by Attorney/Mediator Charma Pipersky
What is California Divorce Mediation?
Divorce mediation in California is a process where in most cases a couple will sit down with a neutral attorney who is trained and experienced in mediation, and the mediator helps the couple learn about their options regarding property, children, support, and money issues. It is very important that the mediator you choose is trained. Please do not get an untrained mediator. California divorce mediation can also occur through phone conferences, which will be explained further later in this article.
The mediator helps the couple discuss these issues in a safe place and in a safe manner, so they can explore their options effectively. The results from working with a mediator can do wonders for the quality of your divorce experience. Some people get results in one meeting. Some couples might need ten meetings but in every case it is less expensive and takes less time than going to court.
What is another benefit couples can get from mediation?
An important benefit people really like these days is that California divorce mediation is a private process. It’s confidential. People who begin the divorce process with attorneys representing them in court often don’t understand that when they file their papers they become a matter of public record.
When the attorney goes into court to represent them, often discussing very personal matters, there are other people in the courtroom listening. Most divorcing couples would rather have their family matters discussed confidentially and in private rather than in a public place, if given a choice. This kind of privacy is what you get with mediation.
How much can couples save by using mediation instead of hiring attorneys to fight in court?
For most people mediation will only cost about 10% of what they would spend if they retain an attorney to go to court. Keep in mind that if you are using mediation there is generally just one professional. If you go to court there are two attorneys—one for each spouse—and there are rules in court where attorneys must do certain things. They have to file certain forms. They have to follow a timeline set by the court or by the law. They are trained to do certain tasks in a certain order.
For example, when determining how to divide property, you might say, “But we know how much the house is worth. Can’t we just discuss what to do with it?” and the attorney would say, “Well we need to have an appraisal even though you think you know what it is. We need to do these additional tasks.”
All these additional tasks take time and money. Did you know that the average divorce that is contested, meaning there are attorneys involved and you’re going to court, takes two and a half years to complete in California? That time costs money. You don’t know what you’re going to end up owning. You don’t know what your life is going to be like. You don’t know what the resolution is going to be. All this uncertainty over such a long period of time is very stressful.
In California divorce mediation a couple receives the guidance and support of a mediator who is acting as a role model for speaking without using bad words, and helping them behave in a civil way with one another. This takes much less time, costs much less money, and is much less stressful.
The role of the mediator
Part of what happens in California divorce mediation is that the mediator listens to each person and makes an assessment based on what the spouses say. The mediator discerns which spouse is really excited and needs conclusion on a specific subject, and what other subjects need to be discussed.
You may want to decide about the house in a mediation session but your spouse wants to make a decision about custody. Rather than fighting over which topic to work on like you might do on your own, the mediator will show you that those subjects can both be discussed in the same session. The mediator helps people explore options.
Any mediator worth their salt will educate people. Not in the sense that an attorney who represents you argues for you, however. A good mediator will explain the basics of the law so you can make knowledgeable decisions about your life. When a mediator does that in the presence of both spouses both of you become educated.
Sometimes at the beginning of a mediation session the mediator will discover that one of the spouses doesn’t have as much experience in financial matters as the other. For example, he or she might not know that if you sell the house later, you may have to pay what would be your spouse’s capital gains tax. Mediators share this kind of information so that everybody makes decisions that are based on the same amount of knowledge.
Professional mediators use their extensive training and experience to guide couples through the divorce process more efficiently and easily than if the couple were to retain attorneys and fight things out in court. The focus in California divorce mediation is to settle the divorce in a civil manner. This is a much better experience for the couple than the greedy self-centered orientation a court battle can produce, which often leads to anger and resentment.
Mediation’s effect on the emotional stress of divorce
It’s a terrible experience to go to court and have your spouse’s attorney call you names, or say that you took something, or in some other way make you feel accused or like an unworthy person. Being called names in public in court can really leave scars. It’s hard not to carry that forward when you next see your spouse. If you have children it can also scar your relationship in raising the children.
Mediators try to help people express their feelings in a way that doesn’t attack the other person. Most people going through a divorce are very fearful. Sometimes they are angry too, although the primary emotion is usually fear over what’s going to happen to them in the future.
It’s much better to have discussions about how to settle your divorce in a safe place with someone who says, “Well yes, you can do A, but there is also B and C. They get you to the same place.” This can provide you with a new perspective, and add the voice of reason to a potentially volatile situation.
When your mediator describes options for both of you this helps the spouses become problem solvers rather than being afraid of the other spouse or attacking the other spouse. That has a tremendous impact on your future, how you move forward in life, and how you raise your children.
What effect does mediation have on post-divorce compliance with terms?
It’s often surprising to people that when they get a court order that their spouse is to pay support or make an equalizing payment, the money doesn’t come in as ordered. They call their attorney and say that she or he is not paying me. The attorney says, “Well please refresh your retainer. I’ll need another $5,000 to go back to court to get the judge to try to force that person to pay.” There is bitterness when you think you have finished and you really have not.
When people shake hands because they have had a part in designing their final judgment they are much more likely to see it through, to honor it, and to complete the divorce. This is one of the great benefits of using California divorce mediation.
About Divorce Helpline
Divorce Helpline provides many services people can use for a California divorce, including mediation. They have offices throughout the state, and will also provide mediation via phone conferences.
Every one of the Divorce Helpline mediators has at least 10 years of experience. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell emphasized the importance of this kind of extensive experience. The author looked at athletes, musicians, business owners and entrepreneurs and interviewed hundreds of people. One of his conclusions was that people who have 10,000 hours of practice or experience by a certain stage in their career become the top people in that career. All of the Divorce Helpline mediators have more than 10,000 hours. When people come to Divorce Helpline for mediation they are going to get the best. And if you are afraid, if your spouse is upset with you, you’re going to need the best.
About the Author
Charma Pipersky is a Divorce Helpline attorney who has been licensed in California for over 30 years. In the first several of those years she worked for a prestigious San Francisco law firm that handled litigation for the rich and famous, including rock stars and authors. But she found that although she was good at her job, the financial cost for clients and the destructive nature of going to court and saying bad things about the other spouse made the work far from rewarding. She wanted to find another way to use her skills and education, and Charma’s search brought her to mediation.
You can contact Divorce Helpline at 800-359-7004 or www.DivorceHelp.com
Edward Saechao says
I think going for Legal separation or divorce is the better idea coz, Mediation is not legally binding, it works best in situations when divorcing couples are relatively amicable. Or at least they’re willing and able to play nice long enough to hammer out an agreement.
Nolo Press Occidental says
Thank you for your comment. In our experience we find that mediation is a great tool for helping couples come to agreement so they can file a settlement agreement with their divorce papers to avoid a court battle. For California couples, we thoroughly explain how to do this in our book, How to Do Your Own Divorce in California.