When a married couple decides to end their marriage, or when one spouse decides they no longer wish to be married, the couple must complete the legal process of divorce to finalize the end of their marital contract. While some divorce cases move to intense litigation, requiring months or even years to resolve, the overwhelming majority of divorce cases filed in the US are settled privately outside of court. Divorce mediation is by far the most commonly used method of alternative dispute resolution in the US, and it’s vital to understand the benefits and potential divorce mediation offers.
An experienced St. Louis, MO divorce attorney would likely recommend that every client pursue divorce mediation or collaborative divorce whenever possible, simply due to the time and money this method of divorce resolution can save. However, savings are not the only benefits that divorce mediation can offer to divorcing couples in the St. Louis, MO area.
Negotiating Property Division in St. Louis Divorce Mediation
One of the most important subjects that demands attention in any divorce case is asset division, or the division of the married couple’s shared property. Every state has unique laws concerning property division in divorce. In Missouri, the state upholds an equitable distribution standard when it comes to property division in divorce. This means that a judge may divide a divorcing couple’s property unevenly so long as the distribution is equitable. For example, one spouse may receive 70% of the couple’s marital property and the other only 30% under this law, based on the facts in play so long as the judge deems the division equitable.
Divorce mediation offers divorcing couples more control over their property division in divorce. Instead of a judge leaving the decision up to cold and impartial legal statutes, the divorcing couple can instead negotiate asset division that more closely aligns with their personal needs and preferences. Essentially, divorce mediation provides a low-pressure bargaining table at which the divorcing spouses can basically negotiate who receives what out of their divorce in much greater detail and specificity than litigation typically provides.
Can I Negotiate Child Custody and Support in Divorce Mediation?
Divorce mediation provides divorcing couples with a means of swiftly and efficiently settling their divorces without the time or expense required of litigation. While they can decide many issues in their divorce privately, there are some things they may negotiate but not finalize through mediation. Child custody and support may be negotiated in divorce mediation. The divorcing parents will ultimately need to submit their negotiated parenting plan to the local court for a final review and approval.
The Missouri family court system has a legal obligation to ensure children’s best interests are protected in every divorce case. During divorce mediation, the divorcing parents, their respective attorneys, and the mediator can draft a proposal for a parenting plan. A judge may approve it as-is if it satisfies the court’s interpretation of preserving the best interests of the couple’s children. It is also possible for a judge to require some modification to a proposed support and custody agreement or to reject the proposal entirely under certain conditions.
Negotiating Spousal Support in Divorce Mediation
Another area of discussion that demands attention in divorce mediation is spousal support, also referred to as alimony. Missouri’s equitable distribution laws strive to prevent the need for any long-term spousal support in divorce, but this does not always work out as intended. In some divorces, one spouse is entirely financially dependent on the other. The law upholds that a divorcing spouse has the right to maintain an equivalent lifestyle to the one they enjoyed while married. This often necessitates spousal maintenance or alimony payments for a set period of time.
A divorcing couple can negotiate asset division in such a way that the lower-earning spouse receives property to compensate for the alimony they would otherwise receive. However, if this is not possible in a given case, the divorcing couple may negotiate spousal support or alimony on a temporary or permanent basis.
Prenuptial and Postnuptial Contracts in Divorce Mediation
Many couples throughout the United States draw up prenuptial agreements when they decide to marry, outlining each of the spouse’s rights and responsibilities in the marriage. These documents often come into play during divorce proceedings, especially when a divorcing couple has drafted a postnuptial clause in their prenuptial contract.
Postnuptial agreements typically outline how divorce will play out, often including specific guidelines for asset division, spousal maintenance, and more. Prenuptial and postnuptial contracts may not contain any illegal terms and conditions, nor may they contain any instructions for child support and child custody; these issues will require negotiation during divorce mediation and final review and approval from a St. Louis, MO family court judge.
When a divorcing couple has a solidly crafted prenuptial/postnuptial agreement in place, this document can streamline divorce proceedings significantly. Both spouses’ legal representatives will want to review any existing contracts prior to mediation, and the mediator will review these contracts as well to ensure they are upheld during divorce mediation sessions.
Do I Need Legal Representation for Divorce Mediation?
It is technically possible to see a divorce case through to completion without legal counsel. Doing so puts any divorcing individual at an extreme legal disadvantage, especially when their spouse obtains legal counsel of their own. Hiring an experienced St. Louis divorce attorney as soon as possible is one of the best steps to resolve a divorce case as efficiently as possible. Divorce mediation offers a relaxed and private alternative to divorce litigation, but it is still wise to secure legal counsel before beginning your divorce mediation sessions.
Having the right attorney oversee your divorce mediation process helps to ensure you end up with a fair result. Do not hesitate to seek legal representation once you are certain divorce proceedings are in your near future. Your legal team can prepare you for divorce mediation sessions, help you gather required documentation and materials, and assist in streamlining your case in many other ways.