Excellent question, and unfortunately, the answer is not a simple one. Divorce mediation can take on many different sizes and shapes. In certain situations, lawyers are present, in others lawyers are not present. The mediator may be a lawyer, or they may not be. Here is a quick rundown of all the different mediation options available to couples that are thinking about a divorce:
- Voluntary, pre-filing mediation – There are many people in North Carolina that have a fairly uncomplicated situation. Resolving their case may not be difficult, but for whatever reason, the spouses can not reach a resolution on their own. There are many mediators (some are lawyers, some are not) that would be willing to sit down with you to help you reach a resolution. This could happen in one meeting or over the course of several meetings. Most mediators that provide these services will bill at an hourly rate. Typically, a lawyer will not represent you at these mediation sessions. However, once you have an agreement, you may want to take that agreement to a lawyer to draw up a binding contract (commonly called a separation agreement).
- Court-ordered custody mediation – North Carolina has a no-cost, mandatory mediation program for any custody case that gets filed. Many of my client’s that have children will employ this program to work out a custody schedule that works for them, their spouse, and their kids. The parents must attend a mandatory, general orientation session at the courthouse, followed by a mediation session. Even if you have hired a lawyer, they are not permitted at the custody mediation.
- Court-ordered family financial mediation – Anytime an equitable distribution case is filed, the parties will eventually be ordered to attend a financial mediation. Even though the mediation is meant to resolve property distribution issues, other issues (such as alimony, child custody/support, attorney’s fees, etc.) can also be discussed and resolved. Depending on the complexity of the issues involved, these mediations can last quite awhile (8-12 hours). On the one hand, they are expensive (you have to pay for your lawyer and typically 1/2 of the mediator fee), but they are an effective way to resolve your family law case.
There are pros and cons to all of these options and not every option is right for every person. However, taking part in mediation and making a good faith effort to resolve your case will result in a final resolution the majority of the time.