Divorcing Without a Lawyer: Mediation

As a supplement to my first post on Divorcing Without a Lawyer, I wanted to offer another cost saving approach when you do not or cannot pay for a lawyer. A good, qualified family law mediator can help avoid some of the pitfalls of a purely pro se divorce. When I do a divorce mediation, I know all the categories and issues that can come up in a divorce and I present those to the couple. I go through each topic and ask them if they have discussed it and then I know where to start the dialogue.

By touching on each area of life that a divorce settlement agreement needs to address, I invariably come across some issues that the couple never even contemplated. This is a benefit to each party because it reduces the chance of litigation down the road after the divorce is final. Sometimes I ask about a topic, such as retirement, and it becomes clear that one or both parties simply do not want to be forthcoming on that topic. As a mediator, I can still ask questions that may help them realize it is for the best to disclose now, in this setting, rather than for it to come out later. Such non-disclosure could actually nullify a settlement.

The limitation, as a mediator, is that I cannot then begin to advise the other party. I cannot tell them that they are getting a raw deal; I can only ask if they have enough information to reach an agreement. Basically, I cannot take my mediator hat off and put my lawyer hat on. So, if you want to minimize costs of a divorce by avoiding lawyer fees, a next best approach is mediation. But, if you take this approach, make sure you listen to the questions the mediator is asking so that you can know what information you need to be considering.