Fairfax County Divorce Mediators/Arlington, Va. Divorce Mediation
Divorce mediation helps couples to divorce with less pain, lower costs, and greater efficiency.
At Kales & Kales, our goal as Virginia family law mediators is to provide a kind, considerate, and safe envelope in which we, the co-mediation team of Jonathan and Amy Kales, help our clients to settle their cases and stay out of court. In doing so, we guide them through the complexities of child custody, child support, spousal support, property division, debt allocation, and more.
Experienced Fairfax, Va. divorce mediation attorneys, Jonathan Kales and Amy Kales, named Top Lawyers by Northern Virginia Magazine in 2023 for their work as some of the best divorce mediators in Northern Virginia. Additionally, Jonathan Kales was named a member of Virginia Business Magazine’s 2023 Legal Elite.
WHAT IS DIVORCE MEDIATION?
- A process in which an impartial, neutral individual, the mediator, meets with a couple and helps them reach a mutual and informed Marital Settlement Agreement, which paves the way for a simple, uncontested divorce. The mediator facilitates settlement talks by guiding the spouses through the issues they must resolve to get divorced in Virginia, helping them to develop and evaluate options for each of these issues, and providing them with legal information, such as what Virginia law says or what a judge may do.
- A solution-oriented process that works best in cases where the conflict level, when compared to other divorces, is a 5 or lower on a scale of 1 to 10. In higher conflict cases, another form of alternative dispute resolution, the Collaborative Process is often a better option.
- A process that commences with both spouses and their mediator signing an Agreement to Mediate.
- A safe environment in which a divorcing couple can communicate their needs and interests and those of their family with one another.
- A process in which the parties themselves are in control and empowered to make their own decisions and where there is a goal to reduce the tension of divorce.
- A setting where a Northern Virginia Divorce Mediator, if also a lawyer, may provide information about the legal system, how issues may be viewed by other lawyers or judges, and what alternatives there are for solving issues, but may not provide legal advice or be an advocate for either side.
HOW MUCH DOES DIVORCE MEDIATION COST?
Total costs for our divorce mediation services average from $3,500 to $7,000, and the spouses typically share these fees equally (50/50) between them. Additionally, at Kales & Kales, you get the benefit of two Virginia divorce mediation attorneys working together for you for this price, i.e., “two for the price of one”, and no retainer is required at the beginning of the mediation process. Instead, you pay for our services at the end of each mediation session. Only when it is time to draft your written divorce settlement agreement will you be asked for a deposit, which is typically around $2,000 to $3,000.
This is in contrast to divorce litigation, where costs can spiral out of control quickly. It is common for Northern Virginia divorce attorneys to require retainers of $7,500 or more. Total litigation expenditures per spouse often range from $25,000 to $100,000. Emotionally, divorce litigation can be stressful, depressing, and exhausting, frequently draining any goodwill that remains between divorcing spouses and making co-parenting extremely challenging.
HOW LONG DOES DIVORCE MEDIATION TAKE?
On average, divorce mediation with Kales & Kales involves 1 or 2 two to three-hour meetings if you don’t have minor children and 2 or 3 meetings if you do. Typically, meetings are spread over anywhere from a couple of weeks to about a month. However, the number of meetings for your particular case will hinge on several factors, including its complexity, details, and emotionality, and the willingness of both spouses to compromise.
Once you reach an agreement in principle, we usually can forward you a Marital Settlement Agreement within approximately 2 weeks.
CO-MEDIATION: OUR MEDIATION MODEL AT KALES & KALES
In the Northern Virginia divorce mediation services that Kales & Kales provides, we utilize the co-mediation model. A co-mediation is a mediation that utilizes two mediators to help the parties reach a divorce agreement. At our firm, those mediators are Jonathan and Amy Kales, the husband-and-wife team that makes up Kales & Kales.
What are the benefits of co-mediation?
In co-mediation, when one mediator is male and the other is female, this can help to lessen the possibility that one spouse will think the other has an advantage because the mediator is the same gender as that other spouse. At our firm, because all co-mediations are conducted by Jonathan and Amy Kales, each spouse always has a mediator of his or her same gender.
Co-mediation can speed up the mediation process because two heads are often better than one. For instance, one mediator can jot down notes on a flip chart while the other mediator leads the discussion. Or, if there’s a need to caucus (meet separately) with the spouses, one mediator can meet with the wife, while the other meets with the husband, instead of the spouses meeting one after the other with a single mediator. Or, one mediator may have time sooner than the other to draft a divorce settlement agreement.
