As a Mediator, I often feel like my clients who choose mediation have an expectation that it will be short and inexpensive. They frequently ask at the outset, how long will this take? How many meetings will we need?
Most mediated cases resolve in mediation and the duration is shorter, and the time and cost involved is less, than litigation. For the most part, the duration and time involved depends on the parties and the issues involved. The cases that are more legally complex or more emotionally complex usually require more time in mediation.
Where there are emotions involved (and they usually are in a divorce), the parties benefit from counseling together and/or individually to work through their feelings, frustrations, and concerns.
Where there are cases that have legal issues involved (and most divorces do), it helps for each party to consult with an attorney who is supportive of mediation and can provide legal advice and prepare their client for the mediation.
Such outside work helps clients stay focused in mediation and have some direction regarding their interests and the options they want to consider.
If the clients can be in the same room, and speak civilly and listen to each other and be open-minded, mediation is more likely to progress at a faster pace.
Mediation is a PROCESS. It is most successful when the stages of the process are followed: Introduction and Background, Pressing Needs, Information Gathering, Brainstorming Options, Evaluating Options, Negotiating Resolution, and Drafting of Memorandums and Final Agreements.
I also believe that it is helpful for the clients to have meetings (usually 2 – 3 hours at a time) with a week or two in between to reflect upon discussions, do homework, and prepare for the next meeting. There may be other professionals assisting one or both of the clients with matters pertaining to the divorce and time is needed to schedule and meet with those professionals in between meetings.
I find that if we discuss some of the most significant topics in the case over a series of meetings, we are making progress on each topic, and the clients have time to consider options and consult with their attorneys between sessions. Then we are able to move the significant topics along over a course of a few meetings and any agreement will be thought through before it is finalized.
What are the issues and how many are there to resolve?
Here are some considerations:
- Spousal Support – Calculation of income from all sources, length of the marriage, age of the parties
- Number of Children, Custody, Child support, Extraordinary Expenses, College/post-emancipation expenses, Special needs of a child
- Home ownership, Rental property and Business interests
- Bank and Investment accounts
- Personal property, Collections, Artwork, Antiques, Jewelry, Rugs, Pets
- How much assistance is needed from other professionals such as an Appraiser, Realtor, Mortgage Broker, Financial Planner, CPA, Business Valuator, or Child Specialist?
Mediation takes work and the clients need the time to devote to the process. Other factors that may contribute to how long the process takes:
- the parties’ availability to meet;
- work schedules;
- ability to take time out of workday;
- travel for work and vacations;
- other commitments such as parenting responsibilities; and
- time available to do mediation homework and preparation.
Duration of the mediation really varies. Some people have a limited issue that does not require much preparation and they may finish in one or two meetings. Others may have attorneys and done a lot of the preparation before commencing mediation. The Mediator and attorneys may choose to block out a full day to accomplish as much as possible. Most cases fall in the range of 4 – 8 meetings of approximately two hours, especially those where there are numerous issues to be mediated and where the parties have not yet done a lot of the preparation in advance (because they are choosing to proceed in mediation with the option of attorneys as consultants as needed). If several factors noted above apply, the mediation could take more time.
Regardless, mediation is likely to take a lot less time than litigation where there are statutory and local court rules that may have a bearing on how long litigation takes before the case can be decided in court. If a case is emotionally and/or legally complex, it is likely to be more costly in litigation as well. In mediation the clients have more control than they otherwise would in traditional attorney-attorney negotiation or litigation. If there is emotional and/or legal complexity, another out-of-court option is Collaborative Divorce, where the parties work together with their lawyers and other divorce professionals as needed (a team where there is dialogue between the team members and a coordinated approach to tackling the issues). If Mediation resolves some but not all issues, the Collaborative Practice approach remains an option to resolve remaining issues before pursuing litigation.