation is often shared equally between the spouses.
Mediation Can Include All Aspects of Your Divorce
Mediation can address all aspects of your divorce that would be addressed through litigation. As a result, mediation can allow you to reach an agreement on the following issues:
Because these issues can be complicated, an experienced attorney can help you find a solution that protects your future and the future of your children. This can include identifying potential tax issues, managing practical concerns related to your children, and ensuring that assets are properly valued. Even when couples are more or less in agreement, they don’t always see the big picture or realize the long-term ramifications of their divorce agreement. An experienced attorney can help you reach an agreement that serves you well for years to come.
Mediation Versus Collaborative Divorce
Mediation and collaborative divorce are similar in many ways which can lead to some confusion for spouses contemplating divorce. Both methods aim to avoid adversarial litigation by striving to find mutually agreeable solutions in a way that minimizes potential conflict.
The main difference between the two is that the collaborative divorce process does not involve a third party as in mediation. Instead, each spouse and their attorneys are directly involved in negotiating a divorce agreement without the aid of a third party. Similar to mediation, a collaborative divorce allows the parties to retain some control over the final outcome of their case as opposed to the “winner takes all” outcome that can result from litigation.
A collaborative divorce is possible without working with an attorney (sometimes referred to as a “kitchen table divorce”) but is far less likely to be successful. An experienced lawyer will know best how to manage potential conflict and avoid the pitfalls that can undermine what you hope to achieve through your divorce.
Contact Seattle Divorce Services Today to Discuss How Mediation Would Apply to Your Divorce
We encourage you to take a look at our Seattle divorce mediation lawyer profiles to find the best fit for your needs. If you are unsure of what to ask or how to look for the right divorce attorney, contact us and we’ll be happy to help match you with the right attorney for your situation.