Divorce Mediation

By: Robert Panzer

Some couples choose to go through mediation in the hope of settling their divorce case in an amicable and cost-effective fashion. But should you still consult with an attorney if you choose mediation? The short answer is yes – and you should do so before attending your first mediation session.  This answer at first may seem counter-intuitive since the goal of mediation is to reach a fair settlement in a cost effective manner, often without attorneys present.  However, having a consultation with an attorney before attending mediation could result in a more favorable settlement and save considerable legal fees in the long run.

Mediation can be a useful tool to resolve divorce issues when both parties participate in good faith.  However, it is important to remember that a mediator does not represent either side, nor is it the mediator’s job to advocate for either party.  Rather, the mediator’s primary goal is to assist the parties in reaching an agreement regarding their outstanding issues, such as:  custody, parenting time, alimony, child support, and equitable distribution of assets and debts.  It is important to have a solid understanding of the law pertaining to all issues in your case so that you can be sure that your final agreement is both comprehensive and fair.  A consultation with an attorney in advance of mediation will ensure that you know your rights and provide you with a general framework for an equitable settlement.  Although you should go into mediation with an open mind and willing to compromise when reasonable to do so, having this understanding prior to entering mediation is imperative.

In addition to potentially securing a better settlement, a legal consultation can save substantial legal fees.  If your mediation is successful, it is customary for the mediator to prepare a draft Marital Settlement Agreement or term sheet outlining the settlement.  At this point, the mediator generally encourages you to have the draft agreement reviewed by an independent attorney prior to signing a final agreement.  This may trigger a request to renegotiate or revise certain items in the agreement.  Having a good understanding of how your issues should resolve in advance of mediation could reduce, if not eliminate, the need for you to seek substantial changes to the draft agreement after mediation.  It is far more costly to renegotiate major issues after mediation than having an initial consultation and ensuring that essential terms are included in the first draft.

If you are mediating your divorce case, or have any questions or issues pertaining to family law, I am available to consult on the issues that you may have. Please email me at rpanzer@szaferman.com or call (609) 275-0400.