Co-mediators can charge more than individual mediators. However, at Kales & Kales, that is not the case. We charge $425 per hour for co-mediation sessions and to draft your Marital Settlement Agreement. This is approximately the same amount Jonathan or Amy charge when either of them represents a client individually as an attorney, i.e., you’re getting two for about the price of one. If you combine this with the efficiency of co-mediation, you could wind up paying less than if you retained a solo mediator.
It can be challenging for one mediator to observe everything that’s happening during a mediation session. With co-mediators in the room, the odds increase that details are not missed.
By observing the co-mediators, spouses can learn how to better communicate with one another in their negotiations.
ADDITIONAL BENEFITS OF DIVORCE MEDIATION
Research shows the biggest indicator of how well children will handle divorce is the conflict level of their divorcing parents. When divorcing parents have a high conflict level, this portends poorly for their children’s emotional well-being and ability to adjust to and recover from the divorce. Additionally, it can lead to behavioral issues for their children. Unfortunately, litigation often ramps up and exacerbates this conflict, especially when children are exposed directly to the litigation by being interviewed by attorneys and experts, deposed, and/or required to testify in court.
In contrast to the negative impact of litigation, in Virginia divorce mediation, the mediator seeks to help parents keep emotions and anger in check and to help them communicate more productively. This can help shield the children from conflict, lead to the parents agreeing to a parenting plan that is in the children’s best interests, and to productive co-parenting.
Unlike divorce litigation, Virginia divorce mediation is a private divorce process. Litigation occurs in open court, while mediation takes place in private, behind the closed doors of the mediator’s office. Additionally, pursuant to Virginia family law, with certain exceptions, all communications made in or in connection with a divorce mediation and all notes and other materials contained in the mediator’s case file are confidential.
With this private, safe envelope in which to negotiate, divorcing spouses tend to feel more relaxed and safer being open, honest and straightforward with one another. This ensures all options can be safely considered and discussed and most often leads to a quicker, smoother path towards a divorce settlement.
The spouses control the outcome, instead of a judge determining their fate. The role of the mediator is to facilitate the settlement discussions of the spouses, making sure each spouse is heard and communications are as civil as possible, answering questions, and ensuring the spouses resolve the issues that must be addressed in a Virginia divorce, plus any other issues that are important to the spouses and related to their divorce.
Unless mediation begins after litigation has already commenced, the spouses also control the pace of negotiations, without having to worry about discovery deadlines, scheduled depositions, and court dates.
Divorce Mediation allows divorcing spouses to explore creative options, independent of legal parameters, which increases the odds they will reach a mutually agreeable settlement. For example, in a litigated divorce, when the spouses own a home together, unless one spouse can afford to buy out the other’s equity share and is able to qualify to refinance the mortgage in his or her sole name, the judge has one option, which is to order that the house be listed for sale immediately. However, in mediation, the spouses are not nearly as constrained. They can reach an agreement where both spouses will stay on the title and/or mortgage for a period of time after the divorce. They can agree that an equity buyout or sale does not have to take place until a date in the future. They can agree that one spouse will receive more house equity in exchange for the other spouse receiving more of some other asset. Etc., etc.
Getting divorce is hard. Most people do not want to revisit the terms of their divorce in the future. In divorce mediation, compliance and satisfaction with the divorce agreements reached at the end of the mediation process tend to be much better than with the orders imposed by the court system at the conclusion of divorce litigation. On the whole, this results in fewer post-divorce issues and court proceedings between the parties.
Conflict, resentment, and stress are less in a mediated divorce. The ex-spouses frequently have good or cordial relations after the divorce is final.
The divorce mediation process is almost always quicker than a litigated divorce. Divorce litigation frequently takes many difficult months of formal information gathering, depositions, and hearings. A typical mediation involves a few meetings between the spouse and the mediators of 2-3 hours apiece. Then, the mediators draft your written, divorce settlement, which usually takes a couple of weeks.
HOW TO CHOOSE A QUALIFIED VIRGINIA DIVORCE MEDIATOR?
If you’ve picked mediation as the way to reach a divorce settlement agreement, how do you choose a qualified, skillful mediator? The following are factors to consider in your decision:
- Certification. Is the mediator certified by the Virginia Supreme Court? If not, you could wind up with an untrained mediator, as Virginia has no educational and proficiency requirements for a person to hold him or herself out as a mediator. In fact, due to mediation’s popularity, many attorneys enhance their business by conducting meditations on a part-time, occasional basis. They believe because they have represented clients in mediation, they are qualified to mediate themselves. Jonathan Kales has been a Virginia Supreme Court certified mediator family law mediator since 2005, and a directory of certified mediators can be found at www.courts.state.va.us.
