Home » The Valley Law Group Family Law Firm Practice Areas » Divorce Law » Arizona Divorce Mediation Services
Navigating a divorce can be difficult, even if the relationship between the former spouses is amicable. Emotions often run high, and untangling two lives that have been wrapped up together for years in some cases is a stressful process. Some couples are able to come to a mutually beneficial decision on their own, either through private discussions or because they have a prenuptial agreement in place.
Other couples, however, have more trouble arriving upon acceptable terms for their divorce. When a former couple is unable to agree on the terms and specifics of their divorce agreement, they must either proceed to divorce litigation or utilize a mediator. The mediation process can help ensure topics like the division of assets, retirement and insurance, spousal maintenance, child custody and visitation, child support, and others are addressed before the divorce proceeds to court. Once the mediation process has been completed, the divorce decree can be finalized in court without extensive litigation.
Keep reading to learn more about the divorce process and how mediation could help you reach favorable terms without the need for a lengthy court battle.
When a couple or an individual is filing for divorce in Arizona, one or both may identify the reason for the separation. In legal terms, this is referred to as the grounds for divorce. The only legally recognized grounds for a divorce in Arizona is if the marriage relationship is irretrievably broken. This means that, according to at least one spouse, there is no hope of the marriage relationship ever being reconciled.
When both spouses agree that the relationship is irretrievably broken and there is no chance of reconciliation, the divorce can proceed. The divorce can also proceed if one partner claims that the relationship cannot be salvaged and the other does not contest the claim. If, however, one spouse claims that the relationship cannot be salvaged and the other disagrees, the disagreeing spouse may petition the court to delay the dissolution of the marriage for up to 120 days for marital counseling. However, if the result is not two partners that wish to proceed with the marriage, the judge will move on with the dissolution of the marriage.
Arizona is one of three states that allows for covenant marriages, which require the couple to take three steps before marrying:
People in a covenant marriage typically find that acquiring a divorce is much more difficult. If a couple that was in a legally binding covenant marriage chooses to divorce, they must provide grounds for divorce above and beyond the fact that the marriage is irretrievably broken.
These grounds for divorce involve a few specific circumstances, including the following:
If one spouse files a Petition for Dissolution and the other spouse fails to respond to the court in a timely manner, the divorce is considered an uncontested divorce. If there has been no contact from one spouse, the court may enter a default judgment. If the spouse contacts the other to communicate their intent to submit to any court-ordered agreement, the couple may enter a settlement agreement with no in-court “contest” over any issue.
If one spouse files a Petition for Dissolution of the marriage and the other spouse submits a response to the dissolution or intends to settle the details of the divorce agreement issue by issue, this is what’s known as a contested divorce. Both spouses may agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken and work together to determine how to divide assets and debts, child-rearing responsibilities, and more. They would then submit this mutual agreement to the court for a judge to assess and create the final divorce decree. Still, the divorce is considered contested because the matter must proceed through the decision-making process with both spouses.
When spouses cannot reach an agreement before a judge is ready to hear the divorce agreement, they must take steps to resolve the various divorce issues or allow the judge to make the final decision.
Many couples are unable to reach an amicable agreement on their own terms. These circumstances will require mediation, either chosen by the couple or ordered by the courts. Mediation is a process intended to make divorce proceedings easier to manage.
Mediation occurs when the couple meets with a neutral third party to help settle disputes and resolve issues impacting the divorce agreement. The third-party mediator is often an attorney. However, it is important to note that while either party may choose to have their divorce attorney present during mediation, neither divorce attorney may act as the mediator. In most cases, the mediator is an individual who has no connection to either party, which allows them to be entirely neutral. They are also trained in specific practices and tactics to ease the mediation process.
In mediation, an unbiased third party represents both parties to help facilitate a settlement out of court. A successful mediation will often mitigate both the time and legal expenses associated with litigation. With the help of an impartial mediator, spouses can express their wishes and concerns to the mediator alone, who can speak with the other spouse alone. The mediator can then bring both spouses together to encourage them to discuss their issues reasonably and seek to reach a fair result for all parties involved.
Divorce mediation can help a couple reach an agreement regarding the following:
Once a final decision has been reached regarding these aspects, the parties must create the following documents:
It is important to note that mediation is a non-binding process, which means that no matter the outcome of any mediation, the result does not affect any family court proceedings. If mediation proves to be successful, then the terms spouses and family members agree upon can be presented to the court for approval as part of a divorce settlement. If mediation is not successful, a court will determine the results of divorce or custody proceedings.
There are several steps involved when a couple chooses mediation. Each step is intended to help the couple reach a mutually agreeable decision regarding each component of their divorce so a judge can approve the divorce agreement and finalize the divorce.
Steps include the following:
This is the first step in the mediation process. It is important that both parties know what to expect, and orientation will help all involved come to the same conclusion regarding the purpose of the session. During orientation, each subsequent step will be outlined. At this time, the mediator will also ensure both parties understand that the mediator will have no say in the choices that are made but will simply act as a guide.
