Divorce takes a toll on emotions and family life. Instead of losing a big chunk of time and money, consider mediation instead of litigation

The cost of divorce is impossible to measure because the costs are significantly greater than the financial burden alone. The two individuals are not likely to be on great terms with one another. And if there are kids, tensions can run even higher when the couple must continue to see each other for the children’s sake.

Many couples choose to go the route of litigation during a divorce, with attorneys engaged by each party at a high cost. A long trial is a possibility.

Mediation is another option, however. It enables the couple to work with a third party to hammer out the tough decisions—and it can be much less costly and time-intensive than litigation.

So, what is mediation, how is it different from litigation, and what are the benefits?

Mediation explained

Mediation takes place when a couple engages a neutral third party, called a mediator, to help them resolve necessary issues that arise in a divorce, such as financial, family, or property negotiations. The purpose of mediation is to resolve differences and come to an agreement without a battle in court.

Sometimes, attorneys may still be hired by one or both of the individuals getting a divorce to assist them with this process. However, an attorney isn’t always required for mediation.

The mediator’s aim is to resolve what must be resolved to move forward. Thus, this person is more like a peacekeeper than an attorney who is dedicated to fighting for one side. Mediators may ask the couple to sign an agreement for confidentiality purposes, and he or she also cannot disclose what goes on in the event that court proceedings take place later.

Common issues that are discussed and worked through during mediation include:

  • Financial divisions such as taxes, retirement savings, and assets
  • Alimony (financial support from one ex-spouse to another)
  • Property division
  • Child care and support
  • Custody of the children and visiting arrangements

If these issues can be resolved and arrangements can be agreed upon by both individuals, a settlement agreement is drawn up and signed, and attorneys may be asked to review it.

This agreement is then presented to the court for approval. Remember that the court will still need to be involved in a divorce; mediation just allows couples to come to an agreement about big issues to make the process go more quickly and to ease tensions about these emotional topics.

If couples use a mediator instead of going directly to court with their complaints, the divorce process could take only a few months. Often, the fee for the mediator is shared by both parties and is significantly less than attorneys’ fees during a lengthy litigation process.

As divorce attorney Brette Sember told CNBC, litigation may cost around $50,000, whereas mediation costs usually max out at around $7,000.

What does litigation involve?

If terms cannot be agreed upon so easily, or if one or both parties are extremely upset about the divorce circumstances, they may decide to go directly to court without a mediator.

Choosing this route is referred to as a “contested” divorce process. This is initiated when one party files a complaint with the court. Documents, correspondence, and other information are then gathered over a month-long period. Hearings also may be required regarding child custody or alimony, and a divorce trial will then allow a judge to make final decisions about these issues.

A contested divorce process can take more than a few months; sometimes even one or two years (or more).

It’s easy to see why some couples opt for mediation instead of litigation. However, when individuals are living through the emotional circumstances of a divorce, it can be hard to think about coming to an agreement or trying to keep the peace to resolve issues. This is why many people end up going through a longer, more costly litigation battle.

The benefits of mediation

In sum, the key benefits of opting to engage a mediator include:

  • A few months’ time versus a year or two
  • Thousands of dollars in savings
  • The opportunity to recover from emotional turmoil and move on more quickly
  • Less strain on children by avoiding stressful, anger-filled hearings
  • The aid of a neutral third party who will not take a side

That said, court proceedings may be attractive to one or both parties, especially if an individual believes there are circumstances that entitle them to more than what a mediator may feel is equitable. Anyone going through a divorce should consider both options and decide what is in the best interests of them and their family. Family Plan is committed to empowering parents after divorce or separation and creating harmony by improving collaboration, helping with organization, and simplifying payment obligations to reduce stress and eliminate potential conflict. Download our app to get started.