California Divorce Mediation: How to Get the Best Possible Outcome

divorce mediation

Divorce mediation is a common solution for Bay Area couples who want to avoid going to court to resolve their issues. The mediation process involves a neutral mediator who works in cooperation with you and your spouse to get you the best possible outcome for your divorce.

Busy, successful, high-earning clients prefer mediation for a number of reasons:

  • California’s mediation process is confidential while court documents are public,
  • You and your spouse get to make the important decisions for your family instead of a third-party judge who doesn’t know you as well,
  • You and your spouse control the schedule and timeline,
  • Mediation usually resolves much faster than litigation, and
  • The mediation process is much less confrontational than litigation, allowing couples who split up to maintain more of an amicable relationship.

Although many people recommend mediation for couples who separate under amicable circumstances, mediation can still work for high-conflict divorces. Because of the contentious nature of litigation, going to court for an acrimonious divorce can actually serve to fan the flames of conflict between spouses. Mediation can help reduce tension and conflict instead.

But not all cases of divorce mediation are successful. Sometimes, communication between spouses might break down despite the best efforts of your mediator. If this happens, you and your spouse may have no choice but to take your issues in front of a judge.

How Does Divorce Mediation Work in California?

In divorce mediation, you and your spouse control the outcome of your property, child custody and support, spousal support, and finances. If you consider yourselves on equal footing, and your assets are simple, you can hire a single specially-trained mediator to get you both through the negotiations. However, you should bring your lawyer with you to your mediation if you have any significant assets or inequality in bargaining power or information.

The divorce and custody mediation process involves several meetings between spouses, your mediator, and potentially your lawyers. You and your spouse will usually meet with your mediator together but depending on the mediator’s approach, you may also schedule individual phone calls if necessary.  

What Is the Role of a Mediator in a California Divorce Mediation?

Your divorce mediator is a neutral third party whose job is to represent the interests of both spouses and help them come to a settlement agreement. Although your mediator does not have to be a lawyer, the mediation process usually benefits from an attorney’s legal expertise. 

Professional mediators are trained and experienced in guiding couples as efficiently and smoothly as possible through what might otherwise be a difficult divorce. 

The best divorce mediators will:

  • Explain the basics of the laws that apply to you,
  • Educate both parties on the legal and financial nuances of your divorce so that you and your spouse share equal knowledge of all the variables,
  • Listen to each spouse and assess their priorities,
  • Organize negotiations based on both parties’ needs,
  • Help express each party’s feelings in a non-confrontational way,
  • Provide new perspectives and creative solutions, and
  • Guide couples through conflicts to resolution in a civil matter.

Having an experienced mediator allows both spouses to focus less on “winning” and more on what options are available to move forward in a productive way. This problem-solving approach allows couples to work together for a satisfactory resolution. In addition, when both parties contribute to a mutual solution, they’re much more likely to comply with the terms of their settlement agreement in the future, after all the paperwork has been signed.

For couples with children who expect to co-parent after their divorce, the mediation process can help set a collaborative tone for your relationship with your ex-spouse moving forward. This can result in a tremendous positive impact on your family.

What Does the Divorce Mediation Process Look Like?

What can you expect when you choose mediation for your divorce? Our law firm discusses the intricacies and benefits of divorce mediation here. The first step involves speaking to a trained mediator, usually someone who is also a family lawyer.

Filing the Proper Pleadings

Once you and your spouse contact a mediator, you will go through a pleadings stage. One party must file a divorce petition and summons with your local California county court. In order to qualify for California jurisdiction, at least one spouse must have lived as a California resident for a minimum of 6 months and as a resident of their county for 3 months.

The person who files the initial Petition for Dissolution becomes known as the Petitioner. Once the Petitioner serves the divorce documents to their spouse, they become known as the Respondent and must file and serve a response within 30 days.

The pleadings stage is relatively straightforward but that doesn’t mean it’s inconsequential. In fact, the forms filed with the court in the divorce petition and response cover some of the most important questions about your case, including spousal support, child custody, and property division. You must make sure to address all of these issues correctly in your pleadings, as these forms establish what you can ask for in the negotiations that follow.

Your mediator will help you complete these forms properly based on your goals and interests.

Discovery and Disclosures

Once the pleadings stage is complete, you will move on to the discovery stage.

The State of California Family Court system sets out mandatory disclosures that both spouses must provide to the other, formally called Declarations of Disclosure. This includes all financial information, including any property classified as either separate or community property under California law.

You must act in good faith and disclose all of your assets, income, bills, and debts. This mandate also covers supporting information and documents, such as banking and credit card statements, tax returns, and title and loan documents. If either spouse fails to provide the required information or hides assets from the other, they could be later ordered by the court to later provide the entire asset to the other spouse.  

Submitting the Marital Settlement Agreement

Once discovery is complete, your mediator will lead negotiations until both parties are satisfied with the terms they’ve worked out. Your mediator will draft a marital settlement agreement that reflects the decisions you’ve made in the mediation process.

The marital settlement agreement will cover:

  • How your property and debts will be divided,
  • Whether either party will pay child or spousal support, and
  • Child custody and visitation terms, if applicable.

Once you and your spouse sign your marital settlement agreement, your mediator will file it with the court as an uncontested divorce judgment. Technically, neither you nor your spouse needs to set foot in a courtroom if you resolve all your issues in mediation.

California requires a 6-month cooling period between a divorce petition being filed and served on the other party and the parties becoming legally divorced. After this period, once the court accepts your settlement agreement, the terms become contractually binding and you are contaofficially divorced.

Mediation is an excellent tool for busy professionals looking for a personalized, private, and peaceful resolution to their divorce. Read more about the other options available to you.