When spouses choose the divorce court route, going through a divorce can be stressful, emotional, and incredibly expensive. When you’re subject to the ruling of a court or arbitrator, the final say is with them.
Fortunately, alternatives to the court system exist in California.
Divorce mediation is an option that gives spouses more control over their divorce proceedings — and can also be quite a bit cheaper. Importantly, it can also help reduce conflict, lower stress, and make the divorce process as collaborative as possible.
What is divorce mediation?
Divorce mediation is a process by which divorcing spouses reach mutually beneficial agreements on the divorce terms —addressing everything from finances to parental rights.
A mediator is simply someone who helps people involved in conflict or negotiation reach an agreement. They are impartial and neutral, meaning that they don’t take anyone’s “side.” They are simply there to help guide the conversation and help the parties reach a fair and equitable agreement.
Mediators can be attorneys — but that’s not always the case. Mediators provide legal information so that divorcing spouses understand California law. They also ensure all state-level requirements are followed when it comes to drafting a divorce agreement. However, they don’t provide individual legal advice to spouses because their role is to help both spouses impartially.
In the divorce process, divorce mediators help reach agreements related to the division of finances, parental custody and visitation rights, spousal support, and everything else that divorcing parties must negotiate.The mediator plays an important role, guiding the conversations, ensuring each party’s voice is heard, and following all legal requirements of the state. They also may help draft the formal legal documents required for the divorce.
In many cases, divorce mediation happens in “joint sessions,” with the divorcing spouses and the mediator all meeting together — though in some cases, the mediator may meet with each spouse individually.
Divorce mediation is not court. In fact, that’s one of its biggest advantages — it does not require lengthy court proceedings or expensive lawyers (although attorneys can sometimes be involved if the clients prefer to work with them during mediation).
At the end of the divorce mediation process, the mediator will work together with the divorcing spouses to draft a formal written agreement finalizing the details of the divorce — often called a divorce decree or final divorce judgment.
Both parties sign this agreement. In some states, including California, this document is then submitted to the court to finalize the divorce.
Advantages of divorce mediation
Many spouses starting the divorce process opt for divorce mediation as a way to reduce conflict and save time and money.
Here are some of the key benefits of going the mediation route:
Financial savings: Divorce can be extremely expensive, with Forbes reporting that the average cost of the process was between $15,000 and $20,000 in 2023. The majority of this amount is often due to the cost of the divorce lawyers for both parties.
No lawyers are required during mediation (though they can be involved if a client desires it). In any event, divorce mediation is a fraction of the cost.
Time savings: Divorce mediation in California also saves time. In divorce court, you must work around the court’s schedule — as well as the attorneys’ scheduling constraints. More conflict in litigation causes a case to drag on — sometimes for years. Divorce mediators work around your schedule, and the process is much quicker as a result. Less conflict in mediation also means less time — so clients can reach agreements and approve final court documents in just a few months.
Control: Mediation gives clients control over their divorce terms. Spouses come to a complete agreement that is genuinely beneficial for both parties.
Conflict reduction: Mediators are skilled at reducing the chances of conflict occurring between parties. Court battles (and attorneys), on the other hand, often exacerbate it. Mediation can help the spouses have a healthier divorce.
Benefits for children and families: For spouses with children, divorce mediation can benefit their kids by reducing the likelihood of harmful courtroom conflict and help set the stage for a respectful co-parenting agreement between the parents.
Note for parents: The California Courts website maintains an excellent resource for kids and teens navigating their parents’ divorce (called “Families Change”). See the resource for children (age 6-12) and for teens (age 13+) for more information.
Divorce mediation in California
California requires a written divorce agreement to finalize a divorce proceeding. This document will outline the decisions you have made about how to divide your assets and debts, how to handle parental and visitation rights, and any other financial considerations, like spousal or child support.
Divorcing spouses are free to create this agreement on their own and submit it to the divorce court or reach an agreement with the help of a mediator, who will submit it to court for them.
Californians must follow certain rules established by the California Court system in regard to parental and spousal support, division of assets, etc.
Both parties will need to exchange financial disclosures and other information with each other and the courts, if necessary. Divorcing spouses should familiarize themselves with the court’s rules, which can be confusing, or work with a divorce mediation professional in California who can help them navigate the requirements.
Working with a professional can make this process simpler. Experienced mediators use a California divorce mediation checklist to ensure all requirements are met and both spouses’ needs and wants are addressed.
Professional divorce mediators certified by The Aurit Center can help you navigate California’s divorce requirements and the emotional complexities of reaching a fair agreement. Our friendly and experienced mediators are standing by to help you through the entire process with as little stress as possible.
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Private mediation vs court mediation
There are two types of divorce mediation in California:
- Private mediation: Spouses hire an independent, neutral party to mediate a divorce agreement.
- Court mediation: Spouses in divorce court may be recommended (or required) to utilize court-structured mediation.
CA court mediation is typically used for family court — generally to determine guardianship and visitation rights. It may be recommended that you utilize court mediation if you’re already in divorce court (particularly if you have children).
The specifics of these court mediation programs vary in each county. You can check with your county clerk for details. Some counties call their court mediation program “Mediation,” while others use “Child Custody Recommended Counseling.”
