Before we became mediators, each of us was a divorce mediation client. These FAQs reflect the questions that were weighing on our own minds when we had to pick up the phone to make the initial call to a mediator. We welcome any questions you might have and invite you to contact us by phone or email.
~ John Spiegel and Donna Duquette
Divorce mediation offers you the opportunity to determine the terms of your separation and/or divorce with the guidance of a specially trained facilitator. The mediation will focus on three key sets of issues: the parenting plan (if you have minor children), division of property, and financial support (child support and spousal support). (See the Divorce Mediation Checklist for a more detailed listing of topics.) Depending on your circumstances, you might choose to use mediation to establish either a Temporary Separation Agreement or a comprehensive Marital Settlement Agreement. The Marital Settlement Agreement can be used as the basis for seeking an uncontested divorce decree from the court.
Typically clients decide to work either with John or with Donna as their mediator. On some occasions, clients will decide to work with two mediators together, as co-mediators. (In the stages below, “we” refers to the mediator(s); “you” refers to both members of a couple.)
ORIENTATION Divorce mediations begin with an orientation session with both clients together. This meeting usually lasts 1½ to 2 hours, and the fee is capped at 1 hour. We will explain in detail how the mediation process works and, after hearing from you about your family situation, we will provide an overview of the substantive topics that you would likely be addressing in mediation, along with forms and resources that may be helpful to you. If you decide to go forward with mediation, we will schedule one or more sessions and give you your "homework" for the first session. Almost everyone finds the orientation session to be informative and reassuring.
REGULAR SESSIONS Mediation sessions (after the orientation) are generally two hours long, with a short break in the middle. We will set a natural conversational tone for each session and act as your guide, as we walk you through the topics in a thoughtful sequence. Where useful, we may meet separately with each of you, usually for about 10 to 15 minutes each during the two-hour session.
AGENDAS AND HOMEWORK The agenda for each session will generally have been discussed and agreed on in advance. At the beginning of each session, we will review the work of the prior session, noting what was decided and what remains to be done. Then we will review the homework and begin discussing the issues on the agenda, or address any pressing issues that have come up since the last session. When working on financial support issues, we often run special software to do budgeting and to calculate the state child support guidelines. At the end of each session, we will discuss with you the agenda and the “homework” for the next session.
AGREEMENTS We will continue meeting in sessions until you have completed your decision-making. At that point, we will begin drafting an agreement. We will meet again with you to review the agreement together, and to fill in any remaining details. We will then prepare a revised version which will be ready for attorney review. We recommend to all our clients to have your own attorney review the draft agreement that we have prepared for you, before you sign it.
Mediation can work well in both high-conflict and low-conflict cases. It’s in the high-conflict cases where mediation, as an alternative to litigation, can often save the most time, money, and emotional turmoil. We do not shy away from the challenge of difficult cases, and we find that many are difficult only on the surface: underneath are the same reasons to work things out amicably as in less difficult cases.
In some instances, when two people cannot be together, we will meet with each person separately and conduct a type of shuttle diplomacy.
As your mediators, we will guide you through the issues in a sequence that promotes thoughtful decision making, listen with good attention to your comments, facilitate your communications with each other, and document your decisions. We will be unbiased and will not make decisions for you or act as a judge. We believe you can make the best decisions for yourselves, and we can help you reach that point.
GUIDE AND EDUCATE As mediators, we have been through this process many hundreds of times. We know the issues to be addressed and appreciate the emotional turmoil that is involved. We can visualize the end of the process even when participants are having a hard time seeing the next step. Part of our role is to provide information and suggest options to consider. If requested, we will share common ways other people have handled similar situations, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We can help you explore creative solutions when you want to go in new directions.
FACILITATE We will provide an environment that encourages attentive listening and good thinking. We will make sure each of you has a chance to be fully heard without interruptions. In difficult situations, we will help you set boundaries and encourage respectful behavior. Unlike litigation, in mediation many people learn skills of communication that can be useful in the future.
DOCUMENT During each session we will also document the decisions that you have made. If you live in
Maryland or DC, we will draft a Marital Settlement Agreement for you. When signed, this agreement is an enforceable contract and can be used as the basis for seeking an uncontested divorce decree from the court. If you live in another state, we will draft a Memorandum of Understanding that can be taken to an attorney in your state.
We recommend to all our clients that you each have your own separate attorney review any draft agreement we have prepared. Some clients also find it helpful to consult with an attorney as they go through the mediation process. This helps them develop options to present in mediation or get feedback to the options already discussed in mediation. At your request we will give you referrals to experienced attorneys who are supportive of the mediation process.
Most couples complete the mediation process without having their attorneys participate in the session. However, in some cases it has proved helpful to have the attorneys participate. This option is available to all couples. Even when attorneys are present, the clients do most of the talking.
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