By Theresa Lorella
Attorney at Seattle Divorce Services
In the previous posts in this series, we have explored methods to move a litigation case into a more cooperative setting or to begin a litigation filing with the express intent of remaining cooperative. For those who are firmly committed to a cooperative and non-litigation approach to their case – especially if both spouses are in firm agreement to that goal – a mediation style dissolution or legal separation may be a good option for that family.
What is a Mediation Case?
While it would not be impossible to switch gears in a case already begun, many mediation cases begin with the agreed plan of proceeding through a mediation process. Unlike in the litigation setting where a “mediation” is often just a one day settlement conference with the parties are kept separate and trial looms, mediation in this context refers to the entire approach to the process rather than a one-time event.
In such a case, each party finds an attorney to consult or represent them through the process. With the help of counsel, the parties then agree upon the use of a mediator trained to help facilitate a conversational process to achieve settlement. Notably, the parties in a mediation process will often not file a case with the court until they have begun the mediation process. Once they have a sense of the timing of the work ahead, they will often file a joint petition and will have already taken significant strides towards completing settlement when they actually file with the court.
Once counsel and a mediator are selected, a first meeting will be scheduled for both parties to explain their hopes for the process and resolution. At this first meeting, there will be very little work towards obtaining a global settlement, although interim issues are often addressed.
Rather, the first meeting acquaints the parties with the process and allows the mediator the opportunity to know the types of issues and concerns each party has brought to the table. An important note is that this type of mediation almost always has both parties and attorneys in the same room throughout the process rather than being separated as in a settlement conference.
Based on the needs of the parties, the mediator will help come up with a game plan for the next steps of the process. For many people, this is simply addressing and helping facilitate temporary status and giving each party homework to gather documentation and financial information. At later meetings, it will be determined if additional information is needed or whether it would serve the parties to bring in additional experts. Such experts could include a joint financial analyst to help organize more complex financial situations, or a visit or two from a divorce or parenting coach (described in upcoming post) to help with communication, difficult issues, or constructing a parenting plan.
How many sessions with a mediator are needed will truly depend on the issues present in each case. Some people are able to work towards a settlement in just a few sessions; others may need more meetings to achieve full settlement. Once settlement is achieved, the attorneys will draft up the documents necessary to finalize the case with the court and officially end the case.
What Are the Benefits of Mediation?
While it certainly requires active participation from the parties, many people report that the mediation model is an emotionally efficient process that allows each party to safely and respectfully find their voice.
It is also a process that is more financially efficient than litigation as it allows the parties’ specific needs to direct document and information gathering, rather than satisfying the more general requirements of a random case schedule. Most importantly, many parties report that this process allows the spouses themselves to direct the course of their case, enabling them to move through the process as active participants and achieve a mutually agreeable result.