Time and money are the key differences between mediation and divorce litigation, also thought of as traditional divorce. There are lots and lots of movies out there that paint divorce in a very ugly light: those are all the litigation divorces. There isn’t that kind of ugly messiness in mediation.
I am going to talk about the more positive, easier road first. Mediation is just a method to resolve differences in a dispute. The mediation is a meeting or a series of meetings to outline issues, narrow disputes and find resolutions. Who is in charge of a mediation? The mediator runs the meetings and he or she should be an experienced family law attorney. The mediator is a neutral third party who does not take sides. They attempt to help the parties sort out what is most important to them and oftentimes find creative ways to solve problems. The parties can be in the same room or separate rooms. In my experience, mediations are more successful when the parties are in two separate rooms and the mediator goes back and forth. There are ways to settle issues in a mediation that could not happen in court. Basically in a divorce, the pie is split equally. In a mediation you can negotiate which pieces of the pie you want. In court, the judge just cuts the pie in half. There is no horse trading, so to speak.
It is not one size fits all. If a spouse is hiding assets or being unreasonable, this might not work. If there is domestic violence or drug or alcohol abuse, mediation generally does not work. But if both parties want to try it, that bodes well for success. You can also retain an attorney and attend mediation with her. If you do not have an attorney with you at the mediation, you should consider meeting with an attorney of your choice who gives you advice on the settlement papers before you sign. Do not sign anything you do not understand. And remember, the mediator is not your lawyer.
So, once you finish mediation, what happens next? You have to get to court in one way or another and now you have two choices in Arizona. You can file all your papers together and all at once and get divorced in 60 days or you can file the first set of initial papers and then wait 60 days to file the second set. The new Summary Consent Decree Process allows parties to file together and the court holds the final paperwork for 60 days and then signs the divorce decree and other papers you sent her. The court will mail you the signed copies. Done.
What is so good about mediation? You make the decisions. You are not rushed. You should feel in control and empowered. You will have your say. Mediations can take a day or more. You will have all your questions answered. Sometimes, a morning will be enough, it just depends on the parties and how much they have to discuss and split. But there is no doubt, it saves everyone time and money.
While you are on this road to court, you can detour at most anytime and jump on the mediation train. But once you file your initial papers, the court rules your timeline and requirements. For instance, there are strict rules to give each other documents. In mediation, this is also done but informally. Informal discovery and disclosure is done by the parties. Formal discovery and disclosure is given to your attorney who gives it to the other attorney who then gives it to your spouse. You end up paying two lawyers exchanging papers that you could have traded and exchanged with each other. That is one reason that litigation becomes very expensive. And sometimes your spouse is hiding assets so you have to have an attorney and a court to get the documents. A mediator cannot force this issue but a court can. Now once you gather all the documents you are entitled to in the litigation, this is a good time to evaluate whether it would be helpful to go to mediation. Now that you have an attorney, the parties generally hire a mediator and each party attends with their own lawyer. Hopefully, you can wrap up your case and sort everything out at a mediation. Your attorney will then handle all the final documents.
Parties that want an amicable divorce should consider the mediation route. It is just fine to have a few disputes but that is what mediation solves. You do not have to agree on anything to go to mediation. Litigation costs more time, money and stress. So the choice belongs to the two of you. You cannot mediate alone. Hopefully, you can choose mediation if it seems right for your family. Mediation can take a few hours or a few days while court takes 6-9 months. There is the 60 day waiting period in each but you get there fasted in mediation.