- Virginia Family Law Attorney. Is the mediator a Virginia divorce lawyer and a member of the Virginia State Bar? Even if a mediator is certified by the Virginia Supreme Court, he or she may not be a Virginia family law attorney and have the knowledge of Virginia divorce law that goes with that, as a person is only required to have a bachelor’s degree to become certified. You should ask any mediator you are considering hiring: (a) Are they an attorney? (b) Are they a member of the Virginia State Bar? (c) If the answer is yes to the first two questions, is their practice dedicated exclusively to family law?
- Experience. How many cases has the mediator actually mediated? Even if a person is a Virginia Supreme Court certified family mediator and a Virginia divorce lawyer, he or she may not have a great deal of experience mediating actual cases. You should ask him or her how many cases they’ve mediated. Most experienced mediators won’t know the actual number, but they should be able to ballpark this for you.
HOW DO I PREPARE TO MEET WITH A VIRGINIA DIVORCE MEDIATOR?
To be best prepared for separation and mediation, some important steps are necessary, both practically and mentally.
- Imagine civilized discussions (not a joke) and bring a positive attitude to the table of your divorce mediation sessions.
- Outline a few possible parenting (child custody and visitation) plans. Consider what you might like to see in a day-to-day schedule and what might make sense as to holidays and other school breaks, factoring in what’s truly in your children’s best interests and fairness to your spouse.
- Assemble and organize your financial documents for the last couple of years. Do not show up for mediation with a grocery bag full of random papers, tattered, and stuck together by some mysterious substance.
- Aim for an equitable split of marital property and debts, understanding that it is uncommon for a divorcing couple’s standard of living not to take a hit when they divorce, as two households are always more expensive than one.
- Retain a Northern Virginia divorce lawyer to advise you between mediation sessions and to review any agreement you reach before you sign it. Experienced divorce mediators may provide legal information, but not legal advice.
WHAT IS A TYPICAL VIRGINIA DIVORCE MEDIATION AGENDA?
With the primary goal of divorce mediation being for the spouses to reach a written, divorce agreement, a typical agenda focuses mainly on the questions that need to be answered to provide the substance of that agreement. The following is an example:
Who will have legal custody of the children? What will the parenting plan (physical custody/visitation) be? Regular parenting schedule? Holiday parenting schedule? Summer vacation schedule? Other parenting provisions?
- What will happen with the marital home?
- What will happen with the retirement accounts?
- What will happen with the bank and investment accounts?
- What will happen with the vehicles?
- What will happen with the tangible personal property, besides vehicles?
- Are there other property items? If yes, what will happen with these?
- What will happen with any debts?
- Will there be spousal support? If yes, what will be the amount, duration, and modifiability?
- Will there be child support? If yes, what will be the amount?
- How will health insurance and unreimbursed medical expenses be handled for the spouses and for the children?
- How will tax issues be handled? Filing of returns? Mortgage interest and real estate tax deductions? Child dependency exemptions?
- What will happen with any life insurance policies?
- Will the spouses reach any agreements regarding the children’s college expenses? If yes, what will they be?
- Are there any other issues that need to be discussed?
I’VE HEARD DIVORCE MEDIATION AND COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE ARE PRETTY MUCH THE SAME: IS THAT TRUE?
There are some similarities between divorce mediation and collaborative divorce. Both are forms of alternative dispute resolution, and both are used to help divorcing couples reach settlements and avoid court.
However, there are also key differences. For example, in mediation, the mediator is neutral and while he or she facilitates discussion and may provide legal information, a mediator is not permitted to provide legal advice. Legal advice, if the spouses desire it, comes from divorce attorneys, but these attorneys usually do not attend the mediation sessions, as they are not officially part of the mediation process and tend to advise their clients between sessions. The attorneys, if not picked carefully, can take an adversarial approach, so it’s important to select a “mediation friendly” lawyer. Most Arlington, Tysons Corner, and Fairfax, Va. divorce mediators are happy to make recommendations.
In the collaborative process, the divorce attorneys attend meetings and take part in most settlement talks, providing on the spot legal advice and advocacy, but not in a way which is adversarial. Instead, a collaborative attorney focuses on making sure the interests of his or her client, and the client’s children, are met with solutions that are also in the best interests of the family as a whole.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT GETTING DIVORCED VIA MEDIATION
What If We Don’t Agree to Try Mediation?
