Sunday, October 19, 2008

What Happens After Mediation?

Mediation is one of the best ways to settle divorces or other family law issues, assuming that Collaborative Law is not utilized. With significant effort by both sides, mediation is very successful, resolving around 90% of the cases, at least in my experience. Even those that don't settle at mediation become more likely to eventually settle short of trial.

Mediation can be very emotionally draining and often leaves the parties exhausted, but generally pleased to have the matter resolved. After all the time and energy has gone into preparing for mediation and then working through the negotiations, the post-agreement steps are not really discussed much. So, what goes on after mediation?

  • The parties normally leave the mediation site with a written and signed mediation agreement that spells everything out in great detail, although not in formal language. The first step, post mediation, is to have the formal agreement/court order drawn up. The attorneys will make sure that appropriate language is included to make the agreement clear and enforceable.
  • The agreement/order is then reviewed by the parties and their attorneys. Once everyone approves the language, they sign it. The signed agreement/order is then submitted to the court. Sometimes, the order can be signed by a judge without a formal prove-up; other times, at least one party and his/her attorney will have to appear in court and have a brief prove-up hearing.
  • Some additional paperwork often must be filed with the court to comply with local and state rules. Vital statistics forms are used and sometimes a child support form will be required.
  • There may also be some brief, related court orders, such as a wage assignment, a medical support order or a qualified domestic relations order (also known as a QDRO), which may need to be signed by the judge. The wage assignment sets up a mechanism to automatically withhold funds from a parent's paycheck and then send the funds to the other parent. The medical support order similarly provides for payment for medical expenses and insurance provisions. The QDRO divides a retirement plan so that whenever payments are paid out from a plan, they are automatically divided between the two parties.
  • There may be some real estate documents, possibly including a deed, deed of trust and a note for payment of a share of the equity. There can be assignments of mineral interests, utility deposits and other interests. Utility services may need to transferred.
  • Car titles may need to be signed, or a power of attorney, limited to transferring a car title, may be used.
  • Additionally, the parties will need to change their health, home, life and auto insurance.
  • Sometimes, the parties will still need to separate their credit cards, although that is often done during a divorce.
  • Parties also need to revise their wills and plan executors and beneficiaries.
  • Furniture and belongings may still need to be separated and a specific date and time should be set to do that.
  • The family photos and videos may need to be copied, scanned or otherwise divided between the parties.

As you can see, there's a lot that goes on before the fat lady sings. After the main court order is completed, the work is not too difficult. There's just a lot of loose ends to take care of. Hopefully, the list above will help you think about what needs to be done in your case after mediation.

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