In a perfect world, two people who don’t want to be together anymore will divide their things, shake hands and ride off into their respective sunsets with no hard feelings. Of course, this is not a perfect world, and people rarely decide to split in such an amicable way. Because tensions can run high during a divorce, Tennessee requires that most couples undergo mediation to help smooth out any wrinkles, and to (ideally) help both sides obtain what is fair.
How does mediation work?
Typically, you and your lawyer, your spouse and his or her lawyer, and a neutral mediator will meet someplace safe (like a mediator’s office) to hash out your differences. In some particularly contentious circumstances, you and your spouse may be asked to wait in different rooms with your attorneys, and the mediator travels between the rooms. (It depends on your situation which of these two options we go with.) When I work with my clients, we sometimes create a pre-mediation document that outlines what we want. I also make sure to prep my clients ahead of time, so they will know what to expect and how to react. The truth is, I’m one of the most successful mediators in the county, so I’m very well versed in how the process moves forward.
Once we sit down with the mediator, the negotiation begins. Your spouse’s divorce attorney will push for some things; I’ll push for others on your behalf. If we can come to an agreement that works for both you and your spouse, then we can create a marital dissolution agreement (MDA) to present to the judge, and your divorce should go more quickly and easily. Either way, we must conclude the proceedings and submit our reports to the judge – whether it “worked” or not – within 180 days of the divorce filing, so the process cannot drag on.
When mediation is waived
Though the Tennessee courts require mediation, there are times when people are exempt from the process. Under the law, the court might waive mediation if:
- “Either party is unable to afford the cost of the mediation, unless the cost is waived or subsidized by the state or if the cost of mediation would be an unreasonable burden on either or both of the parties;
- The parties have entered into a written marital dissolution agreement or an agreed order resolving all of the pending issues in the divorce, except as provided in subsection (c);
- The parties have participated in a settlement conference presided over by the court or a special master;
- The court finds a substantial likelihood that mediation will result in an impasse; or
- For other cause found sufficient by the court.”
One common reason the court might waive mediation is if you and your spouse do not have children, and have filed for divorce under the grounds of irreconcilable differences. The process may also be waived if one spouse is the victim of domestic abuse. In such a case, the victim can agree to the process and even bring in an advocate if he or she feels it is necessary.
Mediation might feel like just another step you have to take to move on with your life, but it really is an effective tool. It usually ends up saving you money and time, and some of the clients I’ve represented are actually in a better place with their soon-to-be former spouse than they were when they started. As long as you look at mediation as a less time-consuming (and cost inducing) way to resolve your issues, and not a hurdle to be jumped, you can reap tremendous benefits from it.
If you are need of legal advice, or have questions about the mediation process, I want to hear your story. Please contact my law firm, Shepherd and Associates, P.C. by filling out this contact form or by calling 865.225.9655. I’m an experienced Maryville divorce attorney; you can put your trust in me.