During this step, both parties will meet with the mediator, either together or separately. Of course, it is ideal for time-saving purposes that this step includes both spouses, but that is not always possible. During this step, the assets, debts, incomes, and financial needs of each party will be discussed. In addition, other topics, like parenting time, parental decision-making, child support, and more, will be discussed. Each spouse will be given the opportunity to outline what they believe the best outcome is, which will highlight any disagreements or discrepancies.
During this phase of the mediation process, the mediator has heard the needs and requests of both sides. The mediator will consider everything that has been presented to them and may suggest potential solutions. The solutions will be shared with each party, again, either together or separately. Once solutions have been presented, each party will have opportunities to consider the solutions and make their own recommendations. Remember: all decisions made must be the decisions of the two parties involved in the mediation. The mediator will not make any decisions.
This is the final step in the mediation process. All needs and requests have been heard, and the potential solutions have been presented by the mediator. Each party has been given time to consider the solutions, and now negotiations will begin. This is the process of talking through a potential solution, requesting any changes or amendments, and reaching a final decision. During this phase, the mediator will simply redirect the discussion to the topic at hand. Once this final phase is completed, the parties should have arrived at a mutually agreeable decision for each component of the divorce agreement to present to the judge.
Mediation is an effective tool to make a difficult process more manageable. Receiving feedback and guidance from a completely neutral third party allows both spouses to work together to achieve the best outcome for all involved.
Mediation can be useful at any stage of the divorce proceedings, not only while the couple is awaiting court proceedings.
Here are some ways mediation can be utilized throughout the divorce process:
As mentioned, one way an uncontested divorce can occur is when the couple has created a divorce agreement prior to filing a Petition for Dissolution. Uncontested divorce makes the process much smoother and enables the court to simply approve the proposed divorce agreement. Mediation can be used prior to filing to determine spousal maintenance, parenting time, decision-making rights, child support, and division of assets. Once a judge has approved the agreement, the divorce can be finalized quickly.
In many circumstances, couples think they will be able to negotiate their divorce on their own, only to discover that it is not true. Mediation becomes necessary during the divorce process to ensure assets and debts are divided fairly and the parties can reach child-related decisions without prolonged litigation.
Many couples who did not participate in mediation during the divorce find that the divorce agreement needs revisiting after it has been finalized. This is especially true when spousal maintenance, parenting time, and child support arrangements are involved. These discussions can be stressful and emotional, and working with a mediator can make them proceed more smoothly and help both parties reach the best outcome.
Mediation is a useful resource to help divorcing couples reach an equitable agreement and avoid protracted litigation, but it is not always the best course of action. There are certain situations when mediation should not be attempted at all.
The three primary reasons to avoid mediation include the following:
Outside of these circumstances, mediation can be a wonderful resource to help the divorce process unfold more smoothly and efficiently. A mediation process guided by an experienced and effective mediator can help to ensure that both parties in a divorce receive an equitable distribution of assets, debts, and child-related considerations.
The divorce mediation process is considered successful when both parties are able to participate in negotiations and reach a settlement. This means that throughout the mediation process, both spouses have provided the necessary information, appeared at all necessary sessions, and participated in constructive discussions. Both parties are willing to compromise when necessary because they understand that the goal of mediation is to ensure that both parties receive an equitable share of each component of the divorce.
When mediation is successful, the parties have created a mutually beneficial divorce agreement to present to the court. However, it is important to note that while decisions regarding child rearing and child support may have been made in mediation, they are not binding until a judge approves them. Once the judge approves the divorce agreement, they can finalize the divorce decree.
Successful mediation can save both parties, as well as the Arizona family court system, a significant amount of time that would have otherwise been spent locked in litigation. As a result, pursuing mediation can also help participants reduce their legal fees in conjunction with reducing the amount of time spent in court. Finally, mediation can also reduce the stress and frustration involved with constant arguments and seemingly endless litigation by providing a calm, healthy atmosphere away from the court within which the couple can reach a decision.
You are not required to work with an attorney at any point during the divorce proceedings. However, having an experienced attorney by your side will help you ensure that the divorce agreement is fair and equitable. An experienced divorce attorney will also be able to help connect you with a skilled mediator.
Many mediators are not licensed as attorneys in Arizona. This can present some serious problems as most family and divorce law cases involve complex legal issues, including custody, parenting time, child support, property and asset division, etc.
At The Valley Law Group, all of our mediators are qualified attorneys licensed within the state of Arizona. You can rest assured knowing that you have a mediator who can help navigate the complexities of Arizona law.
Our team delivers world-class legal services to Arizonans in need through scrupulous attention to detail, time-tested best practices, and unfailing devotion to client service. Our award-winning attorneys understand that service begins and ends with them, and we are fortunate to enjoy positive, lasting relationships with our clients, both large and small. Contact us today and learn what a difference it makes to have the right people in your corner.Contact Us for Your Free Consultation