Imagine five of the most deeply personal relationships and objects in your life. Now imagine you and your spouse start arguing about these things. Do you decide to take your argument to a stranger and let that stranger decide which of you is right?

In many divorces, that’s essentially what couples do. When they take their disputes into a courtroom and present them to a judge, they’re asking that judge to overlook all the personal, historical and emotional weight these things may have. But there are other ways for couples to resolve their differences, such as mediation.

What is mediation?

In mediation, both sides sit down with a mediator who helps facilitate their conversations. The mediator doesn’t take either side. Instead, he or she helps both sides communicate more effectively and explore the options available to them.

The goal of mediation is for the two sides to reach an agreeable compromise. They can then draft their agreement, sign it and present it to the court. This agreement doesn’t become binding until the court receives and recognizes it, but it may then assume all the weight of a standard court order.

Why use mediation?

The first reason to use mediation is that, barring some exceptions, the courts require it in all custody cases. The courts won’t require you to mediate your disputes in cases of domestic violence, substance abuse, or mental impairment. But in most other cases, you’ll want to make the most of mediation because the courts will expect you to try.

Why do the courts expect couples to mediate their custody disputes? They claim that it:

  • Shifts the parents’ attentions toward the child’s needs and interests
  • Fosters realistic agreements

However, mediation may offer you advantages beyond these—in your custody disputes and in any other part of your divorce that you choose to mediate. When you successfully mediate your issues, you may:

  • Cut down on legal expenses
  • Find more creative ways to resolve your differences
  • Reduce parental conflict, which may lead to better co-parenting
  • Have a say in every part of your agreement, from beginning to end

This last point is particularly notable. In the standard courtroom model, you make your argument, your spouse makes an argument, and then a judge decides your fates. You can push the decision in your favor by making a stronger argument, but you won’t know the outcome until the judge presents it. This can be stressful, and it’s largely impersonal. Mediation allows you to stay involved throughout the process and make compromises where you feel most comfortable.

Do you need an attorney during mediation?

Usually, attorneys do not attend mediation, but you may want to see your attorney to prepare for the mediation and to review the agreement before you deliver it to the court. The document will help shape your future, and you want to make sure you clearly understand all its terms and provisions.

An experienced attorney can help make sure your agreement is fair and can set you on the path to a brighter future.