It is often said that no two marriages are alike, and the same is true of divorces. When you think of divorce, you probably think of a courtroom, or a trial with witnesses. That can be intimidating. Divorce mediation, however, is an alternative way to resolve a divorce.
Divorce mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) designed to help couples resolve their family law disputes outside of the courtroom. A mediator is not a judge. He or she doesn’t make decisions in a divorce case. Instead, the mediator is a neutral party who facilitates discussions between the parties to the mediation. A mediator will help you clarify what issues you still need to resolve (like parental responsibility, how marital property will be divided, etc.), identify options, and encourage you and your spouse to reach a mutually-agreeable decision.
Mediators are usually, but not always, attorneys. They are specially trained to help you and your spouse communicate in a way that maximizes the chances of reaching agreement on disputed issues.
The State of North Dakota views mediation as so valuable that it requires divorcing couples with minor children or couples who disagree about residential responsibility to make a good-faith effort to resolve their disputes through mediation. In fact, in divorce cases involving minor children, North Dakota provides couples with up to six (6) free hours of mediation to help them avoid or minimize the need to go to court.
You don’t have to wait for a court to require you to go to mediation; you and your spouse can decide to go before either of you even files for divorce.
Ending a marriage doesn’t mean that you and your spouse need to be at each other’s throats during the dissolution process. The more amicable your divorce, the better, especially in cases involving future co-parenting of minor children.
There are usually tensions and difficulties communicating between parties, even in an amicable divorce, resulting in you and your spouse may struggling to resolve issues on your own. The mediator helps keep you focused, helps parties avoid getting waylaid by emotions, and guides toward common ground. The less fighting during your divorce, and the better the communication and the more cordial your relationship will be afterward.
Even if your relationship with your soon-to-be-ex spouse isn’t exactly amicable, mediation can keep things from deteriorating further. It may not be appropriate for all couples in all situations, but mediation works well for more people than you might expect.
Divorce can get expensive, but there are ways to help keep your costs down. The more hostile your divorce is, the longer it takes and the more time your attorney will spend preparing the case and working to protect your interests. Of course, the more hours your attorney pours into your case, the more money that will pour out of your pocket in attorney’s fees.
A few hours of mediation may resolve an issue that might have taken weeks to resolve in court, and several hours of your attorney’s time. You will still have to pay the mediator, and your attorney if they attend the mediation with you. But the cost is still likely to be less than that of a contentious, litigated divorce that resolves at a trial.
When mediating your divorce, you and your spouse have more control over the timing of the process. You may need one meeting with the mediator, or multiple meetings to resolve all your issues. Regardless of how many sessions you may require, a mediated divorce often takes less time than a litigated one. You can also proceed at a slower pace or a pace that makes you most comfortable. The main constraint on mediation is getting them scheduled, on when they get scheduled, depending on your needs and the schedules of the professionals involved.
Unlike court filings, there is no public record of mediation proceedings. You are not testifying or arguing in open court. What you and your spouse discuss, and how you reach resolution, is between you and the mediator, and your attorneys to the extent they are involved. If mediation is unsuccessful, what you discuss in mediation or various settlement offers made back and forth between you and your spouse cannot be introduced into evidence in a court proceeding. The mediator cannot be called to testify.
Not only does the presence of a trained mediator help keep your discussion more civil and reduce hostility, it helps teach you and your spouse to communicate more effectively. This can pay huge dividends as you try to resolve future co-parenting issues that arise. You will have learned, from mediation, an effective framework for problem-solving.
When couples are given tools to craft their own resolution and have more input and control over the process and issues, most find they are more satisfied with the final result than if someone else (i.e., the judge) told them what to do.
It makes sense: you and your spouse know more about your family and its needs than any judge ever could. Through mediation, you can identify solutions that work best for your particular life and circumstances. What’s more, when you feel like you’ve had a hand in making decisions, you are more likely to abide by it. That means you are less likely to end up in court over a motion to enforce your divorce decree or a court order. You can include specific details that are important to you, but that a judge, after hearing the evidence, may not give priority to include in the Order.
If you would like to learn more about whether mediation is right for you, the divorce mediation process, or how to get a divorce in North Dakota, please contact Fremstad Law to schedule a consultation with North Dakota family law attorney Lesley Foss.
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