In North Carolina, mediation is required for child custody and equitable distribution (division of marital assets) before you can go to court.

As a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst and Mediator, I handle my mediations differently than mediations where each spouse has hired an attorney. This is how attorney mediations are handled in New Hanover and Wake Counties, as well as many other counties in North Carolina.

  1. You will not be talking to one another when attorneys are present. When you and your spouse go to mediation, the mediator will put you and your spouse in separate rooms with your attorneys. The mediator will go back and forth between the rooms, speaking mainly to your attorney, and sometimes the attorneys will speak alone with the mediator. You will not be talking to or negotiating directly with your spouse, and you will not see their body language.
  2. It will last all day. Most mediations start in the morning and last all day. Time will be spend negotiating values and trading documents, and some of the mediator’s time will be spent learning the facts of your case. Mediation can last well into the evening if you have not settled. The attorneys and the mediator have set aside the day, and they want it done. It will not matter that everyone is exhausted, and bad decisions can be made to get it over with.
  3. There will be gamesmanship. Your attorney will “build in room to negotiate” such as asking for more than you really want, which could anger your spouse. That is not very conducive to settling. They will also not let you concede to items you do not care about, such as a particular piece of personal property, until they know if it’s important to your spouse. While this may seem like good legal strategy, it can prevent settlement or at the very least slow it down. No wonder it takes all day.
  4. It’s very costly. Most mediators are also attorneys and charge $150 to $375 per hour. Top that with 2 attorneys who charge $275 to $500 per hour. The total cost for an 8-hour day can run from $5,800 to $11,000. You will spend long periods of time alone in a room with your attorney twiddling your thumbs while the mediator is in the other room with your spouse and his or her attorney.

I handle my mediations quite differently and that makes the whole settlement process so much more affordable. Attorneys are not present and we all sit in the same room. Prior to mediation, I will prepare a marital property report listing all the marital property and debt with their values. Both spouses will have provided me their budgets, so I also prepare a report showing each spouse’s budget side by side. The reports will be provided to each spouse during mediation, so there is no lack of transparency. I will already know or have a good idea about what is important to each spouse. I openly provide financial advice and educate both parties so bad financial decisions are avoided. Particularly for older (50+) couples, I prepare reports showing cash flow and net worth projections over the next 10-30 years.

I limit my mediation sessions to about 3 hours, because I know my clients will be too emotionally and mentally exhausted after that amount of time which is not conducive to making good decisions. While attorneys will not be present, I do not discourage my clients from having consultations with attorneys beforehand, so they know their legal rights and can get legal advice. If they choose too, my clients can also talk to their attorney after a mediation session before they make any final decisions. And whether spouses go through attorney driven mediation or with me, they should know that mediators cannot prepare the separation agreement, so that will be a separate expense in either case. All mediators are prohibited from providing legal advice during mediation, whether they are attorneys or not.

While negotiating with your spouse is not something everyone can handle, most obviously in cases of abuse, no one knows what is better for you and your family than you and your spouse. In my mediation sessions, I provide the financial information so that you and your spouse can make educated decisions. Both parties see how proposals affect the other, so inaccurate assumptions that prevent settlement and create animosity towards the other can be avoided. Most of my mediations get done in one session, with possibly a few emails afterwards if there are some missing details or updates needed.