A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS

By Irving H. Zaroff, JD LMFT and Dana Schutz, MA LMFT

We are often asked how expensive it is to get divorced. We know our clients mean the cost of professionals to manage the divorce, not property division or support issues (which we have addressed in earlier articles). Like most professionals, divorce mediators are compensated for the time they spend in providing services.

So, why is mediation less expensive? Let’s take a look at a litigated divorce. Each spouse consults an attorney and frequently deposits a sizable retainer. The consultation usually includes an intake (background information about the marriage). The attorney will file the lawsuit (fees plus costs (filing fees for divorce currently $320 for each party)) and schedule a hearing to ask for temporary child support, child custody and/or spousal support (attorney fees for preparation and appearances).

The next step is more intensive information gathering. Attorneys will begin discovery processes (attorney fees, paralegal fees, document fees, expert fees, deposition fees, etc.). Sometimes hearings will need to be held to resolve issues over discovery (attorney fees). Court appearances are costly and may be held for a variety of contested matters (changes in temporary support or custody for example). Additional appearances may be necessary for pre-trial conferences, settlement conferences and finally the trial (attorney fees). Post trial involves preparation of judgment and/or stipulations. If one of the parties is unhappy with the result, there may be appeals. Even without appeals, there may be motions to modify the judgment, and on-and-on (all at the attorneys’ hourly rates – times two if two opposing counsels).

In mediation the steps are roughly the same, except dollars spent battling every issue in front of a judge are addressed in a process of direct negotiation with clear ground rules set by the parties to insure a reasonable outcome. Appearances in court are generally not necessary with a mediated agreement. Clients are in charge of the cost of mediation. The better prepared clients are before mediation sessions, the less expense will be involved. Mediators provide guidelines on information gathering, evidentiary support, and general legal principles. The couples are encouraged to engage in the actual information production voluntarily and fully, saving many dollars of professional fees. Since the mediators are acting as neutral facilitators, the high cost of a contentious advocacy is avoided.

The job of the mediator should be limited to helping resolve conflicted issues and not be involved in areas where there is already agreement (the exception being any agreement that is significantly unfair on its face). The idea is for the couple to have a fistful of dollars, not the professionals.



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