Divorce is never pleasant. To compound the emotional turmoil, consider the impact of a litigated divorce which is frequently driven by one or both parties’ fear or anger. No matter the issues driving the break up, whether infidelity, financial woes, substance abuse or other situations that may cause mistrust, a couple who opts to dissolve the marriage through mediation will find it is far less expensive than taking the whole case to court.
As divorce mediation is a pay-as-you-go process, there is little monetary risk in giving it a try. Worst case scenario, you may spend a few hundred dollars and decide to go to court anyway. You can still use mediation for making the tough decisions, while engaging a consulting attorney to advise, examine financial documents and review the Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA). Think of it this way, you can’t save money in mediation unless you start. Many of that have done just that and saved themselves tens of thousands of dollars.
Couples have used mediation because it reduces animosity and provides more control over the divorce process. But the main reason people go through divorce mediation is the money.
In divorce mediation, the cost is usually between $1500 – $5000, depending on the complexity of the issues involved and the level of disagreement of the spouses. A quick anecdotal survey of my fellow divorce mediators shows the average cost to be around $3000 and it rarely goes over $5000.
With traditionally litigated divorce, there is no “cap” on expenses. Each party usually pays their own attorney a retainer of at least $1500 and fees increase from there. It is common for this type of divorce to cost between $10,000 and $50,000 for each party.
People frequently ask me about do-it-yourself divorces, or paralegal “typing” services which are extremely inexpensive. However, what you do not get is full legal information. This may force you to end up in court after all, fixing mistakes or addressing issues you did not foresee. When this happens the “cheap” divorce suddenly becomes much more costly.
In most divorce mediations, you pay for each session at the time of the session. Then you pay for the preparation of the court papers before each document is prepared. Some mediators require a small retainer at the beginning to cover costs which arise between sessions (e.g., phone consultations). This acts as a “layaway” plan, so that parties may proceed with the divorce at the same pace as their finances permit. For example, after some parties have made all of their decisions, they decide to wait a month or two before paying to have the MSA prepared.
The MSA is the main document which contains the terms created in mediation sessions. Revisions of the MSA also involve direct discussions between the mediator and the parties. In many litigated divorces, much of what you pay for you never see such as legal research, preparation of numerous documents, telephone calls between attorneys, driving to court, copying and organizing documents. Of course many family law attorneys are sensitive to finances and try to keep their fees reasonable for these services. With mediation is it consistently transparent.
Usually, each party pays ½ the cost of mediation. However, there are also many cases in which one party agrees to pay all of the fees, or a higher percentage.
If you are going through the process of a divorce, or thinking about the process of divorce, you owe it to yourself, your spouse and your children to take a look at the possibilities of engaging in mediation. You’ll save money and stress and move the process along at your own speed so you can get on with the joys of living a new life.