Divorce Mediation Plus™

FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the benefit of mediation versus the two-lawyer adversary process? There are three major benefits:
The first benefit is cost . In the adversary process (including collaborative law) the parties are duplicating their costs with two attorneys, and usually incur litigation costs in addition to the cost of settlement negotiations.
The second benefit is time . Mediation is far more efficient because the parties (and the mediator) are communicating directly, rather than through lawyers with letters, draft agreements, etc. A divorce case can take years to resolve, while the average mediation case is resolved in 1 to 3 months.
The third benefit is the relationship, which is especially important if there are children. Litigation makes parties more hostile and suspicious, while mediation, conducted in a calm, controlled, neutral environment, tends to reduce hostility and suspicion, and improve communication.
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2. Is financial analysis and planning part of the mediation process? Yes, the way we do it. We find that issues faced by people in divorce are financial as much as legal. For that reason our consultant, Mr. Caruthers, is a Certified Financial Planner TM as well as a lawyer and court-certified mediator. We employ sophisticated software to analyze your financial situation, determine the feasibility of proposals, measure the tax impacts of different proposed solutions, and help you plan for retirement and college education expenses. Some clients want more financial planning assistance than others - it's up to you.
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3. One or both of us has hired an attorney - can we still mediate? Yes. Some people choose to retain an attorney as an adviser as she/he goes through the mediation process. The role of the attorney in mediation is different, however. The attorney is your adviser, not your spokesperson, and (hopefully) does not conduct litigation while the case is in mediation. In some more difficult cases attorneys attend and participate in the mediation sessions.
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4. Does the office draft the legal settlement agreement, ready for presentation to the court? Yes. In fact, it is drafted in stages as the negotiations go along, rather than waiting to the end. This lets you (and your attorney, if you have retained one to advise you) watch the draft agreement "build" as you decide issues during the mediation, and gives you plenty of time to review and understand each draft. You are not legally bound by agreements until you sign the final draft, however. Once signed, the agreement is a legally binding contract, and is usually incorporated by the court into the final decree of divorce.
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5. Suppose we have already verbally agreed on a resolution in our case - how can mediation help us? Almost no one (unless you're a divorce lawyer yourself) thinks of all the issues that need to be decided in a divorce, and certainly not the tax effects of your decisions. We have a structured process that walks you through all the issues, offering information, options and suggestions. We let you know if there's anything in your agreements that could cause trouble in the future, from our experience. Finally, we will draft your agreement into legaleze for your signature, to eliminate misunderstandings about what you agreed to.
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6. How many sessions will it take? Since each case is different it is impossible to say with certainty how many sessions an individual case may require. It depends on how complex the issues are, and how contentious you are. If your case is complex, and/or you fight like cats and dogs over who gets the cat and who gets the dog, your case will take longer. Most cases without children can be resolved in 3-4 sessions, and with children 4-5 sessions, but there are "spectacular" exceptions.
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7. What is the length of each session? Each session is typically 2 hours long. We have found that after 2 hours the parties usually become "saturated."
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8. How frequently will we come in for sessions? Each case goes at it's own pace, but in most cases there are 10-14 days between each session. This allows the office time to make the appropriate revisions to the draft agreement. It also affords you the time necessary to think about the issues raised at the last meeting, and to consult with outside counsel if you wish.
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9. What does mediation cost? That depends on the time the individual case takes, which in turn depends on the complexity of the issues and how easily the parties tend to reach agreements. Because the length of each case cannot be predicted, time is charged by the hour, and billed monthly. The hourly charge for both in-session and out of session work is comparable to other attorneys in the Northern Virginia area, but cases resolved through mediation involve far less hours, and are therefore far less expensive.
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10. How does billing work, and is a retainer required? Each session is paid for at the end of the session. Work done out of session is billed monthly. Our bills are extremely detailed and specifically describe everything that is charged. With a credit card authorization, there is no retainer.
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11. Should our mediator be a lawyer experienced in divorce law? We believe so. The objective is for you to reach informed agreements, and for that you need legal information so you know what you're doing. The mediation service you choose should be able to provide legal, tax and financial information. Ms. Joseph has over thirty-six years of experience as a domestic relations lawyer and our consultant, Mr. Caruthers, has over forty years of experience as a domestic relations lawyer.
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12. What does "court-certified" mean? "Court-certified" means that a mediator has taken the mediation classes required by the Supreme Court of Virginia, Alternative Dispute Resolution Department, and is certified by the Supreme Court. Not all mediators are court-certified - we are.
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13. One or both of us has government or military or private retirement benefits. Are you familiar with division of these types of assets? What about our house? Retirement benefits and equity in your house are usually the two major asset groups in a divorce case. We have extensive experience in dealing with both. We can provide you with options and suggestions, and can draft the necessary court orders and other legal documents.
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14. Suppose we can't talk without arguing. Can we still mediate? Certainly. Almost always it's easier for couples to talk to each other with a third, unbiased person in the room, particularly professional mediators who have experience handling hostility and impasse. Often people will say insulting things to each other in private that they wouldn't say in the presence of a third person. We can assist you in communicating and reaching solutions even if you find it difficult to talk to each other outside the mediation office. In rare cases we employ the "caucus" technique, where the parties are in separate rooms. This is not recommended unless absolutely necessary.
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15. What is the difference between mediation and arbitration? In arbitration, the parties essentially hire a private judge. They can (and usually do) present witnesses and evidence just like in a trial before a judge. The arbitrator makes the decisions, which are legally binding on the parties. In mediation, the parties make the decisions for themselves, with the assistance of the mediator. The parties maintain control over their case in mediation.
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16. Suppose I think I could do better in court, why should I mediate? The better question would be "why not mediate?" In mediation you maintain total control over your decisions. You and your spouse make decisions jointly as to how to resolve your issues and plan the future for yourselves and your children. You are certainly entitled to litigate your case, but before you make that decision, ask yourself who you would rather have making decisions about your case, you or a judge? You know more about yourselves, your children and your circumstances than a judge ever could. Therefore, most people would rather make the decisions themselves - they just need professional help to do it. Some couples cannot reach joint decisions with the best of help, and for them litigation may be the only option. But for the vast majority of people a mediated agreement is far superior to any outcome achieved through litigation. Finally, litigation is uncertain. You (and your attorney) may think you know what a judge will do, but people are often very surprised, sometimes quite unhappily. Bottom line: In litigation, you lose control. Famous last words: "The judge will see it my way."
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17. My spouse and I want to legally "disentangle," but don't want to become legally divorced. Can your process work for us? Yes. Some people wish to negotiate a property settlement agreement, just as if they were going to become divorced, but elect not to sever the bond of marriage. We can do that.
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Divorce Mediation Plus™

120 Edwards Ferry Road NE
Leesburg, VA 20176-2301
Phone: 703-777-4400
Fax: 703-777-4401
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