Some California couples who are seeking a divorce might imagine it taking place in a court room with a judge making decisions about child custody and property division, but these are actually issues that a couple can negotiate themselves. Furthermore, the divorce does not have to be an amicable one for these negotiations to take place. The couple may use an alternative dispute resolution process to reach an agreement.
Mediation is one of the most effective dispute resolution methods. It involves bringing in a neutral third party to listen to both sides and encourage the parties to reach an agreement. Mediators may be drawn from a variety of professions including social work and mental health. Decisions made in mediation are not binding, and this is one advantage of mediation over litigation. In litigation, a judge's decision may be final. If mediation fails and the case does go to court, issues raised in mediation cannot be used against either person because the process is confidential.
People may choose to have an attorney present at mediation although this is not a requirement. One potential advantage of bringing an attorney to mediation is that an attorney may raise issues that a person has not considered. It is generally best to have an attorney review any legally binding agreements before they are signed.
Mediation may provide people with the opportunity to create solutions that best suit their families after a divorce. For example, one approach that works for some couples is to keep the family home for a year or two and have the children live there while the couple alternates spending time there. A couple might also reach creative solutions for property division rather than splitting all assets 50/50.