Do parties need to hire their own attorney?
While not mandatory, parties may choose to obtain legal, financial, and other professional advice at any time during the mediation process.
All parties are encouraged to obtain a review of the final settlement agreement by independent legal counsel prior to signing the agreement. If both parties agree, attorneys may attend the mediation sessions to advise and counsel their clients, but this is generally a more expensive option (but still much cheaper than litigation).
However, keep in mind that hiring an attorney to represent you can be very expensive, particularly if they are not settlement-oriented. It’s typically much more cost-effective to utilize consulting attorneys to help guide and advise you through the process, as opposed to having them represent you and “take your case” out of your control.
Mediation is considered an economical process of dissolution, since both parties often share the expense of one mediator and then retain consulting attorneys for review or advice on a limited basis.
How long does it take to finalize a divorce?
This depends a great deal on the participants, particularly how quickly the information can be provided to the mediator for the completion of the court-mandated financial disclosures and how quickly the participants can work out an agreement.
Sometimes this happens very quickly and the final judgment can be submitted to the court in only a few short weeks from when mediation begins.
Other times, the participants need more time to reflect on what works best for them, or they agree that an event such as the sale of the house is desired before finalizing the terms of their agreement, etc., and the process takes longer.
In mediation, if the process takes longer, it's typically because the participants need more time and not because their attorneys need more time to pile up billable hours.
Once an agreement is reached and a final judgment is signed and submitted to the court, the court typically takes 2 or more months to process the paperwork.
*Note that in California, the court cannot terminate the marital status of a couple until after 6 months from the time the case is opened with the court. This doesn't mean that the participants and the mediator have to wait 6 months to submit the paperwork, it just means that the official date that the participants are divorced cannot be until after 6 months.
Further details of this will be explained by the mediator during the process.
What if we need more time to mediate?
We recognize that sometimes unforeseen issues arise during mediation that need to be resolved so the parties can avoid going to court.
If your issues are (or become) more complicated and cannot be concluded during the mediation session included in the flat-rate package, additional mediation sessions can be purchased “a la carte” as needed.
Additional mediation sessions are available at $500 per 2 hour session.
What if can't reach an agreement?
Well over ninety percent of divorce cases in California reach an agreement and settle without going to trial. The big question is when? Does it take tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars to prepare for trial, then settle right before it, or do parties take a more reasonable and rational route and commit to working through the terms of their settlement early on and save themselves all the grief and expense?
In the rare instances where an agreement is not reached in mediation, the parties always have the option to pursue whatever legal remedies they desire within the court system.
Even if there is an issue of which the participants are unwilling to compromise, they still have the option to agree upon everything else, submit a judgment on all the issues except the one that they were unable to resolve, and leave that issue for determination by the court.