Divorce lawyers really do get a bad rap. Many folks see them as blood-thirsty demons who'll try their best to turn a squabble into a war and suck your bank account dry in the process.
So if you're exploring mediation as a more peaceful way of handling your separation, it would make sense if you were a little leery of attorneys in general.
But is that necessarily the case...
Or is there a place for attorneys in the mediation process?
It may surprise you, but I'd argue that there is — and the earlier you bring them in, the better.
Understandably many couples try to avoid divorce lawyers altogether, hoping for a quicker conclusion at reduced cost, with less conflict and stress.
If a couple does agree to bring in their own attorneys, they tend to wait until the very end of the proceedings, tasking them with reviewing final agreements. Unfortunately, this is just a bit too late to really be effective. Your attorneys are stuck viewing final agreements without the background knowledge they need to make a fair assessment. Without having witnessed the path that led to certain decisions, they may see the agreements as unfairly weighted to the benefit of one spouse over the other, without the perspective of what the give and take has been to get the parties to their agreement — and that's not a can of worms you want to open at this point in the game!
The upshot here is that you've accrued some of the expense of hiring an attorney, without seeing much of the potential benefit.
Divorce proceedings don't have to be a case of "either, or".
The real problem tends to be that people view the divorce process as an "either, or" scenario. Mediation or attorneys — you can only pick one. In reality, choosing to bring attorneys into your divorce mediation process right from the start can actually make the entire process move more smoothly, saving you money, time, and ensuring that everyone emerges with a fair deal.
Who'd have thought it!
The benefit of using an attorney during the mediation process.
The main benefit of hiring consulting attorneys to help you through the mediation process is that you each have someone in your corner. Naturally, a mediator will remain unbiased throughout but an attorney is there just for you. If you're naturally a shy negotiator, aren't very confident in speaking up for yourself, or feel dominated by your spouse, having an attorney by your side to support you and to speak up for your interests can be a huge boost to your confidence at the time that you need it most.
Whether you choose to have your attorney at the mediation table with you, or you and your spouse prefer to attend mediation sessions without attorneys in the room, yours can help you prepare before and after sessions, giving you perspective, legal counsel, and negotiation coaching. With their advice, you'll know that you're saying the right things and that what you're asking for is a realistic request. If you need time to ponder a proposal, your consulting attorney is invaluable there too — they'll be able to talk things over with you privately, helping you decide whether or not to accept.
Two caveats when it comes to hiring a consulting attorney:
First, find a lawyer just for you. If one of you has counsel but the other does not, the one without representation may be unsure of, or later regret, the decisions they made. They may worry about whether they got a good-enough deal and try, after-the-fact, to hire a lawyer to undo the deal. And if you end up being the unrepresented person, you may be disappointed to learn decisions made in mediation are final and usually can't be undone.
Secondly, it's vital you choose an attorney who's on board with the mediation process. If they start trying to take over proceedings, negotiating directly with the other attorney, or talk about going to court as a plan B, you can be sure that they're only paying lip-service to the idea of mediation. If you're unsure where to find a mediation-friendly attorney, many mediators will be able to give you a list of recommendations.
There's a lot of white noise out there about how devastating hiring an attorney can be — to your relationships as well as to your pocketbook. Every person going through a divorce has heard a horror story or two from well intended co-workers, friends, or family about their horrible experience.
Please don't let that white noise put you off securing the help you need. There are good attorneys out there who truly want to help and give wise, practical advice without fueling the flames. And when you find a good one — an attorney who's on board with your wish to have a peaceful, non-litigious divorce — you really will benefit from their specialist advice and support. The right divorce attorney can be your biggest ally in getting the fair divorce that you deserve.
If you want to find out more about the mediation process and whether it's right for you and your spouse, schedule an appointment with me here.