Written by attorney Patrick Lehmon Meriwether

Mediation in Georgia: What Is It and Why You Should Consider it to Settle Your Divorce

Mediation is a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution. It is a process in which both parties and their attorneys (if either or both of the parties in a divorce are represented by an attorney) meet with a mediator, who is a neutral, third party, to settle all issues in their case. Even though they are not required to be so under Georgia law, most mediators are licensed attorneys. They have gone through extensive training to become a registered neutral in the State of Georgia. The purpose of this legal guide is to explain the benefits of mediation and the requirements and costs to give you a better understanding of mediation.

Some people are adamant on having their day in Court and for their case to be heard before a Judge or jury because they have seen this happen on television. Even though the legal dramas make for great television, they do not provide a clear picture of how a divorce case is handled from start to finish. People sometimes have distorted view of the legal system as a whole by watching television.

I.Benefits of mediation

A.You get to have a say in the outcome in your case.

When you sit down to settle your case, you and your spouse have a say in the outcome. When you take your case to the Judge, you no longer have control. The Judge makes the ruling and both parties are usually stuck with whatever the Judge’s ruling is. As one Judge put it, when you settle your case, it is like performing surgery with a scalpel. When the Judge decides a case, it is like performing that same surgery with a chainsaw. Judges have thousands of cases they have to preside over at any given time and do not have the time to craft orders that take into account either side’s particular life schedules or problems. In many times, the ruling is, for lack of a better term, “cookie cutter."

Additionally, the mediator, being a neutral with no party to advocate for, may see resolutions to impasses or problems that you or your attorney might otherwise not see because you are in advocacy mode. Their goal is for the parties to reach a settlement, and a creative mediator can really help parties get past positions and resolve the disputes.

B.You can avoid (or at least seriously reduce) emotional bruising and scarring.

One of the greatest benefits is that mediation makes the divorce process less stressful. It is said that going through a divorce is one of the most stressful events in a person’s life and the amount of stress can only be compared to the death of a loved one. At a trial, people are often stating in an open forum horrible things about each other. These statements often result in a certain level of emotional bruising and scarring for the parties that never goes away, or takes years to heal.

During most mediations, all issues in a case (even a very contested one) have settled during the mediation session and the Parties walked away with a signed Settlement Agreement. Even in cases where the parties do not settle at the first mediation session, they can settle some if not most of the issues. They can have a subsequent mediation session and settle the remainder of the issues then. After the Settlement Agreement and related documents are signed, it is only a formality before the divorce is finalized. It is a relief to parties to know that the hardest part of their divorce is over and they can start moving forward with their lives.

Since the mediator is a neutral third party, you can convey proposals to the other side in a less confrontational manner. Often, when the very same proposal is presented by a mediator, it is sounds far more reasonable than the same proposal made by a party or their lawyer. Through discussions with you and your spouse, the mediator can become familiar with the goals and priorities of the parties and thus, he or she may be able to present proposals in the most appealing light.

C.You can save significant costs and attorney’s fees.

One of the main benefits of mediating a case is the cost. It is cheaper to mediate a case than to have a final trial. Most mediations cost a few hundred dollars and in extreme cases, a few thousand dollars if the case is a complicated one involving a variety of issues, a large marital estate, or contested custody. It is not uncommon for a trial to cost a client tens of thousands of dollars. Even though a case is wrapped up in an hour on television, you do not see the hours of preparation for trial, the additional costs for witnesses, such as subpoena costs and witness fees, the costs for expert witnesses, and the attorneys and clients waiting in the Courthouse for their case to be heard. This is even before the case gets before a Judge. It is not uncommon to be placed on a trial calendar and then, the case is not heard on that calendar so it gets continued to the next one. It may be four or five trial calendars before you get your day in Court. Time is money and often your money is better spent with a mediator than paying your attorney to fight for you in Court (not to mention all the time you had to take off from work).

II.Typical Requirements and Costs of Mediation in the Metro Atlanta Area

In most counties in Georgia, the Parties are required to attend mediation prior to any final hearing or trial if they are unable to enter into a Settlement Agreement. This requirement is usually explained in a Standing Order filed in the case.

In many counties, there is a neutral ADR (“Alternative Dispute Resolution") office through which mediations are scheduled. Typically, each party is typically responsible for one-half (1/2) of the mediation costs unless the parties agree to otherwise. Mediators charge an hourly rate, which is typically between $200 and $250 (some skilled ones are even higher). Even though this amount seems high, a great mediator can settle the case in a few hours. The amount that you pay for the mediation is usually far less than it would cost you to have a lawyer try your divorce case.

So, in summary, mediation is an excellent, cost effective way to resolve your divorce that avoids the emotional bruising that often occurs in a contested final trial.

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