How Does Mediation Work To Resolve My Divorce In California?

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Joanne D. Ratinoff - Family Law - Super Lawyers

Answered by: Joanne D. Ratinoff

Located in Los Angeles, CAThe Ratinoff Law Group

Los Angeles, CA
Phone: 310-909-8754
Fax: 310-693-5333

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Mediation is a procedure by which a neutral party listens to both you and your spouse as you frame the issues of your divorce. Then, your mediator works to facilitate you and your spouse to resolve those issues. The mediator does not select the issues or the order in which you and your spouse discuss the issues; rather, you and your spouse choose the issues to discuss and resolve. However, your mediator will guide you and your spouse discuss any issues that may have been forgotten during the process so that all issues can be resolved in a comprehensive settlement.

One of the most significant advantages to mediation is that talks are held in private instead of in a public courtroom.  The communications between the mediator and the spouses are confidential.  However, although the discussions in mediation sessions are private, some documents related to your finances are required to be disclosed to the court. For example, your income tax returns and other papers that are part of the public records are not confidential simply because they are used in the mediation process.

Also, when parties settle their case, they have much more flexibility in making the terms of their agreement. However, if they go to court, the judge is required to abide by certain principles, including dividing the marital estate as equally as possible, and this may not result in a settlement that the spouses do not view as fair. If spouses settle out of court, they can do so as they both consider equitable.

Resolve your divorce confidentially and at your own pace

Another feature of mediation is that if you and your spouse cannot initially resolve an issue, you can table it and come back to it later. There is no coercion or force through the process. You can set the pace and sessions of the mediation to work through issues. Your mediator is there to facilitate your discussions and settlement.

As you and your spouse move through the mediation process, you each have the right and opportunity seek advice from your own attorneys and then to continue the mediation process after obtaining such independent advice.

It’s not just a discussion. There is paperwork too.

As you discuss the issues relevant to your divorce, your mediator can help you fill out the necessary paperwork. Many people believe they do not have to file any paperwork with the court when they go through mediation. However, at some point, you or your spouse must file a petition for divorce.  With the filing of a petition, a judge is assigned to your case and a case number to your file, which is the court’s process of formally accepting your paperwork. The judge will ultimately approve your settlement and issue a court order dissolving your marriage.

Your mediator can work with you to fill out the papers that are necessary to start the divorce and to comply with certain other procedures that are required by law so that you can obtain a court order (that is, a judgment) dissolving your marriage.

As an attorney who is also a mediator, I can help you both prepare the required pleadings and walk you through each step in the process at your own pace, but that is not the only benefit of working with a mediator.

More to mediation

Your mediator can also employ the advice of third parties to help sort out your finances and family affairs, including:

  • Real estate brokers and appraisers to value your house and other property
  • CPAs and forensic accountants to provide a valuation of closely held business and to determine cash flow for purposes of child and spousal support (alimony)
  • Mental health experts to provide information and guidance regarding appropriate care for your children
  • Educational and career consultants to assist in providing information about a spouse’s employability and earning ability as it may relate to the issue of spousal support

Finally, it is important to remember that some divorce cases are more amenable than others. You and your spouse must be ready, willing and able to get through it together. If you or your spouse is unable or unwilling to communicate during the process, then mediation is not the right path for your divorce.

Couples who can be civil and cooperative are incentivized to pursue mediation because the process often provides cost-savings and mitigates stress. If you and your spouse are ready to be heard and work together, mediation can be effective in resolving your divorce. 

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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