Effective, Alternative Dispute Resolution
Many couples find that although they want to resolve their family law matter without going to court, they are either unable to reach agreement or are having difficulty knowing what to do next, but they know they want to avoid court and/or trial if at all possible. If this describes your situation, then you should consider mediation.
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution, and is a process by which parties attempt to resolve their disputes through settlement and compromise using the help of a neutral third party. In our office, the neutral third party is an experienced family law attorney with specific training in family law mediation. The attorney mediator represents neither party; instead, the mediator is there as a facilitator to assist and counsel the parties as they work together towards a settlement.
Mediation is a non-binding process and is completely confidential. Until all of the details are worked out and the documents are signed, neither party is obligated to comply with the agreements in progress, unless they decide to make those agreements binding by signing a stipulated (agreed-upon) order.
Even more importantly, parties to mediation are protected by a settlement privilege that keeps the mediation proceedings completely confidential and inadmissible in court. This allows both parties to be forthright and honest about their concerns and desires, and helps them to work together cooperatively without worrying about the consequences of having said one thing or another. Compare this to the traditional litigation model where each party hires his or her own attorney and then frequently postures and blusters in an effort to look good to the court.
Benefits Of Mediation
Through mediation, you and your spouse are much more in control of your lives, your agreement about how the marriage should end, and the divorce process in general than when cases head to court. You and your spouse are much better qualified to determine your plan for moving forward than some randomly assigned judge who would otherwise make orders in your case.
This is particularly true when it comes to the family home, retirement plans and how to raise your children. As a parent, one of your primary responsibilities is to protect and shield your child or children from the adult conflicts in your case. Keep in mind that there will be weddings, grandchildren and holidays for the rest of your life, and that your job as a parent doesn’t end after high school. Mediation allows parents to work together for the benefit of their children even though their marital relationship isn’t working. Mediation offers parents an opportunity to learn to work together despite their differences, and can result in a precedent that proves to them that discussion and compromise are possible even under difficult circumstances.
Mediation offers the parties the opportunity to step back and exercise rational thought instead of playing victim to their own feelings. The more you focus on anger, the more angry you will feel. And people tend to feel very angry at court. Instead, mediation is a process designed to give each spouse a forum for what he or she believes is fair and equitable, and provides the tools and assistance the parties need to work towards bridging the gap with each other.
The breakup of a marriage is a tragedy, but the process does not have to be tragic. Divorce is undoubtedly a time of loss, transition and new beginnings, and an experienced mediator can help you through the process in a way that is sane and respectful to both of you. And significantly more affordable than traditional litigation. In California, the average cost of a traditional contested divorce when both parties have an attorney is close to $20,000 per spouse, but the cost can exceed that average by leaps and bounds depending on the complexity of the issues and the level of conflict. Mediation, on the other hand, can often cost less than the typical initial retainer charged by most family law attorneys.
Our Mediation Style
We believe that spouses should determine for themselves what they believe is fair and equitable for their particular situation and family, and that the mediator’s role is that of guide and facilitator.
At the same time, we also believe that each party must enter into any agreement knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently. This means that although we do not give legal advice to either party, we do feel it is important that the parties are informed about the law so that they fully comprehend the implications of their decisions. But ultimately, the decisions are theirs to make.
We believe that, when possible, mediation should occur with the parties together in the same room. However, in some cases, one or both party(ies) is simply not comfortable sitting in the same room with his or her spouse discussing difficult and emotional issues. When that is the case, we conduct mediation by caucusing and have the parties work in different rooms. This is sometimes referred to as “shuttle diplomacy” when the mediator moves from location to location. And in rare occasions, we will even conduct separate mediation sessions entirely.
Hourly or Flat-Fee Mediation Packages
- Hourly Mediation Package — $5,000 retainer, hourly billing
Our traditional mediation package is not built on any set number of mediation sessions nor based on the simplicity or complexity of the community estate. This package bills against the retainer at our regular hourly rates for however much time we spend working with you on your case. We schedule sessions as frequently or as infrequently as necessary, typically for two (2) hours each but even that can be adjusted as appropriate. The retainer does not include filing or other court fees, retaining outside specialists and professionals, or the drafting of post-divorce documents such as a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) required to divide most retirement plans, although we do oversee the drafting and will approve the final order.
- Basic Flat-Rate Mediation Package – $4,500 fixed fee
Our basic flat-fee mediation package is for parties who have a marital estate of less than $1,000,000 (including real property) AND there are no family businesses or professional practices to divide. The basic package includes up to four (4) mediation sessions of two (2) hours each. The attorney will draft all the legal documents that are necessary and required as part of the process, from each party’s financial disclosures to the final settlement agreement and Judgment of Dissolution. The package does not include filing or other court fees, drafting deeds, retaining outside specialists and professionals, or the drafting of post-divorce documents such as a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) required to divide most retirement plans, although we do oversee the drafting and will approve the final order.
Additional mediation sessions beyond what is included in the package are billed at $750 per session.
- Complex Flat-Fee Mediation Package – $6,500 fixed fee
Our complex mediation package is for parties who have a marital estate in excess of $1,000,000 (including real property) OR have either a family business or a professional practice to divide. The complex package includes up to six (6) mediation sessions of two (2) hours each; alternatively it may be structured as up to four (4) mediation sessions of up to three (3) hours each. The attorney will draft all the legal documents that are necessary and required as part of the process, from each party’s financial disclosures to the final settlement agreement and Judgment of Dissolution. The package does not include filing or other court fees, drafting deeds, retaining outside specialists and professionals, or the drafting of post-divorce documents such as a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) required to divide most retirement plans, although we do oversee the drafting and will approve the final order. Nor does it include the drafting of any buy-sell agreements that may be required depending on the legal structure of the family business or professional practice.
Additional mediation sessions beyond what is included in the package are billed at $750 per two-hour session and $1,125 per three-hour session.
Contact us or call (925) 465-2500 or (707) 398-6008 for more information about whether mediation is right for your family law case or to schedule an initial consultation at Sparks Family Law, Inc. with attorney Gary D. Sparks.