Divorcing couples must mutually agree to participate in mediation. It is a voluntary process.
That said, when a spouse is reluctant to mediate, they sometimes can be brought into the process when they come to understand their alternatives, particularly when they compare and contrast what a mediated divorce would like to what a court-based, adversarial divorce would look like.
How Can We Guarantee the Impartiality of Our Mediator(s)?
The mediator(s) you choose must be acceptable to both you and your spouse. In fact, it is ideal if you make the decision together. Find mediators who are independent, well-regarded, and certified by the Virginia Supreme Court. Ask for recommendations from dependable family or friends who have worked with a mediator in the past. Additionally, you should read the mediator’s reviews to learn what other people have to say about them.
What If We Are Unable to Resolve All of Our Issues?
For the most part, spouses who engage in divorce mediation are able to resolve all of their issues and reach a comprehensive divorce settlement. However, when that does not occur, they have the option of entering a partial settlement agreement regarding the issues they were able to resolve. Afterwards, they may pause the mediation process, give things some more thought, and circle back to the process when they are ready. Alternatively, if one or both spouses see no way past their area(s) of impasse, they can litigate and let a judge decide upon their unsettled issues.
Should I Hire a Lawyer During Mediation?
Even if a Virginia divorce mediator is an attorney, he or she is not permitted to provide legal advice to his or her mediation clients. An attorney-mediator may provide legal information and talk about their experiences with the law and the court system. However, because a divorce mediator must remain neutral, he or she may not make recommendations about what decisions a mediation client should make.
It is therefore recommended, but not required, that each spouse hire his or her own lawyer during the mediation process; and, if requested, we’ll recommend “mediation friendly lawyers” to each spouse.
Usually, these independent lawyers do not participate in mediation sessions. Their attendance can escalate conflicts, add costs, and disturb the safe negotiating envelope that mediation provides.
Rather, they provide advice before the mediation process begins and between mediation sessions, and they review the written divorce settlement agreement the mediator drafts before their client signs it. That said, occasionally attorneys do attend mediation sessions; for example, after a couple of meetings, a power imbalance might become apparent where a spouse feels they need their attorney present to support them and help even the table.
The spouses’ independent lawyers also can usher their divorce settlement agreement through the court system, which concludes with the court entering a Final Order of Divorce that incorporates the divorce settlement agreement and is the instrument by which the parties become divorced. A mediator in Virginia is not permitted to provide this service.
Who Pays for Mediation in A Divorce?
More often than not spouses divide divorce mediation fees equally (50/50), paid from current incomes or marital funds. However, it does vary from case to case. For instance, particularly when there’s a significant disparity in the incomes of the spouses, it’s not uncommon for fees to be split in proportion to incomes.
When is Divorce Mediation Not Appropriate?
If you or your spouse are unlikely to compromise, listen to one another, and reach an agreement, mediation may not be for you.
If you believe your spouse is hiding assets or income or if one spouse suffers from untreated substance or alcohol abuse, mediation is highly unlikely to work in your case.
Finally, if there is a history of domestic violate or abuse in your marriage, mediation is not a good fit for your case, as mediation won’t be effective unless both spouses can express themselves and negotiate freely without fear of more violence or bullying.
What Is the Difference Between a Mediator and A Divorce Lawyer?
A divorce lawyer provides legal advice to a spouse and advocates for that spouse’s individual interests. A mediator is objective and does not advocate for either spouse. Rather, a mediator guides and facilitates settlement discussions between spouses and helps them, from a neutral perspective, to reachable a mutually satisfactory divorce settlement agreement. A mediator, if an attorney, may also provide legal information and predict what may or may not happen in a courtroom.
Will Our Divorce Settlement Agreement Be Enforceable?
Once the parties sign a divorce settlement agreement, for the most part, it is enforceable. This is particularly true of financial issues relevant to just the parties. If either party changes his or her mind about these provisions in their agreement prior to their divorce, he or she will have to challenge these provisions as a contract. If either party changes his or her mind about the parenting plan/child custody and visitation or child support provisions in their agreement prior to their divorce, these provisions may be persuasive as to how the court rules on these issues but are not binding until the court signs off on these provisions when the agreement is incorporated into the parties’ Final Order of Divorce.
Will I Have to Appear in Court?
