Divorce Mediation: Take Control of Your Divorce and Plan Your Path Forward
No one jumps into a marriage intending to split up; sometimes, however, it’s a messy inevitability.
Navigating a divorce is emotionally and financially draining. But when you decide to go to court, you also forfeit much of your control over the situation. The division of your marriage is now in the hands of the judge—and while that sort of impartiality can sound appealing up front, do you want someone who knows nothing about your life partitioning it for you?
What if there was a way to end your marriage on your terms? Divorce mediation allows you and your ex-partner to negotiate terms yourselves before involving the court system. Conversely, mediation can help you both win—or at least draw an even stalemate.
When you go to court, you’ve lost all control. It’s in the hands of the judge, and you do not know what they will do. Whereas in mediation, you have complete control. — Marlys Bergstrom, Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor
Divorce Mediation Explained
Divorce mediation is a pre-trial process in which the divorcing couple attempts to settle the terms of the split on their own. Managed by a third party—usually a divorce mediation attorney—this process lets the couple amicably hash out issues such as property division, alimony, and custody questions.
Divorce mediation attorneys are skilled in guiding the divorce process, even in cases where the split has been contentious between you and your ex-partner. They can help facilitate a relatively civil process and provide expert guidance throughout the proceedings. The mediator has no legal rights to make any final decision; that remains in the hands of the couple. Mediation is all about ensuring that the divorcing couple keeps control of the final settlement—throughout the process.
Mediation is about the two of you trying to come to a resolution. A good mediator is really good at ‘reality checking’ the parties. And in court, you don't have anyone doing that reality check, really. — Marlys Bergstrom, Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor
While there are costs associated with this process, settling the divorce in mediation is usually less expensive than going to court. Yes, you and your ex-partner have to pay the mediator—but if you can come to a resolution, you're at the tail end of the ordeal.
By determining the parenting plan yourselves, you have the flexibility to outline work schedules and childcare needs—rather than being constrained by the inflexibility of the judge. Couples who have a direct hand in crafting their settlements also often adhere to the terms better.
You’ll Have To Do It, Whether You Like It Or Not
Sound too good to be true? Well, in the state of Georgia, you’ll find out no matter what. Mediation is a mandatory first step in the divorce process here in Georgia.
The Superior Court doesn’t just hear family law cases. Divorce proceedings—while fundamentally important to your own life—are just another line item on the court docket. Thus, Georgia law requires that the adults affected by the divorce attempt to solve the situation themselves before even getting a temporary hearing.
This adds to the cost-saving aspect. If one must go through mediation before filing a court case, there’s an added incentive to resolve the situation at that stage. If not, one must pay for both mediation and the legal fees that accompany court proceedings. Hired attorneys will need to collect evidence to present your case—and charge you for it—you will have to take time away from work, and so on.
Given its less formal nature, mediation is a cleaner process. At the end, you simply present the court with your mutually agreed-upon arrangement.
A Note—In Situations Involving Domestic Abuse
Mediation is a required first step in Georgia; however, that does not mean you will be forced into a room with your potentially abusive ex-partner. Nowadays, it’s possible to conduct divorce mediation entirely via Zoom call or other third-party facilitation methods, such as cordoned-off breakout rooms. Depending on your preferred arrangement, the only people you may have to see in the process are your attorney and mediator.
Planning For Divorce Mediation: What Do You Need to Ensure a Productive Process?
The mediation process is short and intense. To make the most of the session, it’s best to start well-prepared.
Most of the time, we can get it [mediation] done in a day. My shortest one, I think, has been like an hour and a half; my longest was 16 hours. — Marlys Bergstrom, Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor
Choose Your Mediator
First, you have to find the right mediator for your particular circumstances. Mediators generally fall into one of three categories:
- Facilitative mediators are skilled in fostering productive conversations
- Evaluative mediators will focus on the legal merits of your requests
- Transformative mediators act like counselors, allowing you to work through your conflicts in a safe environment
Ask potential mediators about their mediation style and availability, whether they will file documents for you, require a retainer upfront, and whether the mediation meetings will be with both spouses in the same room.
Organize Your Asks
Bergstrom advises her clients begin with a simple thought exercise. Make three columns on a piece of paper:
- Your “Christmas wishlist”—what you’d like to get in a perfect proceeding
- What you’re willing to live with
- What you’re willing to go to court for
This forces parties to think about the reality of the situation beforehand—and forethought, Bergstrom reiterates, is key in a relatively fast process. Preparing questions and a hierarchy of goals also helps your mediator focus on the right targets.
Whether they use the list or not, it gets [clients] focusing on what they want, what direction they want things to go, and what they're willing to concede. You're not going to get everything. But if you tell me what is most important—that's what we're going to try for. — Marlys Bergstrom, Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor
Clearly lay out your vision for a parenting plan if you have children. It may be as simple as a primary custody ask—but unless you articulate exactly what you want, the situation may not go in your favor. Mediation is all about retaining control over the divorce. Coming in with detailed plans helps you do so.
Gather Your Information
You also want to present as complete a picture of your life as possible. Gather any information about your finances, property, insurance, health needs, spousal support, and dependents’ needs. You may need to contact your ex-partner for some of this information—or have your attorney do so—beforehand.
The Aftermath: What Comes Next?
Once you’ve drawn up a plan with your mediator and both parties sign the document, it’s time to file the divorce decree with the court system. It’s also possible to avoid a court hearing entirely if the couple asks the judge to grant the divorce with a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. But the point remains the same: once the settlement is reached, both parties can begin their new lives.
Post-divorce, be sure to change your passwords. If you have adjusted your last name, check that your new name now appears on all official documents and accounts, including bank accounts and credit cards. Take care of transferring titles for vehicles and deeds to the property. Obtain a copy of your divorce decree and any newly agreed upon parenting arrangements.
Divorce Is Messy—But Mediation Can Ease The Process
Divorces are always messy—but a thorough mediation process can reduce the pain. Mediation allows for a more thoughtful, less partisan process than an arbitrary court division.
Probably about 97% of my cases are resolved in mediation. You're always going to get a better result—and most people follow the mediated agreement that they came to, because they created it. — Marlys Bergstrom, Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor
Control is one thing you don’t have to let go of in your divorce. Reach out to the team at Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor today so you walk into the situation clear-eyed.