As you consider whether your marriage is heading in the wrong direction, the parties should consider all of the options. Can the marriage be saved? Might counseling help? Are there any alternatives to divorce? If the parties decide to go forward with divorce, the next step is to choose whether to litigate or mediate. If the choice is to litigate, then one of the parties will hire an attorney, file a complaint, serve the other party (who will retain an attorney) , hold a court hearing or hearings to address temporary and emergency matters, engage in costly discovery, meet to resolve the issues and either execute a comprehensive agreement or go to trial. Depending on the complexity of the issues, the choice of counsel, and the demeanor of the parties, a contested divorce will likely take one to two years (or more), and each party will expend thousands of dollars--sometimes many thousands of dollars--on legal and expert fees.
Mediation offers an alternative process. The parties jointly select an impartial mediator and hold a series of meetings during which they discuss and seek to resolve the many issues that arise upon the dissolution of a marriage. The parties exchange necessary financial and other information and review that information with the mediator. The mediator provides an overview of the process, facilitates the discussion, and generally supports the parties as they discuss and resolve the issues. The mediator will recommend that the parties obtain any other advice--for example tax, financial, counseling, and the like--that the parties may need to facilitate the process. If requested by the parties, a mediator who is an attorney can draft all of the necessary forms. If the mediation results in an agreement, the parties may have their own respective attorneys review the terms of the agreement and offer comments and suggestions. At the end of the process, the parties file the necessary forms with the court, which will schedule a brief uncontested hearing with the parties to review the matter and approve the divorce.
For many people, mediation produces a fair and equitable agreement that the parties respect and honor more than a court-imposed judgment because it is "their" agreement, carefully crafted as a result of negotiation and compromise. Mediation is faster and less expensive than a contested divorce. Mediation is less stressful for all involved.