Court mediation is different from private mediation. Court mediation is mostly focused on drafting a parenting plan — not a complete divorce agreement. In fact, court mediators in California do not typically allow divorcing spouses to discuss factors like spousal support or even child support, which can be a disadvantage. These issues are discussed with a judge in a standard divorce court.
Private mediation covers the entire divorce case. If you’re looking for a mediator to help you navigate the entire divorce process and reach an agreement, you want a private mediator. The Aurit Center is here to help, with experienced and friendly mediators who are well-versed in the details of California divorce law. We offer online divorce mediation, so you never have to attend an in-person meeting or court date.
What is the divorce mediation process in CA?
As mentioned, there are two types of California divorce mediation: private and court-appointed.
Court mediation processes vary, but the basics are discussed above.
The Aurit Center has a proven private mediation technique that has helped thousands of people have a simple process. Here’s how it works at The Aurit Center:
- Potential clients schedule a free video chat consultation online with one of our Aurit Center Certified Mediators.
- Your expert mediator explains the mediation process to both of you in detail.
- If you decide to proceed with mediation, we schedule mediation sessions (typically virtual video or phone appointments) to proceed.
- In mediation, the mediator explains everything that must be covered and agreed upon during the meetings (financial arrangements, custody, visitation, spousal/child support, etc.).
- Your mediator helps you and your spouse reach an agreement on all aspects of the divorce. In the event of conflict or disagreements, we work mindfully and strategically to reach the fairest possible arrangement that is mutually beneficial for both parties.
- Once an agreement is reached, our mediators help you draft a written agreement that satisfies all court requirements.
In total, the California divorce mediation process through The Aurit Center typically takes around 2 to 4 months — compared to 9 to 24 months in divorce court. Mediation also typically costs 80–90% less than court, and there are payment plans available.
Divorce mediation vs do-it-yourself divorce
Divorce mediation helps the divorcing spouses avoid court and reach a fair agreement.
But is it necessary? Can’t you just self-file and avoid courts and mediation altogether?
In some cases, you may be able to, yes — but should you?
You can get a DIY divorce in California, but there are a number of legal requirements to meet. You must start a divorce case online (fees are around $435–$450), serve papers to your spouse, wait for the required 30 days, and, crucially, reach a comprehensive agreement on how to finalize financial and parental details.
It’s that last bit that’s the tricky part in DIY divorce: you must reach a detailed agreement on every required divorce issue that both parties must sign and that a judge must approve in order to get divorced.
So, in a DIY divorce, you’d have to work with your soon-to-be ex to reach a fair agreement on every detail. The reality is that even the most well-intentioned spouses need a mediator’s support to ensure that all issues are covered properly. Ultimately, the DIY approach is usually best suited for cases with no kids, no conflict, and few to no assets.
However, even then, the DIY approach can be more stressful than other options, and conflict can arise without a neutral third-party mediating. Divorce is also complicated, so you’d have to do extensive research to make sure you’re doing everything according to California’s court rules and procedures.
Even if you know you and your spouse are respectful people who work together well, remember that emotions tend to run high during a divorce, and misunderstandings are normal. Mediation can help you stay on track and be your best self during your divorce process.
Divorce mediation services can help ensure that the entire process is navigated with the sensitivity, respect, and topical knowledge necessary to make divorce as low-stress as possible.
Ready to take the first steps toward a more respectful and collaborative divorce? Schedule a free 1-hour consultation today with an Aurit Center-certified mediator.
When can you use divorce mediation in California?
Divorce mediation requires both parties’ cooperation. If one or both are unwilling or unable to negotiate, then divorce proceedings will likely have to take place in court.
Remember, the idea behind mediation is to help divorcing spouses reach an agreement in a fair, respectful, and cooperative manner. While mediators are skilled in navigating the complex emotions of divorce, the private mediation process is voluntary, and both spouses need to agree to participate.
It’s also important to note that if criminal acts are a factor in the divorce, California courts may need to be involved. In that situation, divorce mediation wouldn’t be applicable.
How much does divorce mediation cost in California?
California divorce mediation costs vary, depending on the provider. Some family law mediators charge a flat fee, while others bill hourly.
Aurit Center Certified Mediators’ services cost 80–90% less than typical divorce court proceedings. Our mediators use a flat-rate fee that is all-inclusive, so you always know what the total cost will be (and won’t get hit with any surprise bills).
Most California mediators and attorneys require an initial retainer to start a case and bill $400 to $600 per hour for every minute spent on that case. Hourly billing professionals charge for the time it takes to read and write emails, make phone calls, draft documents, and drive from one place to another. They can even charge for time spent waiting in a courthouse. All that time quickly adds up, and in many cases, costs rise to over $100,000.
Upfront, affordable flat fees solve the hourly billing problem. An all-inclusive, flat fee ensures transparency and predictability — ideal since spouses deserve to know the exact cost of their divorce at the beginning of the process. These flat fees are also personalized to meet the needs and specific circumstances of each case
The Aurit Center also offers payment plans to split costs into 3, 6, or 12 monthly installments — with 0% interest.
Divorce mediation can save both time and money, and California allows divorce mediation in most cases. The process can be handled in just a few months for just a fraction of the cost of a litigated divorce.
The Aurit Center is a trusted divorce mediation firm that specializes in helping people reach collaborative and mutually beneficial divorce agreements. Schedule a free consultation today to get started.