I. Introduction – The Most Difficult Decision You Will Ever Make

After reaching the incredibly hard decision to divorce, a couple’s next difficult choice is to determine which type of divorce will be best to get them from being separated to being divorced.  If you’re considering divorce, it makes sense to explore the various Virginia divorce options, so you are able to make an informed decision as to which is best suited to your situation.

No matter which process a couple chooses, getting divorced is often not a cheap proposition.  Not only can divorce drain financial resources, it can take an enormous emotional toll on not only the divorcing couple, but also on their children.  With careful consideration and selecting the right Fairfax, Va. Divorce mediators, however, a couple can minimize the risk of choosing a process option which leaves them financially ruined and emotionally broken. 

II. What Is Divorce Mediation in Fairfax County, Va.?

Divorce mediation is a form of dispute resolution in which the parties enlist the help of a third party neutral, i.e., the mediator(s), to help them craft a Marital Settlement Agreement, the document which settles all issues arising from their marriage. 

Divorce mediation allows the divorcing couple to reach creative solutions to their unique situations. Because the mediator is neutral, the parties are safe to express their goals and interests in a supportive environment.  

Parties may jointly hire a mediator.  It is recommended, but not required, however, that each party also hires an attorney to advise them individually between mediation sessions or at least prior to signing a Marital Settlement Agreement.

III. What Is Divorce Litigation?

A litigated divorce begins when one party files a complaint for divorce without having settled the legal issues arising from the end of their marriage.  In broad strokes, the issues which must be resolved are property division, debt allocation, spousal support, parenting/child custody, child support/child expenses, and health insurance costs/unreimbursed medical expenses.

After a complaint for divorce is filed and the defendant has answered, the discovery process begins. Here the parties’ attorneys request information from the other party or third parties through various means including interrogatories, depositions, requests for production of documents, requests for admissions, and the issuance of subpoenas.  From there, the parties, through their attorneys, attempt to negotiate the terms of the Marital Settlement Agreement. 

If the parties are unable to reach a settlement, they will go to court about the unresolved issues.  Although at Kales & Kales we no longer litigate, meaning we don’t go to court, we acknowledge there is a time and place for divorce litigation.  For example, if one party to the divorce does not want to come to the proverbial mediation table, litigation is an option.  If there is domestic abuse, often litigation is the only viable option to protect the interests of the at-risk spouse.

IV.  Fairfax, Virginia Divorce Mediation Costs: What You Can Expect To Pay?

What does mediation cost? Our rate is $425 per hour, and the parties pay at the end of each mediation session.  There is no minimum amount charged; in other words, parties are only charged for the time they use and there is no deposit due prior to starting mediation. An average Kales & Kales mediation consists of 2-3 mediation sessions lasting between 2 and 3 hours each.

Upon reaching an agreement in principle, prior to drafting a couple’s Marital Settlement Agreement, we will ask for a deposit, against which we will bill our hourly rate.  This amount is usually between $2,000 and $3,000 and is dependent upon the complexity and detail of the agreement in principle. This deposit is not a flat fee, but we are usually within an hour or two of the deposit amount. 

Once the parties are presented with a draft Marital Settlement Agreement, we advise our mediation clients to each have an attorney review the Agreement on their behalf.  Again, this is not required, but is recommended. Once the parties have signed their Marital Settlement Agreement, in order to finalize the divorce, it must be processed through the court in a four-step process.  The cost of the court process varies depending on the attorney(s) retained. However, the costs of processing an uncontested divorce is drastically lower than the cost of a traditionally litigated divorce.

V. Financial Impact Of Divorce Litigation

Upon starting a traditionally litigated divorce, a party will be asked to provide his or her attorney with a deposit, typically referred to as a retainer, and often $7,500 or more, which will be held in trust until the funds are earned.  The attorney and his or her assistants and/or associates will then bill their time against that deposit amount.  When the balance being held in trust decreases to a certain level, the attorney will then request replenishment to bring the trust balance up to its original amount.  This will continue until the case is completed.  Retainer amounts are variable based on the attorney’s experience/hourly rate and the complexity of the case.

There are also some costs of litigation which may not seem so obvious.  Often expert witnesses are retained, for example business valuators, real estate appraisers, child psychologists, or forensic accountants just to name a few.  These experts are retained to assist attorneys in making their arguments.  Other costs which may be incurred include copying costs, travel costs, and exhibit costs.

Even if a traditionally litigated case settles prior to court, the preparation for trial can be extremely expensive.  It is not unusual for the total amount of attorney’s fees and costs in a litigated divorce in Fairfax County to exceed $80,000 per spouse.

VI. Emotional and Mental Costs of Divorce Mediation

Perhaps one of divorce mediation’s largest benefits over a litigated divorce is it has as a goal the preservation of family relationships.  By allowing both parties a safe space to process information and to share thoughts and ideas, it is the hope that both parties feel heard and are able to reach creative and workable compromise.

It would be nice if we could assert that a divorce through mediation involves no stress; however, divorce by its very nature is one of the most stressful life events a person can go through. That said, mediation tends to be less stressful than other divorce process options.  Parties know their communications are private and confidential.  They can work together to attain their mutual goals, whether that be to provide stability to their children or a fair division of assets.

VII. Emotional and Mental Costs of Divorce Litigation

Divorce litigation tends to be more stressful than divorce mediation.  The adversarial nature of court proceedings is the cause of this.  Attorneys in a litigated divorce seek strategic advantage over the other party.  With both sides concentrated only on their individual interests and goals, the move towards the center is often harder to attain. 

VIII.  Conclusion

In sum, there are a number of factors a party should consider when selecting a divorce process option.  Among the considerations are costs, both financial and emotional, whether their spouse will be a willing participant in the process, and whether there is a history of emotional or physical abuse.

IX. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can I switch from litigation to mediation?

Yes, you can!  It’s not unusual for a couple who start down the litigation path to switch over to mediation. Sometimes this may be for a comprehensive agreement and sometimes a party just needs help working through one difficult area.  Similarly, if mediation fails, you can always start a litigated case. 

How does child custody play a role in the decision?

If you have children, it is almost a certainty that you want your divorce to have a few adverse effects as possible. Mediation allows for creative parenting plan solutions as well as the ability to generate creative cost sharing options.

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