Divorce doesn’t have to be a war.
Litigation in court can devastate a family. Court battles cause astronomical attorney fees, many months or years of fighting, and emotional turmoil that damages parents and children. Aggressive attorneys unnecessarily escalate conflict between spouses. Parents become enemies. Children suffer psychological harm that could have been avoided. In the end, everyone loses.
Divorce mediation is a healthier way for spouses to become divorced. Spouses can choose mediation instead of litigation, and avoid the stress of court altogether.
The popularity of mediation in Arizona is growing, inspired by our Southern California neighbors, who see high percentages of couples at all income levels mediating their divorces, not to mention a long list of high profile celebrities—most recently, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner.
In mediation, a neutral mediator guides spouses toward settling all issues that attorneys would battle out, and a judge may eventually decide. These issues include asset and debt division, support, and child custody issues. Spouses have anywhere from one to six short meetings with their divorce mediator before reaching full agreements. They may also seek outside legal advice. Divorce is finalized without the parties’ ever setting foot in a courtroom.
When comparing divorce litigation vs. divorce mediation, there are a few important points to consider:
Time and Cost
Attorneys in Maricopa County often estimate divorce litigation costs on average, $15,000 – $18,000 per spouse for a case with medium-level conflict that does not go to trial. Divorces that proceed to trial can easily surpass $80,000 – $100,000. Attorneys require a sizable retainer to begin work—anywhere from $5,000 – $15,000. Hourly billing can cause unpredictable and unruly fees. It is not unusual for litigation to last more than a year, and sometimes, more than two.
Divorce Mediation is generally 80-90% less expensive than litigation. Mediators do not usually require any retainer and a select few offer a client-friendly flat fee for the entire process. Mediation is typically concluded in 1-3 months. Financial advisors and tax experts are generally strong advocates for their clients choosing mediation over litigation to protect their financial health.
Litigation in court is a public process. Court filings, financial information, and communications in court may become public record. In contrast, Arizona divorce law protects mediation confidentiality. What happens in mediation stays in mediation. This includes all communications and documents exchanged during mediation.
When spouses “lawyer up” they are typically advised to stop all direct communication with one another about divorce issues. This loss of client-control can cause serious misunderstandings. At trial, spouses relinquish control of their divorce terms when a judge decides their fate and their children’s future.
In mediation, spouses retain control over their own divorce terms. Communication between spouses is carefully managed and guided by a skillful mediator. Spouses also control the timeline for when they meet. There are no mandatory court dates, hearings or meetings.
Child psychologists agree that high conflict during divorce can cause serious psychological damage to children. Parents must be mindful that after divorce, their relationship as co-parents continues.
Litigation increases animosity between parents. Communication breakdowns during litigation can cause child custody battles that tear families apart. Co-parenting can become unbearable. This hurts children most.
In mediation, parents agree upon a comprehensive parenting schedule, decision-making issues, and financial obligations that meet their needs and are in the best interests of their children. This helps lay a respectful foundation for healthy co-parenting after divorce.
Divorce is never easy, but the related stress doesn’t need take an unhealthy toll on spouses’ and children’s emotional and physical well-being. Mediation provides a better divorce that reduces family stress, and protects the well-being of everyone involved.
Give a healthier divorce a chance.
Michael Aurit, JD, MDR, is a nationally acclaimed divorce and family mediator, Arizona attorney, and Founder of The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation in Scottsdale. The Aurit Center offers a free 1-hour consultation for spouses who want to learn more about our divorce and family mediation services. Michael is also available for speaking engagements and education programs for professionals. To learn more, or schedule your free consultation, visit AuritMediation.com or contact The Aurit Center (480) 999-7399. Michael can be reached directly at email@example.com
Originally published in Scottsdale Health Magazine, October 2015