Divorce mediation can be a great alternative to litigation, but only if both spouses are willing to compromise and negotiate peaceably. Mediation offers a divorcing couple the opportunity to negotiate their divorce on their own terms in private as opposed to a public trial in which the judge has the final say. The mediation process is relatively straightforward. Even for very complex divorces, it can provide expedited results. Unfortunately, mediation doesn’t always proceed as expected or intended.
A Tulsa, OK divorce attorney is the ideal resource if you want to take advantage of the benefits of divorce mediation. While you do not necessarily always need an attorney to represent you during mediation, it’s a good idea. A reliable attorney can help you prepare for your mediation sessions, ensure your best interests are protected, and answer any legal questions you might have during the process. They can also help in the event that your spouse becomes intransigent or hostile during mediation sessions.
Common Causes of Mediation Delays
Most divorcing couples choose mediation because of the time and money it can save with the divorce process. Instead of litigating their divorce in a lengthy and expensive court battle, the divorcing couple instead meets privately with a neutral mediator who keeps discussions on track. When the divorcing spouses are both willing to compromise and expedite their divorce, mediation may only require a few sessions before the couple has a mutually agreeable divorce agreement.
Unfortunately, mediation may provide a low-pressure atmosphere in which to negotiate a divorce, but it may not completely defuse the tension between divorcing spouses. Divorce is an inherently emotional experience, and not everyone will process and handle this experience in constructive and healthy ways. It’s possible that one of the divorcing spouses may enter divorce mediation sessions ready to collaborate, but the emotional stress of the situation becomes a barrier to cooperation.
Some of the most common reasons for mediation to stall or break down resonate with the most common reasons for couples to argue and consider divorce in the first place:
- Financial issues. Inequitable distribution states like Oklahoma, the family court system does not essentially seek a pure 50/50 split of a couple’s property, but rather a property division arrangement that is equitable to the needs of each of the divorcing spouses. If one spouse is unwilling to budge on issues like debt division, physical property ownership, real estate ownership, support, or maintenance, mediation could break down.
- Child custody disputes. It’s natural for divorcing parents to seek as much custody as possible over their children. When both parents are equally capable of providing for their children, acting as sufficient supervision, and competent enough to make serious decisions on their children’s behalf, they must both come to terms with the fact that joint custody may be in their children’s best interests. A good mediator will remind a couple who cannot agree about child custody that the court always supports a custody arrangement that aligns with the best interests of the children and attempt to steer the negotiation back in a constructive direction, but this isn’t always possible. If mediation breaks down due to child custody disputes, a family court judge may wind up having the final say if the couple moves from mediation to litigation.
- Child support disagreements. When one parent obtains more physical custody over their children than the other due to work and scheduling restraints, the parent with less physical custody may be liable for child support to the other parent. Child support aims to provide for the needs of the divorcing couple’s children, not to penalize a spouse or show preference to the other. A parent may disagree about the custody arrangement itself or about their responsibility to pay child support.
- Parenting plan disagreement. If divorcing parents collaborate to develop a mutually agreeable parenting plan, a judge will review and approve as part of the finalization of their divorce. However, one parent may object to the other’s intentions for raising their children. For example, one parent may feel strongly that their kids need to have a private, religious education. The other parent may feel strongly that their kids would be better suited to secular education. Unless the divorcing parents can mediate through this disagreement, they may need to litigate a parenting plan.
- Alimony disputes. In some cases, the court may award alimony to one spouse in a divorce if they earned less income than the other or gave up working when they got married. This typically functions on a short-term basis until the recipient becomes self-sufficient, but it can be permanent. In cases involving disability, severe medical impairment, or other inability to work, alimony may be long-term or permanent. While a divorcing couple can negotiate alimony terms in divorce mediation, if either of them is unwilling to budge as to how much they are willing to pay or receive, the case may need to move to litigation.
- Emotional barricades. Sometimes, the breakdown of divorce mediation can be attributed solely to one spouse’s unwillingness to compromise. They may be willing to give ground on every other aspect of their divorce but are completely unwilling to budge on one specific issue. Some spouses may become spiteful, bitter, and resentful during the mediation process and eventually become unwilling to negotiate. Emotional barricades can easily cause divorce mediation to break down, and the couple may ultimately need to litigate their divorce instead.
When you are trying to take advantage of divorce mediation, but one or more of these issues arises, your best course of action is to try and maintain civility and open-mindedness as much as possible while heeding the advice of your attorney. It’s a good idea to have legal representation on your side if you’re expecting a difficult mediation process, and your attorney can help you identify opportunities for collaboration and to recognize the need to prepare for litigation.
If you can maintain a positive and constructive mindset during divorce mediation, this will ultimately work in your favor no matter how the rest of your divorce proceedings play out. The court will recognize your willingness to compromise and your spouse’s unwillingness, and most family judges will not tolerate a divorcing spouse intentionally delaying or complicating divorce proceedings out of spite. Your Tulsa, OK divorce attorney can help you handle difficult mediation sessions with confidence and prepare you for litigation if necessary.