What to Expect in California Divorce Mediation
Married couples choose to divorce for many reasons. Some decide to divorce because of acute issues like infidelity or patterns of negative behavior. Others drift apart after several years of marriage and no longer enjoy married life together. The divorce process technically begins when married spouses decide to end their marriage, but it does not formally begin until one of the spouses files a divorce petition with the local family courthouse. The actual legal process of divorce is stressful, expensive, time-consuming, and emotionally draining in most cases. However, there is a way to make your divorce easier to manage while maintaining greater control over the outcome.
Divorce mediation has become the most popular method of handling divorce in the United States for several reasons. Mediation is generally faster than divorce litigation, and both spouses are generally able to secure more agreeable terms to their divorce orders than a judge would likely deliver. Divorcing spouses can save time, money, and stress when they opt for alternative dispute resolution, but it is vital to know what divorce mediation entails and what you can expect from this process.
How Does Mediation Work?
Mediation is straightforward in practice. The two divorcing spouses and their respective legal representatives meet with a neutral third-party legal professional known as a mediator. This individual is tasked with assisting the divorcing spouses to create their divorce agreement. They cannot provide any legal advice to either side, but they may clarify applicable legal statutes so that the negotiating parties understand their legal rights and responsibilities.
During mediation sessions, the divorcing spouses will review each item of their divorce one by one, negotiating the terms of their divorce agreement. The mediation process is typically divided into collaborative negotiation sessions with both parties and the mediator as well as one-on-one sessions with each of the spouses and the mediator. Once the divorcing spouses have reached agreeable terms on every item that applies to their divorce, the mediator will assist them in drafting their mediated divorce order.
What Can Be Decided in Mediation?
Mediation has become a preferable means of ending a marriage because the divorcing couple can negotiate many aspects of their divorce, including:
- Property division. California upholds a community property law, meaning that regardless of why a couple has chosen to divorce, both spouses will receive 50% of their shared marital property. The mediation process will entail a careful review of the couple’s assets and property, defining which items qualify as community property and the sole property of one spouse or the other. Mediation allows a divorcing couple to negotiate and reach more individualized results than a judge would deliver if they litigated their divorce.
- Alimony and spousal support. In many divorces, one spouse will earn much more income than the other, and the lower-earning spouse may be unable to maintain their standard of living on their own following divorce. Alimony, also called spousal support, includes regular payments from the higher-earning spouse to the lower-earning spouse. The length of time these payments continue typically depends on the length the marriage lasted. If they were only married for a year or two, alimony might only last for one year. If they were married for more than 10 years, the recipient could continue receiving alimony payments for several years, even permanently in some cases. It’s possible to mediate your alimony agreement and reach agreeable terms with the help of your attorney.
- Prenuptial contract enforcement. If you and your spouse have a prenuptial contract, part of the mediation process will be a review of this contract and a determination as to whether the terms of the contract are enforceable and fair.
The mediation process allows you to reach an individualized conclusion to your divorce. However, it’s important to remember that there are some things you cannot mediate. For example, child custody and child support determinations require review and approval from a family court judge. The court has a legal duty to ensure any custody and support determination suits the best interests of the children it will affect. You can negotiate a parenting plan in mediation to make your wishes and expectations clear, but you must submit this proposal to a family court judge for final approval before it becomes an official part of your divorce order.
What Happens If We Can’t Agree?
Mediation can prove beneficial to divorcing spouses even if they cannot reach agreements on every aspect of their divorce. For example, you and your spouse may be able to negotiate property division but reach an impasse when it comes to alimony. Issues like these do not mean that mediation is not an option in your situation. You and your spouse can streamline your divorce process significantly simply by mediating the issues you can before moving to litigation to settle the rest of your divorce-related issues.
Can I Change a Mediated Divorce Order?
When you finish divorce mediation, ideally, you will have a divorce order ready to submit to a family court judge. Once the judge reviews and approves it and you complete the mandatory six-month waiting period enforced in California, you will have your divorce order in hand and can begin the next phase of your life. However, you may need to return to court to adjust your divorce order in the future due to unexpected life events. For example, if you are required to pay alimony and suffer a severe injury that prevents you from working, you could petition to modify your divorce order to account for your change in circumstances. Your attorney can help you draft a petition for modifying your child custody terms, child support terms, alimony obligations, and other aspects of your divorce.
Ultimately, divorce mediation provides many significant advantages over traditional divorce litigation. While it is technically possible to navigate the mediation process without legal counsel, it is always best to have an experienced divorce attorney on your side as you begin the mediation process. The attorneys at Bickford, Blado & Botros can provide the legal representation you need to navigate divorce mediation with confidence. Contact us today for more information about how we can assist you with divorce mediation.
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