The Importance of an Attorney in Mediation

August 13, 2012
By Andrea Vacca on August 13, 2012 1:21 PM |

It is no secret that litigated divorces are extremely draining, both on finances and emotions, which is why many couples turn to mediation as an alternative. Mediation increases the opportunity for divorcing or separating couples to reach an amicable agreement by working together rather than engaging in a nasty and protracted courtroom battle. Mediation is a voluntary process and the mediator acts as a facilitator to help the couple come to an agreement on all issues that need to be resolved. A mediator does not offer legal advice or make decisions for the couple. Therefore, it is imperative that each spouse understand the benefits of consulting with their own attorney both before and during the mediation process to gain a complete understanding of their legal rights and obligations and to discuss the various settlement options on the table.

1. Why do I need an attorney while I'm in mediation? Isn't it enough to just have the final agreement reviewed?

If you do not consult with an attorney before or at least during the mediation process, you cannot be certain that you understand all of your rights and obligations. You might think that something that you and your spouse have agreed upon is fair and reasonable without fully understanding the repercussions. If you consult with an attorney during the process, you will feel more empowered to deal with important issues that arise during mediation sessions. In addition, you will be better able to make decisions that will work for you in the long run. You don't want to be the client who agrees to waive your share of your spouse's pension, or who promises to pay what turns out to be an excessive amount of spousal support only to learn much later from the lawyer reviewing your agreement that doing so would be a grave financial mistake. You don't want to have to tell your estranged spouse that you have changed your mind when he or she thought you had a deal. This could destroy any trust and goodwill that was left between you.

2. Do all divorce lawyers understand mediation?

Since mediation is not the traditional way of approaching divorce, many attorneys have little experience with this non-adversarial approach. Some even disapprove of mediation, arguing that divorcing spouses should not negotiate on their own but only through their attorneys. These attitudes are slowly changing, as a heightened awareness of the benefits of mediation for divorcing couples is coming to the forefront. If you wish to mediate your divorce you should seek out consulting lawyers who are "mediation friendly" which means that the lawyer will advise you of your rights and provide you with counsel, while respecting your right to give more or take less than a judge may provide. A mediation friendly lawyer will understand that reaching an agreement that feels fair and equitable to you may be more important than getting every dollar to which you are entitled.

3.What questions should I ask to determine whether an attorney is "mediation
friendly?"

- are you trained as a mediator?

- have you acted as a consulting attorney for clients who have participated in
successful mediations?

- are you comfortable advising me of my rights and allowing me to give more or
take less than I might get in court?

To locate a mediator and/or an attorney who can serve as a consulting attorney contact the Family and Divorce Mediation Counsel of Greater New York.