Nothing can be scarier than divorce. The mere mention of the word is often enough to create a rift between a couple, no matter how ‘inevitable’ it may seem. The whole world can seem like it’s against you. The concept of separating yourself from a partner is a harrowing thought and it’s easy to fall into a spiral of disappointment and guilt.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Divorce is taxing, yes. But you do not have to lose yourself in it. You don’t have to let divorce define who you are, and it doesn’t have to curse you with new enemies. When divorce is handled by a professional with legal experience and an understanding of the basic human need for companionship and stability, it becomes nothing more than a tool for you to achieve the peace and wellbeing that you deserve.
One of the most effective ways to achieve this is to opt for a divorce mediation. Mediation is a peaceful alternative to traditional court litigation, done through the help of a third-party – a mediator.
So our writers asked our head attorney, TJ Walczak, a Chicago Family Law attorney with decades of mediation experience, on the most important things to remember to help a couple achieve a successful divorce mediation. No mess, no fuss.
1. Mediation should always be your first choice.
When seeking a divorce, mediation is always the best method you should try first. Mediation is designed to make the divorce process as least stressful as possible. Walczak says “Mediation can be effective because you don’t have the pressure of the court staring down on you, which means you are able to talk more freely with your spouse and the mediator to try to come to an agreement.”
Court litigation is not only expensive and time-consuming, but it’s stressful! Divorce courts are overly formal, cold and intimidating. They don’t allow for the honest discussion and intimate exchange necessary to reach a mutual agreement. Like any other agreement, divorce needs to be approached with understanding and respect, and a mediator is just the professional trained for it. An experienced mediator is part attorney-part friend.
Walczak also warns that “It’s better to reach agreement during the mediation, otherwise the court will make the decision for you.” This is important. Make the most use of the friendly nature of mediation, so that you’re able to come to a natural and serviceable agreement with your spouse. In the event that a mediation is unsuccessful, you give the courts permission to interfere in such a personal and pivotal life decision.
2. Come with a written plan.
This is perhaps the most important aspect of any divorce process. Remember: mediation is designed to be less costly than divorce court by placing the decision-making process in the hands of the spouses. The average divorce mediation in Illinois typically costs between $100 – $500 per hour, while divorce court litigation often starts at $6000 and up. The difference is jarring. In order to take full advantage of the reduced cost of mediation, create a plan of your separation before you see your mediator.
Walczak advises that a pre-written plan not only reduces the number of hours you need to see your mediator, therefore reducing your overall cost, but it also means that you prevent “emotion from taking over and compromising your agreement”. We all know the cliches of a ‘messy divorce’, where the spouses become arch-nemeses and swear revenge against each other. But it happens. And you shouldn’t have to endure it. But mediation makes it so easy to avoid.
Arrange a mutual time with your spouse and talk through the different aspects of your lives. Child custody, visitation protocols, child support, alimony, assets. Detail them as much as you can, and where you cannot your mediator will help you fill in the gaps. The more detailed your plan, the less you leave for your mediator to arrange, the less divorce will cost and the less stress and discomfort you’ll have to experience.
3. Take your time!
Drawing out a divorce may sound counter-intuitive, but this is an important point often overlooked. Walczak reminds us that “Mediation is designed to save the parties money, by not having to pay attorneys to argue in court”. This gives you the invaluable advantage of not having to endure the cruel time pressures of court proceedings and legal meetings. Divorce mediation gives you the comfort and luxury of preparing and processing your divorce at your own pace. We get it, divorce is uncomfortable and often riddled with emotional turmoil. But that doesn’t mean it should be rushed.
Remember: you can go at your own pace. If you cannot reach an agreement with your spouse, give it time and then revisit the issue later when you’re both ready. Mediation gives you the time convenience that a traditional court divorce does not. You are limited only by your own expectations, not the court’s or attorneys’.
4. Some mediators are retired Judges
A secret of the trade that most people are unaware of is that divorce mediators are often retired judges and other long-serving legal professionals. This provides a priceless advantage for those seeking a divorce. Retired judges not only have the vital experience for a thorough and efficient divorce, but they also come with years of legal communication know-how. They have seen the nature of divorce and understand the pressure it puts on spouses.
There is one particular quality that retired judges have mastered from their years of public service: impartiality. Party neutrality is so throughout the divorce process, as it treats both spouses equally and ensures that the best compromise is reached. Divorce is such an emotionally charged process and spouses often find it difficult to put aside their biases towards each other. An effective mediator, as in the case of retired judges, is one that is able to sift through these biases and to produce an agreement where both spouses and their children receive the result they deserve.