No. Mediation does not oblige either spouse to appear physically in court. When you and your spouse have reached a divorce settlement agreement in mediation, the court’s job is restricted to incorporating your agreement in a Final Order of Divorce.
Does Kales & Kales Mediate at All of Its Locations?
What Happens After Divorce Mediation?
If both spouses hire attorneys, the following is a summary of the court process after divorce mediation:
- The plaintiff’s attorney will prepare and, with the plaintiff’s approval, file a Complaint for Divorce with the court. At this time, the plaintiff’s attorney will also prepare and file a VS-4 Form.
- The defendant’s attorney will prepare an Answer and, with the defendant’s approval, file it with the court.
- The plaintiff’s attorney will prepare an Affidavit for the plaintiff to sign before a notary.
- The plaintiff’s attorney will prepare and, with the plaintiff’s approval, forward a Final Order of Divorce to the defendant’s attorney for the review of the defendant’s attorney and the defendant.
- Assuming the defendant’s attorney and the defendant approve of the Final Order of Divorce, the defendant’s attorney and the plaintiff’s attorney will sign the Final Order and mail it to the court for entry (i.e., a judge’s signature), along with the Affidavit and an original copy of your mediated agreement.
If only one spouse hires an attorney or neither spouse hires an attorney, the process can differ slightly.
REVIEWS OF OUR NORTHERN VIRGINIA DIVORCE MEDIATION SERVICES
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Very efficient, thorough and professional mediation. Highly recommend.
Kales and Kales were the ultimate professionals who made the very challenging process of going through a divorce more palatable. They were clear and upfront about the process, offered the perfect balance of support along the way, and even knew when to lighten the mood with some levity. Their attention to detail was incredible, and their speed and efficiency ended up making the process very affordable. If you are going through the difficult process of divorce, don't hesitate to hire Kales and Kales. You won't regret it!
If you need a streamlined, professional, and reassuring mediation process, look no further than Kales & Kales. Going through a divorce seemed so daunting, but Jonathan and Amy were absolutely wonderful and helped me so much while going through a very stressful time. Would absolutely recommend!
Super helpful couple that provided supportive, deliberative and thoughtful information to navigate a very difficult and emotional process. Highly recommended!
My former spouse and I solicited the services of Kales & Kales to mediate our divorce. Their professionalism and compassion made it both a pleasant and efficient experience. I strongly recommend them for mediation or any other marriage related legal requirements.
The Kales did a great job helping my ex and I work through the mediation process and get a good settlement agreement in place. Highly recommended.
The firm of Kales & Kales did an amazing job of handling my separation. Jonathan and Amy were very informative, communicative, patient, and helpful throughout the entire process, thus enabling my ex and I to maintain an amicable split. By using mediators, as opposed to divorce lawyers, there was never any pressure to try to get more. Due, in large part, to Jonathan and Amy's work we were able to end our marriage while also mitigating some of the trauma our kids were already experiencing. That alone makes it worth it. Moreover, they are significantly less expensive than divorce lawyers.
Jonathan and Amy were fantastic. They were both incredibly knowledgeable and very responsive. I would highly recommend them.
Jonathan and Amy Kales did an outstanding job providing collaborative divorce mediation services to me and my spouse. Prior to hiring Kales & Kales, Jonathan spent a significant amount of time with me on the phone to explain the mediation process and address my questions/concerns, which demonstrated from Day 1 their commitment to providing excellent service. During the mediation discussions, Jonathan and Amy were very prepared, thorough, patient, and understanding and were a pleasure to work with. They drafted a very clear and thorough divorce settlement agreement that included several items that we had not previously thought to include. The agreement was so well written that it required minimal edits when it was reviewed by our individual attorneys. Throughout the process, Jonathan and Amy were up front and clear on their processes and fees which was also greatly appreciated. For anyone who is in the unfortunate situation of undergoing a divorce, I cannot recommend Kales & Kales enough as divorce mediators in the Northern Virginia area
While no one wants to go through a divorce, Jonathan and Amy Kales were exceptional. They did a great job explaining various options for each area of the mediation agreement and were also willing to create new solutions based on our unique needs and desires. They did not take a one size fits all approach like others, they truly got to know myself and my former partner and worked to help us find a positive resolution to an unfortunate situation. When difficult issues came up they provided excellent guidance and structure to help us work through them and resolve them in a way that both myself and my former partner were satisfied. Overall they are just generally nice, kind people who are there to guide you through a difficult process. I hope I don't need their services again but if I ever find myself needing a mediator they will be my first choice by far.