Many couples throughout the St. Louis, MO area choose alternative dispute resolution to streamline their divorce cases. Traditional divorce litigation is often incredibly stressful, expensive, and time-consuming. By contrast, exploring alternative dispute resolution like mediation can potentially help you save a tremendous amount of time and money. Better still, you can maintain a greater level of control over your divorce proceedings. If you are planning to divorce soon in St. Louis, it is vital to understand the value of divorce mediation and how to prepare for this process.
What Is Divorce Mediation?
When a divorcing couple litigates their divorce, the case unfolds like most other civil cases. Both parties have the right to secure legal representation, present evidence, call witnesses, and offer testimony under oath. The process begins with the filing of the divorce petition and the Petitioner serving divorce papers to the Respondent. At this point, the two parties may agree to settlement negotiations or to take advantage of alternative dispute resolution. However, if they cannot agree to either, the case proceeds to trial.
The litigation process entails pretrial motions, a lengthy period of discovery during which both parties share their evidence, and the divorce proceedings themselves. It is common for divorce litigation to take months or even years for overly complex cases. Divorce mediation offers a more streamlined approach to divorce. The process functions very similarly to settlement negotiations in any other civil case with a few key exceptions.
Preparing for Your Mediation Sessions
Your St. Louis, MO divorce lawyer will help you prepare for the mediation process with individualized legal counsel. First, it is essential for you and your spouse, or your respective attorneys, to select a mediator. This individual is typically either an attorney or a former attorney dedicated to providing mediation services to divorcing couples. However, it is important to note that the mediator cannot provide legal counsel to either party or have any conflicts of interest that could serve either party. It is a common misconception that you do not need a lawyer if you opt for divorce mediation. However, the reality is that you still need legal counsel to look out for your best interests since the mediator will not.
The mediator’s task is to keep negotiations between the two parties flowing smoothly. In turn, your attorney will help you gather the evidence and materials you will need for your mediation sessions. These materials will help you and your spouse negotiate the various aspects of your divorce that require your attention. It is common for divorce mediation to progress through several sessions, each session covering a separate topic before moving on to the next.
Depending on the breadth and depth of your divorce case, your attorney may advise you to consult with one or more expert witnesses to help you clarify difficult aspects of your divorce. These parties may participate actively during certain mediation sessions or simply provide consultation services that promote better understanding of the most complex portions of your divorce.
How Long Does Mediation Take?
Mediation is a preferable choice for many couples divorcing in St. Louis because it typically takes a fraction of the time that litigation requires. However, it is still possible for your divorce mediation to take several months depending on the complexity of your divorce, you and your spouse’s respective work schedules, and the availability of your chosen mediator.
While mediation may take a bit longer than you initially expect, the reality is that the time spent in mediation will likely pale in comparison to the time that you would spend in litigation. If you and your spouse are agreeable to the idea of mediation and have a straightforward divorce case, your mediation process may only take a few weeks. The goal of mediation is a smooth, expedient route to a drafted divorce agreement for submittal to the St. Louis, MO family court.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Mediation Sessions
The divorce process can potentially be one of the most stressful and challenging experiences of your life. While mediation can reduce the stress and expense of the matter overall, it can still prove difficult for some people. Keep these tips in mind as you prepare for your mediation sessions to get the most value possible out of the experience:
- Be prepared for every session. Consult with your attorney to determine what topics you will cover during each session and come prepared with all the evidence and materials you will need.
- Put personal feelings aside. You and your soon-to-be ex-spouse may have serious personal issues between the two of you, and it may be hard to imagine having a civil negotiation with them as you prepare for the divorce process. Do your best to separate your emotional and personal issues from the practical matters at hand.
- Keep communication open. Your attorney will help you coordinate mediation sessions with your chosen mediator and your spouse’s attorney. If you truly do not wish to speak to your ex, have your attorney relay scheduling information and handle other communications on your behalf.
- Maintain normalcy in the family. If you have children, do your best to keep your day-to-day schedule as consistent as possible for their sake. It is also a sound idea to have an age-appropriate conversation about the ongoing divorce and mediation process so they understand what is happening.
- Compile your financial disclosure as completely as possible. Financial disclosure is a critical part of any divorce case. Both of you must provide complete and accurate financial records. Taking the time in advance to prepare your financial disclosure materials will pay off tremendously and trim the time required to complete mediation successfully.
These tips can potentially help you get the most value out of your divorce mediation, reduce the time and money you must spend, and help you reach a satisfying, personalized divorce decree. The best thing you can do to prepare for mediation and ensure you get the most value possible out of it is to hire an experienced St. Louis, MO divorce attorney. Your attorney will provide accurate, skilled representation throughout mediation as well as the divorce process.