Sometimes during the divorce process, couples have nuanced issues that require expertise beyond my scope. To help them, I have a team of trusted colleagues who I rely on to guide clients through financial or emotional struggles. During this blog series, I have asked members of my team to come up with some important tips to help divorcing couples during the process.
My fourth entry is written by a local St. Louis attorney Kate M. Justin. Kate and I share a similar passion: saving couples time, money, and stress by showing them the transformative power of mediation.
“Someone asked me at a social function what is the best way to get divorced without going broke and feeling screwed. I was so glad that he asked me. I am going to share what I told him, and in fact, I tell all of my clients at our first meeting.
Try mediation first. I recommend this to all of my clients/potential clients when I first meet them. Crazy right? A divorce attorney telling clients to try to mediate their case before filing divorce lawsuits. It’s a crazy thing to say because, like all divorce attorneys, I make a lot more money representing clients in a contested litigated divorce than during a non-contested mediated divorce. However it is not about me. It is about my client’s satisfaction. I want my clients to be satisfied. I want my clients to feel like they didn’t get taken advantaged of and that going through the process didn’t make them destitute. I want my clients to be satisfied for many reasons including even a selfish reason. Satisfied clients refer other clients and since I rely solely on referrals, keeping clients satisfied is my #1 goal. If clients are not bitter about their divorce experience then clients are more likely to refer their friends and family to me, if not for a divorce then for their estate planning or to help them fight to be compensated when they have been injured in an accident.
Why try to resolve disputes about spousal support, the division of assets and/or child support and custody by participating in mediation first? There are many reasons including the following:
Mediation is a lot less costly than divorce litigation. Litigation is very expensive. There are a lot of things to pay for. The biggest expense is attorney’s fees. Litigation divorce attorneys charge on an hourly basis and all require a retainer usually between $2,000.00 to $6,000.00 in order to accept a divorce case. Then there are the divorce litigation expenses. The cost to file the lawsuit. The cost to have parties and witnesses served. The cost to obtain copies of records. The cost to take the depositions of the parties and witnesses. The cost to have an expert witness.
Time: A contested divorce can take over 1 year before the parties are divorced. By contrast, settling during mediation usually takes months, not years. Also during a contested divorce parties spend a lot more of their time participating in the process. During contested divorces parties may be required to have their depositions taken and appear at court conferences. In addition, if cases are not resolved during the process, then they will have to be at the trial. Also they have to answer a lot of written questions and produce a lot more documents than if they participated in mediation process instead.
Timetable: Courts are burdened with large caseloads and judges can only hear so many cases a day. A case maybe scheduled for trial on a certain date but there is no guarantee that the case will be heard on that day. Rather, frequently it is not. Mediation by contrast, allows for the parties meet on days that fit their schedule.
Retaining control over the outcome: Should a case go to trial then the judge decides everything including the divisions of assets, spousal support, child support and child custody. The problem with this is that the judge doesn’t know the parties nor what they need. Mediation by contrast, is a process where both parties come to an agreement about all of the issues. Mediation is about compromise. While very rarely do people get everything that they want, at least when using mediating they get what they need. Also the decisions and agreements are their own. There is no stranger making these important decisions for them.
Privacy concerns: During divorce litigation almost everything is a public record. That means that every bit of dirty laundry aired in litigation process other people can hear and see. By contrast what is said in mediation stays in mediation. It is confidential; only the parties and the mediator will know what was said.
More peaceful. Generally participating in mediation is a more peaceful process than being in a contested divorce. Contested divorces can and unfortunately sometimes do, get ugly because it is an adversarial process that fosters conflict. It is a battle. By contrast mediating is usually a more peaceful process where the mediator focuses on helping the parties resolve all of their issues as opposed to focusing on “wining.”
Given the fact that usually mediation is less costly, takes less time, is more convenient, gives people control over their decisions, protects privacy and is a more peaceful process than a contested litigated divorce, how can it not be my first recommendation?”
Kate M. Justin
Kate Justin is proud to say that she is a Missourian. She has lived, worked and attended school in various parts of Missouri. She received her law degree from St. Louis University School of Law, attending the evening program while working during the day. She earned her MBA and two undergraduate degrees, in psychology and business, from Webster University.
She has practiced law for 20 years, focusing her practice on estate planning, civil litigation & family law. She has proven record of obtaining favorable results for clients.