I often hear a prospective client talk about wanting an uncontested divorce, in contrast to a contested divorce. There are differences, and it may be helpful to take a few minutes and review the differences between the two.
Even though attorneys may attend sessions with clients who have opted for mediation, for the purpose of this discussion, I am defining “uncontested” as one where a lawyer is not present. The most important factor in an uncontested (herein after, mediated) divorce is the empowerment the process gives to the participants. They are able to set the ground rules, dominate the dialog, and make the decisions. The mediator is a guide who shares decisions others have made in similar situations, cites the law, and scribes the Agreement. Thus, well prepared clients can move the process efficiently, and as a result, economically. The cost of a mediated separation or divorce is a fraction of one that is litigated.
In a contested divorce, the level of frustration between the parties, and the cost, are usually high. Each party retains an attorney, and with that comes a retainer fee that is around $4,000 to $5,000 each. Once the retained fee is exhausted (and the more you and your attorney talk, the faster the retainer fee is dissipated), then, you start paying hourly rates that range between $300 and $400 per hour. Contested divorces take time. Meetings need to be arranged between client and attorney, attorney and attorney and clients, attorneys and the Court. In contrast, it is not uncommon for well-prepared clients to provide enough information and consensus that a DRAFT of a proposed settlement can be developed after one or two meetings with the mediator.
In a contested divorce, it is almost impossible to prevent children from being involved. They hear each parent’s view of “who is to blame” and are often used as pawns in the litigation. In a mediated divorce, the welfare of the children is a primary goal, and parents can discuss rationally a parenting plan that considers both the needs of children and parents. Sometimes, children participate in these discussions.
Finally, there is the important consideration of cost. It is not uncommon for contested divorces to cost between $15,000 and $20,000. A mediated marital separation and divorce will range between $2,300 and $3,500. When parties are realistic and recognize that their marriage is over, and they want their divorce proceedings to be civil, efficient and economical, the logical option is mediation.