Mediated divorce advice?
May 26, 2005 3:58 PM   Subscribe

What exactly is the job of a divorce mediator? Do I have unreasonable expectations? Or does our mediator just suck?

So, the consensus on the street is to avoid litigation and use a divorce mediator. Except, well, I'm starting to get the feeling that the mediator we chose is useless.

He asked us if we had read all the books on how to file your own divorce the first time we met. He expects us to have all the paperwork done when we show up and offers no guidance when I have questions. When I call to ask for clarification, he tells me to just "cross it out and write what I want." Not really reassuring when it comes to legally pending documents.

Is a mediator just a paper filing legal guy? Is me asking him questions without my ex around violating something? Or does this guy just suck?
Is it possible to work through the paperwork with a lawyer without going the litigation route?
Should I just slog through it rather than paying yet more money for my own lawyer?
And if not, how the heck do I go from "wow, there are a lot of divorce lawyers in this phone book" to finding the right lawyer to help me out with all this stuff?
posted by Gucky to Law & Government (9 answers total)
Try another mediator - this time ask them up front what they see their role to be and set out your collective goals clearly, in writing if possible. Sounds like you've got a slug. If your relations with the SO are "amicable" enough that you're not out to get each other, you can get your own paperwork at a bookstore/online & fill it out, sign it & file at the courthouse, see the judge when scheduled & ask for a divorce on grounds of irreconcilible (sp?) differences. You will probably have to make a motion if your judge wants it to be formal - he may just do it in chambers. If you have kids, or significant property/investments, or if you aren't in agreement on a split, it won't be so easy. Hence the need for a mediator. You should indeed try not to litigate as things will perforce become adversarial at that point, if they already aren't. Good luck....
posted by Pressed Rat at 4:39 PM on May 26, 2005

I don't know very much about divorce mediators, but this guy strikes me as unprofessional. /my two cents
posted by Specklet at 4:48 PM on May 26, 2005

Whenever you ask a legal question it is usually helpful to mention the state where the issue is taking place. Your profile indicates CA so I assume that's it. That being said, I don't know the ins and outs of CA family law. Here's a FAQ from a CA law firm on mediation. The state Bar Association is also usually a good source.

Based upon the FAQ it looks like the CA mediation process is typical in that it is aimed at assisting the parties in reaching a property/custody arrangement rather than leaving it to the courts. It isn't about filing the court documents requesting that the court grant the divorce.
posted by Carbolic at 5:18 PM on May 26, 2005

The mediator's role is to help you and your ex reach concrete agreement about the dispostion of assets and responsibilities from your marriage. You will still need to visit a lawyer to make these agreements concrete (if there are no children, and no substantial assets, you may be able to use do-it-yourself stuff from Nolo Press for the actual filings and stuff (there are some books in the link, by the way, on California divorce mediation).

If you have any substantial assets that you cannot liquidate and split immediately (like real property, pensions, or children), I'd still suggest talking to a lawyer, though. It is part of their instincts and training to make these things adversarial, though, so you'll have to keep him/her on a leash...
posted by curtm at 7:04 PM on May 26, 2005

Response by poster: * This is in California. (Sorry.)

* Kid. House. Retirement savings. Although we have most of this sorted out ourselves as to how we'd divide things. The things we fight about tend to be dumb things, not big ticket items. (It's my pachinko machine, damnit!)

* Trying my best to avoid the knock-down, drag-outs -- thus the mediation. But since we're doing paperwork separately, rather than in a meeting setting, we're not talking through things, I'm just getting packets of papers and I'm reading through them going, "What!?!?!? Since when did I get solo responsibility for all that debt?!"

* Our mediator is also a lawyer, so he's filing all the paperwork for us with the court. I guess that's where my confusion comes from. The paperwork makes my taxes look, well, easy.

* I talked to a number of mediators before we settled on this guy, so I understand the principles of mediation, what it's supposed to accomplish. I just don't get how he's supposed to get us there given how he's working with us.

* I think we're just far enough along that finding a new mediator is going to be a pain and piss my ex off, but I wouldn't mind just running all the paperwork by a lawyer or someone before I sign it.
posted by Gucky at 7:26 PM on May 26, 2005

We used a mediator 10+ years ago in our divorce. His job was clearly defined as helping us reach a fair and equitable settlement. Another lawyer, Lawyer B, did the filing. It was pretty straightforward. Mediator brought up issues to consider, like "who's going to pay for college and will there be support paid during college?" He helped us get the decisions made and helped Lawyer B know what to put in the final agreement. I saw Lawyer B separately for one visit to clarify questions that I had. This is a big deal, and it's worth the time and $ to get a 2nd opinion.
posted by theora55 at 7:53 PM on May 26, 2005

Seems like the mediation process would be pretty inefficient without a face to face. I used mediation in my divorce but even though IAAL it was my only experience with it. To over simplify, my idea of an efficient mediation would be a sort of "I'll give you $75, I'll take $85, I'll give you $80, you got a deal". In my thinking mediation is a "mediated" direct negotiation used in place of bargaining thru two third parties. Instead of the parties each paying a lawyer to bargain as a third party on their behalf you pay one to sit in the middle and act as a referee.

As I said before IAAL but I didn't handle my divorce myself. Unless there is very little property/debt at stake I would definitely have my own lawyer (the mediator is probably technically neither your nor your spouses lawyer) look over the agreement before signing off.

Speaking as someone whose been thru divorce (as opposed to a lawyer) I would encourage you to take the high road on the little stuff. If someone is going to be a jerk let it be the other party. Getting petty will ultimately affect your children and your relationship with them.
posted by Carbolic at 8:30 PM on May 26, 2005

But what's most important is you feel like you have no idea what's going on. This guy isn't helping you. So your instincts are right, this guy is an ass, get the hell away from him.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:53 AM on May 27, 2005

The research I did before getting my mediated divorce showed that the styles of mediators can vary a lot.

We were advised to work out as much between us as possible before meeting with the mediator, which we did. We were in a similar position as you are -- kids, property, pensions--though in a different state.

We sat down together with the mediator, who brought up issues we might have forgotten, suggested compromises and kept us both on the high road. Then she drew up all the paperwork, which we each took to our own lawyers to make sure we knew what we were signing.

Once we and our lawyers signed off on it, the mediator did all the rest, filing, etc.

It was pretty painless compared to stories I've heard. Course, my ex and I are both grateful that the other was able to put the needs of the children above all else and we kept squabbling to a minimum... OK we tried!
Good luck!
posted by altobarb at 12:47 PM on May 28, 2005

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