FAQ's for Divorce Mediation in California
The mediation process is similar, whether online or in-person. The results with online mediation for divorce or for other family matters are usually not different from what they would have been with in-person mediation. One exception is that online mediation may require fewer sessions, which means that your mediation will cost less. People seem to focus more online and to arrive at decisions more quickly. Online mediation offers more flexible options for scheduling evening and Saturday appointments. In-person mediation sessions may require lengthy commutes.
The court process for a California divorce takes at least six months and may take longer. When the mediation unfolds over several sessions during the six-month waiting period, clients seem to be less anxious about the process. You can think deeply about the important decisions that you are making. You can even test out your decisions before they become final.
California is a “no-fault” state. If one party wants out of the marriage, the marriage will be dissolved without having to prove “who is at fault.” There are times when the marital history may be important for some issues such as the division of assets and debts. How you treat each other during the divorce process really matters. If you have children — either minors or adults — you and your soon-to-be-former spouse will be interacting occasionally for the foreseeable future, so please be respectful with each other during this challenging time.
If you have specific questions about your rights in divorce, referrals are available to mediation-friendly California attorneys who will support your desire to meditate. As your mediator, I cannot give legal advice to either spouse. Please note that I am not a California attorney. I am a retired Oregon attorney. I do not practice law in California or in Oregon.
A resource that I highly recommend is DIVORCE AND SEPARATION - CALIFORNIA EDITION, by Michael Lang, et al. It is available from Amazon in print or as an e-book.
Online sessions can occur anywhere you are comfortable, have good wi-fi, and privacy. We can be casual or formal. If you have minor children, they should neither see nor hear what is going on in your divorce.
The number of sessions varies considerably from family to family. Even amicable families may need multiple sessions to develop comfortable parenting plans or an agreement about the amount and duration of spousal support. Complex settlement agreements require more time to prepare.
Complications that can increase the estimated number of sessions include:
- When one or both spouses are not prepared for a session
- The level of conflict shown during sessions or between sessions
- Complex financial situations
- One spouse might simply need more time to process decisions
- Frequent revisions to your proposed plans.
My clients usually choose to meet in joint sessions. Zoom offers the ability to meet in separate rooms for short, private conversations before we return to the joint session. In addition, meeting separately with each spouse near the beginning of the mediation tends to create a smoother, quicker path toward settlement.
If you really, really want to meet separately for all sessions, we can do that, but it will take a bit longer, which means that it will cost a bit more.
Agreement readiness is the key to an efficient mediation. In many cases, one partner is ready to make major decisions before the other has yet adapted to changing circumstances. We usually begin with easy decisions and work up to those that are more challenging. I have found that exercising compassion in setting the initial pace is more productive than pushing for agreements that one partner is not ready to consider. Usually, both partners will eventually be ready to make and keep agreements.
A self-assessment for mediation readiness is available on the “Resources" page.
Even if you cannot reach agreement on all topics, if you can reach agreement on most topics, you will reduce the number of attorney-hours needed if you decide to litigate only the topic(s) on which you cannot reach agreement. In the past 16 years, only two of my client-couples could not reach an agreement on one issue even though they agreed on everything else. They went to court for the judge to decide that one issue; they returned to finish the mediation and obtain their signed Mediated Marital Settlement Agreement.
The short answer is, "No, you are not required to have attorneys involved, but maybe you should.” Since "informed consent” to the terms of your settlement agreement is so important, you should think carefully about this choice.
Before you engage a consulting attorney, confirm that he or she supports mediation. If one of you chooses a litigator, you are more likely to end up in litigation. Separate mediation-friendly consulting attorneys will work with you to achieve your desired goals. You may seek advice from your consulting attorney throughout the mediation process. Or you might just want your attorney to review your agreement before you sign it. If you choose not to involve attorneys at all, it will be even more important to understand all the terms of your agreement, as it is written.
- Mediation is confidential and private. Whatever you say in mediation cannot be used later in court and your mediator cannot be called as a witness.
- When you, the spouses, choose what is best for your family’s unique situation, you are more likely to keep your agreements. Terms imposed by a judge are often fertile ground for later discontent and future litigation.
- Ongoing conflicts between parents can cause emotional distress for your children, even if your children are adults. Mediation can help parents learn new skills for the resolution of future conflicts. This way, everybody wins!
Differences between spouses can be expected during a divorce. What really matters is how you handle these differences. Learning to respectully disagree, without being disagreeable, is critical. You each want a fair and lasting agreement. You each want to be treated with respect.
When you use the "lens of respect’ to take a fresh look at your situation, what will you see? If strong feelings erupt, will you take a step back and take a short break? During your break, will you ask yourself, "What is truly important here?" When the mediation continues, will you restate the points that you want to make, using the "lens of respect" to choose your words carefully?
What we say matters. What we do matters. How we treat each other matters. Respect is at the heart of successful mediation: respect for yourself and respect for our common humanity, even when it is not easy.
Mediation works well for most people. However, when one of these "caution flags" is present, mediation may not be appropriate:
- ongoing domestic abuse or active restraining orders
- untreated substance abuse,
- a chronic imbalance of power between the spouses, or
- one spouse has wasted marital assets, concealed assets, or engaged in similar behaviors
If you think that one (or more) of these situations is present in your marriage, you should raise the issue with your mediator as soon as possible. You can do this in a separate session or in joint session. You may have more power than you realize, but it is also possible that a collaborative law process may be more appropriate than mediation. In collaborative law, attorneys for both spouses have had special training; they sign an agreement that they will not litigate. Referrals to collaborative-law attorneys are available.
The goal is to create a soft landing so you can end your marriage with dignity. Your mediated Marital Settlement Agreement will include your agreements on all the topics required to resolve your case. You will also need a court file to complete your divorce, but in most cases, if you also work with a Legal Document Assistant (LDA) or your consulting attorney's paralegal, you will not need to set foot in the courthouse.
Even though you expect to mediate your divorce, you will still need to have a court file, so that a judge can approve the terms of the divorce that you reach during mediation. If you plan to represent yourself in your divorce, I strongly recommend that you consider using a Legal Document Assistant (LDA). I am happy to provide referrals.
Using an LDA to prepare your court documents will save you an immense amount of stress. A Legal Document Assistant is not an attorney, but he or she has experience in preparing and filing court documents called pleadings. You will have a written contract and provide written instructions to your LDA.
I (Georgia) am primarily a mediator. I am also an LDA; I provide LDA services only for my divorce mediation clients. I am not a California attorney, and I cannot give you legal advice. I am a retired Oregon attorney. I do not give legal advice in either California or in Oregon. I am registered with the County Clerk in Los Angeles, CA, registration #2019060225.
If you want me to prepare documents for you to represent yourself in your divorce, we will have a separate written contract for LDA services. The fee is $1,500 if you do not have minor children, and $1,650 if you have minor children.
Each spouse may schedule a phone call of about 15 minutes through this website or call directly [909-414-2721 or 626-441-1900]. Then, we will schedule a 20- to 30- minute video consultation for the three of us. During this video call, you can ask questions and tell me what your issues or concerns are. I will ask you questions and answer questions about what to expect from the mediation process. We may have time to preview the Agreement to Mediate. This Agreement describes what to expect from mediation, the process to be followed, mediation fees, and other information.