What is divorce mediation?

Divorce mediation is a confidential meeting that uses a neutral third-party mediator to help you and your spouse negotiate a settlement. The mediator doesn’t make decisions for you or dole out legal advice.

Instead, they help facilitate the conversation so you and your spouse can better resolve issues together. You should walk out of mediation with a complete divorce settlement for an uncontested divorce.

How much does divorce mediation cost?

Divorce mediation generally costs between $500 and $8,000, with a national average hovering at $1,500. Your cost will depend on several factors:

  • Mediator’s rate. Mediators charge between $100 and $300 per hour on average, or a flat day rate. They may also add a setup fee for the first consultation meeting.
  • Number of sessions. The clock keeps running regardless of the number of issues you need to resolve and the longer it takes to reach an agreement.
  • Additional costs. The mediator may charge extra fees, like a session cancellation fee or a fee if you need a written record of each session.

How long does divorce mediation take?

One divorce mediation session usually lasts about two hours. Depending on how many issues you have, your divorce mediation process might require multiple sessions spread out over several weeks or months.

Do I need to hire a lawyer during mediation?

No, you don’t need an attorney for mediation. In fact, mediators may prefer lawyers not to be present during sessions because they can create a more adversarial environment that may hinder positive communication.

But you might consider hiring a lawyer if your case involves substantial property or other legal matters to make sure you’re protected. And it might be a good idea to have an attorney review the settlement terms during or after mediation.


What issues can divorce mediation resolve?

Here are a few of the most common issues that divorce mediation can help sort out:

  • Alimony
  • Child support
  • Custody and parenting plan
  • Debt division
  • Property division, including real estate and personal property

How does the divorce mediation process work?

The mediation process will be smoother if you and your spouse have all of your documents in order and are willing to compromise. Here’s what you can expect:

  1. Prepare your documents. Organize all of your paperwork, including statements for your bank accounts, retirement accounts, mortgages, and life insurance policies. Not having all of your records can delay the mediation process.
  2. Attend your first mediation session. You and your spouse list all the issues that need to be resolved. The mediator may also ask questions to get background information and facts of the case.
  3. Continue meeting to negotiate the issues. The mediator helps keep the conversation on track and may present information about the court system or context for how issues are commonly settled.
  4. Finalize settlement agreement. Once everything is resolved, the mediator drafts the divorce agreement.

Pros and cons of divorce mediation

Divorce mediation can be a valuable alternative to a court trial, though it’s not without its limitations.

  • Less expensive. Mediation is generally more cost-effective than a long, drawn-out trial. After mediation, you can finish the divorce process online and potentially skip the court hearing altogether.
  • Confidential. Divorce hearings are public records, whereas mediation is a private meeting.
  • Negotiated agreement. The divorcing couple comes to a resolution together, rather than a court-imposed settlement.
  • You and your spouse control the process. The mediator only serves to facilitate the session, but you ultimately control what happens.
  • Higher compliance rate. Couples generally follow the terms of the divorce agreement more than a traditional lawsuit because they participate in the decision-making.
  • No legal counsel. Even though the mediator may be a lawyer or a former judge, they can’t give you or your spouse any legal advice. You may still need to hire a lawyer for legal counsel.
  • Doesn’t include filing and fees. You’ll still need to submit your divorce settlement agreement to the county clerk and pay a separate filing fee — on top of your mediation costs.
  • May not be a good solution for everyone. Mediation requires that the divorcing couple be willing to compromise and come to an agreement. And it may not be safe or appropriate for spouses with a history or fear of domestic violence.

Is divorce mediation right for me?

Divorce mediation isn’t about assigning blame or proving wrongdoing. Instead, it’s generally best for couples who:

  • Want to keep divorce costs low
  • Have children and want to find a solution that works for everyone
  • Want to maintain a working relationship after the divorce
  • Want to avoid a public court hearing
  • Are willing to compromise

Where can I find a divorce mediator?

A divorce mediator plays a critical role in the process. Here are a few places you can find one:

  • Local legal aid office
  • Local bar association
  • Local community mediation center
  • National mediation organizations, including the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, the American Arbitration Association, and the Association for Conflict Resolution

How to prepare for divorce mediation

Here are a few tips to try to make the mediation process as smooth and successful as possible:

  • Research before you hire. Some mediators specialize in child custody mediation or focus on resolving financial disputes. You and your spouse should agree on one specially-trained or certified mediator that you both feel comfortable with.
  • Gather your documents. Make the most of your mediation session by having all of the records you need, including your assets, income sources, debts, and expenses.
  • Set goals. Since each session is a negotiation, know what issues you won’t budge on and which areas where you’re more flexible.
  • Compromise. Both you and your spouse should be ready to have a meaningful conversation in each session. Keep in mind that mediation is not about winning or punishing your ex, but about finding a solution that best suits everyone.

Mediation vs. arbitration vs. collaborative divorce: What’s the difference?

Here’s how the three most common alternatives to litigation break down:

Mediation Arbitration Collaborative divorce
What it is
You and your spouse negotiate the terms of your divorce with the help of a mediator.
An arbitrator hears both sides and delivers a final decision on the terms of your divorce.
You and your spouse each hire an attorney to negotiate a settlement.
Who it’s best for
Couples with a good working relationship who want to keep divorce costs low.
Couples who need a third party to resolve specific issues and want to maintain some privacy.
Couples who can’t communicate effectively with one another, but want to avoid a public court hearing.
Estimated cost
Average of $225 per hour
Varies anywhere from $150 to over $500
Average of $270 per hour
Amount of time
1 to 10 sessions — varies greatly depending on the number of issues you need to resolve
1 to 10 days — varies greatly depending on the number of issues you need to resolve
1 to 10 sessions — varies greatly depending on the number of issues you need to resolve
Lawyer required
File for divorce online
Filing generally included

Bottom line

In many cases, you can keep your divorce case out of the court system by opting for divorce mediation. It can be cheaper and faster than litigation if you and your spouse can communicate well and are willing to compromise.

After you walk out of mediation with a divorce settlement, you’ll still need to fill out a few more legal forms and file all the paperwork with the courts.

Frequently asked questions

What happens if we can’t agree on anything at mediation?

  • If you can’t reach an agreement, you might consider arbitration, hiring a lawyer to negotiate for you (collaborative divorce), or settling the case in court.

Who selects the mediator?

  • Both you and your spouse should agree on a mediator.

Is divorce mediation legally binding?

  • Yes. Divorce mediation is a process that produces a legally binding divorce agreement — but only after the paperwork is signed and executed with the courts. Since mediators aren’t judges, they can’t make binding decisions themselves, nor can they force you to reach a settlement.