If couples disagree on some aspects of an upcoming divorce, there are a few legal options that could help resolve the conflict. Both mediation and arbitration can be welcome alternatives to taking a legal case to court, but it’s important to understand each one before facing off against your spouse.
Your Lawyer’s Duties During Divorce Mediation
Mediation is a common choice for those going through a divorce, and the courts require all people going through a divorce to mediate before going to trial. Arbitration is usually utilized in more complex legal disputes. In mediation, the third party (the mediator) simply helps the two parties work through their legal issue and come to a mutual decision about what is best.
During the mediation process, the mediator will act as an unbiased and neutral party. It’s important to understand that the mediator is not your lawyer. Any suggestions made by the mediator are made to resolve the matter without court, not resolve the matter in your best interest.
Although mediation does not absolutely require a lawyer, it is very important to have an advocate making certain that your rights are protected and that you receive what you legally deserve. In fact, mediators often highly encourage each participant to hire a lawyer before entering the mediation process.
A divorce mediation lawyer can help you:
- Answer legal questions and clarify issues as you go
- Calculate the total amount of your marital property
- Determine if any assets are missing from the property agreement
- Help you collaborate with your spouse on custody and visitation matters
- Negotiate the terms of your agreement
- Prepare all of the legal documents needed to process the divorce
- Make sure the settlement will put you in a strong position after divorce
- Review the final agreement to make certain that the document is complete and fair under Washington state law
The Difference Between Mediation and Divorce Arbitration
While mediation and arbitration have a number of similarities, there are a few key differences between the two processes. In both mediation and arbitration, a neutral third party objectively listens to both sides of the story, but in arbitration, the third party (the arbitrator) comes to a legal decision regarding the issue.
Arbitration is a type of divorce trial that takes place in an informal setting, with the arbitrator acting as an informal judge. It has advantages over a court trial, such as it’s usually less expensive and is scheduled for the convenience of the spouses rather than according to a trial judge’s availability. However, it differs from a court trial in that the decision issued at the end of arbitration cannot be appealed.
While you aren’t legally required to have a lawyer in arbitration, you will probably need an attorney’s help to prepare and present your case. The earlier you hire a lawyer, the better positioned you will be during arbitration, since you will have a legal representative to help you:
- Choose the arbitrator. Divorcing couples and their attorneys must select the arbitrator who will decide their case. It may be necessary to choose someone who has specific experience in a certain area, such as business management, tax law, or real estate matters. Spouses and their attorneys may also decide what procedures will be followed and the timeframe for the arbitrator to issue a decision.
- Stick to specific issues. Arbitration is typically used when one or two specific points prevent a resolution to the case. If your spouse wants to discuss issues other than those agreed upon, your lawyer can keep the argument on track.
- Keep the process running smoothly. The arbitration process focuses on resolving a conflict, and emotions can run high when so much is at stake. A lawyer can make the process less adversarial, negotiating calmly and firmly on your behalf.
- Fight for your best outcome. Unlike mediation sessions, you cannot simply walk away from the table if you don’t like the arbitrator’s final award. Once the arbitrator renders a decision, you and your former spouse will be held to the terms of the decision. For this reason, you need someone who can present your case clearly and effectively to ensure your rights are protected.
Let Us Advise You During This Difficult Time
At the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny, we do everything we can to make a complicated divorce process as easy as possible for you. Call us today to arrange a private consultation, or use our online contact form to have us get back to you.