According to the most recent available data, the Virginia divorce rate hit a recent low in 2017.Those statistics show that 3 in every 1,000 people living here divorced that year. That reflects a slight decline from 2016 and 2015, when the divorce rate was 3.4 people in 1,000 and 3.3 people in 1,000, respectively. It also reflects a significant decline since 1990, when the divorce rate was 4.4 in every 1,000 people.
But those are just numbers. And while they do tell a story, they don’t reflect the sad and painful reality of divorce in Virginia.
When divorce happens
When it comes to Virginia divorces, some people want a lawyer known for his or her toughness, while others want an attorney with a reputation as a shrewd negotiator. Others don’t want to involve lawyers at all. All they want is sound legal advice and someone to facilitate negotiations. That’s where a professional family mediator comes in.
Does this sound familiar?
Perhaps you and your spouse were high school sweethearts. Or maybe you met on a dating app. In any case, you met, you fell in love and you tied the knot. You became parents and everything was great as you settled into family life. Or at least it seemed that way.
But somewhere along the line, things started to go horribly awry. Counseling didn’t work. So now you aren’t sure what to do. Do you really want to get involved in a costly and potentially unpleasant divorce? How will this affect the kids? What about custody? What about the division of property? And what about alimony?
With so much to think about, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But you have options. For one, you could consider mediation.
What you should know about mediators and mediation
In Virginia, a mediator is a specially trained, neutral third party who can help you and your spouse come to consensus on the terms of your divorce. He or she facilitates negotiations by helping each of you keep your temper, gain control of your emotions and express yourself in a constructive manner. He or she will also ensure that each of you is heard, and help you come up with creative ways to resolve any issues that crop up.
But how do you know which Northern Virginia mediator is best for you? The first step is to look for a Certified Family Mediator. A mediator can only earn this certification if he or she had been trained in family law, worked with a mediator, had practical experience, and demonstrated trustworthiness.
A competent mediator will advise each of you to seek legal advice from a qualified lawyer, so you are fully aware of your rights, responsibilities, and risks. This also ensures that you have reasonable expectations about your options and potential outcomes. Then, in a private and confidential setting, the mediator will help you reach mutually acceptable terms for your divorce.
Once each of you has the information you need to make informed decisions, you and your husband or wife may be able to resolve key issues on your own. Depending on your specific situation, these may include child custody and visitation, spousal support and/or issues related to the division of property.
As mediators, our job is to help you communicate effectively. This means that we help you learn to use neutral language to convey your message, and listen and hear the other person’s concerns. We also help you address one issue at a time, engage in creative problem solving, and reach an agreement on the terms of your divorce.
Mediation allows you and your spouse to retain control over the decision-making process, without court intervention. Accordingly, you will be deciding what’s best for you and your family, instead of relying on a judge to make those decisions for you. By working together effectively at this stage, you are setting the stage for future cooperation.
The benefits of mediation
The ability to work with a qualified professional who specializes in helping couples reach consensus on the terms of divorce, and to retain control of the decision-making process, are just two of the benefits of mediation. There are others, which we will now discuss in detail.
It’s usually quicker than litigation
If you want to want to end your marriage without getting embroiled in a protracted legal process, mediation may be the best option for you. Depending on your situation, you may be able to reach agreement on all outstanding issues in as few as two or three sessions, usually held over the course of two to four weeks. Once you get everything wrapped up, you can finalize your agreement by having your signatures notarized.
Litigation is more complicated and begins with filing a complaint for divorce. A copy must be served on the other person in accordance with applicable laws. A pendente lite (temporary) hearing is then usually scheduled. Depending on how crowded the docket is, it could be weeks before this hearing is held. Meanwhile, lawyers for each side prepare for the hearing by requesting written answers to certain questions and exchange relevant documents. The pendente lite hearing is usually fairly brief and gives the judge an opportunity to issue a temporary order regarding custody, visitation, and/or support if necessary.
If a settlement isn’t reached within a few months, the matter goes to trial. At that point, a judge will hear evidence and arguments. A “final order” pertaining to all of the matters heard will be issued at this point. If either party objects to any aspect of the final order, he or she can file an appeal; this whole process can take years.
It’s less expensive
Mediation tends to cost less than litigation. The biggest reason is what we just talked about, the process is almost always faster, which means fewer billable hours. Divorces handled through the courts can take more than a year in Northern Virginia. Conversely, with a mediator’s help, many divorcing couples can craft a parenting plan (custody, visitation, etc.) and marital settlement agreement in a month or two.
There’s less emotional fallout
In many cases, divorce creates heated emotions. Feelings of grief, rage, and anxiety are all too common. Because litigation is an adversarial process, it not only intensifies these feelings, but also creates resentment.
Because some people harbor negative feelings during divorce, mediation does not always feel cooperative. But because mediation stresses effective communication, it does not exacerbate these feelings. Sometimes, it even encourages gradual emotional healing.
As we have already noted, you and your husband or wife have a considerable say in the outcome. In fact, nothing is included in your written agreement unless both of you agree and authorize it. While there is no guarantee that everyone will be thrilled with every aspect of the agreement, most divorcing couples are able to come up with a settlement with which they both can live.
When mediation is not a viable option
Even though mediation is a good option for lots of couples, it isn’t right for everyone. For example, it is not appropriate if you are in an emotionally or physically abusive relationship where you can be bullied or coerced into accepting terms that don’t meet your needs.
Another situation in which mediation isn’t a viable option is where one person is so overwhelmed by emotions that they are incapable of engaging in any meaningful or constructive dialogue.
If your significant other has a significant substance abuse problem, it is also highly unlikely that mediation is a worthwhile option. This also holds true if an untreated mental illness renders him or her incapable of making good decisions or standing up for himself or herself.