When is the best time to start divorce mediation? Should you talk to a lawyer first? Should you wait until you are living separately? Or you have worked out certain things?
At Westfield Mediation, LLC we get these questions a lot from prospective clients who are trying to figure out next steps. We recommend that couples considering divorce come in for an appointment to learn about the divorce mediation process and ask all the questions that they have. We find that learning about divorce makes it much less intimidating. Knowing how the process works makes it all seem more manageable. In divorce mediation, we break everything down into small doable steps. Over time, we develop a workable plan for parenting, division of assets and debts, child support and alimony. Coming in for one introductory meeting often takes away the feeling of being overwhelmed.
Another great thing about mediation is that there is no set timeline. So, once you start, you can space the meetings in a way that works for you – emotionally and financially. Sometimes, clients want to move forward at a steady pace to get everything squared away. Other times, they prefer to separate the meetings by a few weeks while they address some of their family issues or get their budgets in order.
Back to the initial questions. First, we do advise consulting a lawyer, but it does not have to be a first step. Since a mediator is neutral and a lawyer acts as your advocate, it may be worthwhile to get the perspective of an expert who is only on your side before you submit your final agreement to the Court. If you go through divorce mediation, you can use a lawyer in a more limited, much less expensive way than you would in litigation. Second, you can wait until you are living separately, but you do not have to. Many clients begin living separately during the mediation process. This gives them the ability to live the newly-agreed-upon arrangement and tweak it as necessary. Third, it is a good idea to try to work out some issues on your own, but we will guide you through the process, so you know the questions to ask yourselves. We also help when you get stuck to generate new options you may not have considered.
From that very first meeting, clients find that divorce mediation is a less expensive, less stressful alternative to litigation that will get them to where they want to be.