Any divorce attorney will tell you that it is usually better to settle your divorce rather than to try the case before a judge. When you reach settlement, you are in control of the terms of your divorce. Plus, settlement is almost always faster and less expensive than a trial. That sounds great, but if you and your spouse could resolve complicated issues on your own, then you probably didn’t need the involvement of an attorney in the first place.
There are a number of ways to get help reaching settlement: negotiating with your spouse with the help of your attorneys; Collaborative Divorce; and divorce mediation. Divorce mediation is a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) that allows you to reach a settlement that works for you and your spouse with the help of a trained professional. The fact is that most divorce cases in Michigan reach final resolution through the mediation process.
You and your spouse may agree on most big issues, but still get hung up on one or two of the details, like the specifics of child custody and parenting time. Or you may struggle to come to a meeting of the minds on any of the particular terms of your divorce. Divorce mediation is a process by which divorcing spouses sit down with a trained mediator to identify and resolve outstanding issues in their divorce.
In Michigan, court-approved mediators are required to have extensive training to help divorcing couples reach a settlement agreement. The mediator is a neutral party, not a judge. They do not make decisions for you and your spouse, and unlike your attorneys, they do not advocate for one side or the other. Rather, they help you figure out which issues you need help resolving and then they facilitate a discussion on those issues so that you can reach your own agreement. The goal is to help you and your spouse come up with solutions that you both can live with.
One significant advantage of divorce mediation over litigation is that it results in a customized solution that you were involved in creating. You know your family’s needs better than any judge ever will. Mediation gives you and your spouse the support and the freedom you need to craft solutions that work for your family. What’s more, when you and your spouse have input into the different terms of your divorce, you are more likely to abide by them—which means it is much less likely you will have to go to court later on to enforce the agreement.
Reaching a settlement through mediation is almost always quicker than litigating your divorce, which frees you up to move on with your life sooner. Your attorney typically needs to put in fewer hours with a mediated settlement than a fully litigated one, which means your costs will be lower. And because mediation focuses on finding the “win-win” rather than “beating” the other side, it is usually less stressful on everyone, including children if you have them. Not only is that good for you, but it is less likely to damage your co-parenting relationship with your soon-to-be ex-spouse. That makes your divorce, and the continued co-parenting, much easier on your children.
You can mediate your divorce at any time up until it is time to go to trial, even before you have filed for divorce in court. Often, the earlier you seek mediation, the better; if you wait until later in the divorce process, you and your spouse may be so entrenched in your positions that you may find it hard to move back from a particular position that you have taken.
You and your spouse can hire a mediator on your own, or, if you have attorneys, they can help select a mediator for you. In some cases, when the divorce has been filed and the parties cannot agree on a mediator, the court may appoint a mediator.
Mediators may sometimes speak to each of the spouses before meeting, to screen for domestic violence and any power imbalance issues, and to decide if your case seems like a good fit for mediation. If it is, you will meet together with the mediator, who will explain the process and ground rules.
The next step is for the attorneys to prepare a summary for the mediator. This is an extremely important document which will be presented in advance of the mediation, which the mediator will use to create his own agenda for the mediation. It is each attorney’s job to draft a detailed summary that documents the specifics of each area of disagreement for their respective client. The summary may include asset reports, real estate appraisals, parenting time and child support recommendations from the Friend of the Court, income and business exhibits, and any other documentation necessary for the mediator to determine what is fair for the parties, as well as for any children that may be involved.
Depending on your needs, the mediation may take one session or it may take multiple sessions. Discussing one issue at a time, you will brainstorm and negotiate solutions with the mediator’s guidance. The mediator will keep you from veering too far off track and will encourage productive, respectful discussion.
When you have reached agreement on all issues, the mediator will memorialize your agreement, usually through making an audio recording of the settlement. The attorneys will then incorporate the agreement into your divorce judgement, which is the court’s order granting your divorce.
Attorney Sean Blume is an experienced Michigan divorce attorney who is also a trained and certified mediator. He is committed to using his own knowledge of the process, and his own experiences in bringing countless cases to resolution, to help you achieve the best possible outcome in your divorce.
Sean Blume is available to handle and mediate Michigan divorces in Macomb, Oakland, Wayne, and St. Clair counties. We invite you to contact our office to schedule a free consultation or to learn more about Michigan divorce mediation. We look forward to working with you.