Divorce mediation is a type of alternative dispute resolution available in Alabama to couples who want to divorce. If you cannot work out the terms of your impending divorce with your spouse, it can be tempting to want to go to court with a contested divorce as soon as possible. However, jumping straight into litigation can prove costly, stressful, and unpredictable. Divorce mediation is an opportunity to have a neutral mediator listen to both sides of the case and work with the parties and their divorce attorneys to come to a resolution. In Alabama, the mediator must be a licensed attorney.
With the courts in Alabama consistently being stretched by budget shortfalls and high caseloads, judges typically encourage divorce mediation and some may require it before moving forward with a contested divorce trial. Whether or not contested divorces must go through mediation before going to trial depends on the county and judge. Judges do have the discretion to make mediation mandatory. The goal in such is to hopefully lead to more amicable divorces and less time litigating the divorce in court.
There may be situations where mediation is mandatory per Alabama law, which has a statute called, “Mandatory Mediation Prior to Trial.” Ala. Code §6-6-20. This statute lists three conditions which would make mediation mandatory. 1) When all parties agree (this can make mediation much easier); 2) When any party makes a motion with the court requesting mediation; 3) If no party requests mediation, the court may order mediation at its discretion. Regarding #2, the party that requests mediation pays for the cost of mediation, but not the other party’s attorney’s fees. If the court assigns mediation, as in #3, the court may allocate the costs of mediation (excluding attorney’s fees) among the parties.
The role of the mediator is to become familiar with the facts of your situation, the areas on which you disagree, and give you a neutral opinion on how they feel a judge would rule if the case went to trial. The mediator’s decision, however, is not binding, i.e., it’s not legally enforceable. The mediator submits the final agreement of divorce mediation for the court’s approval. The court can take the recommendations from the mediator’s report and enter those terms in the divorce decree, or the court can set aside the mediator’s report and enter its own ruling. Typically, however, the court adopts the recommendations of the mediator’s final agreement report as long as it doesn’t lack basic fairness and addresses all of the elements required in a marital agreement.
Divorce mediation typically takes less time than for a contested divorce to be decided by the courts. It is also a less formal atmosphere, so it could be less intimidating for the parties. Maybe you and your spouse only disagree on one or a couple of issues. Mediation allows you to only focus on the issues you disagree on in order to work on coming to a compromise on those issues. You can still hire an attorney for the mediation process. While only one attorney is required to be present at mediation, both spouses can hire their own local divorce lawyers that can be there to assist their client during the mediation hearing. In almost all cases, mediation can result in a quicker and less expensive divorce process than having a full blown trial.