Archive for April 2018

Is Divorce Mediation Legally Binding?

Divorce mediation can provide a useful alternative to working with attorneys, but there are some details you need to know to make it legally binding. Photo: MrHayata/Creative Commons License

Divorce mediation can provide a useful alternative to working with attorneys, but there are some details you need to know to make it legally binding. Photo: MrHayata/Creative Commons License

Legally Binding Agreements Are Possible with Divorce Mediation

Frequently someone will tell me a particular family law case is not appropriate for mediation because they don’t believe they will get a legally binding agreement out of the process. This frustrates me, because it is so far from the truth.  Let’s explore the key question: is divorce mediation binding?  The short answer: yes.  There are easy ways to make sure your divorce mediation is binding. Let’s talk about them in more detail.

Be sure you understand the limitations of a handshake agreement in mediation.

Handshake agreements are NOT binding

Often, parties to a mediation will make small agreements, or “handshake” agreements.  These type of agreements will not be binding on anyone if they end up being fought over in litigation.

There are times when people mutually agree on a handshake to seal a deal to make it enforceable. Mediators sometimes employ simple handshake agreements in divorce mediation.  Perhaps two parents want to agree in good faith they will pay for a child’s college tuition. But they don’t want to put themselves in a position of violating a court order if for some reason anything changes due to loss of employment or an expensive medical emergency, which would make paying for college impossible. These folks will agree in principle — or morally — they will work cooperatively to pay for college.  However, such moral or handshake agreements are NOT binding.

Put your mediated agreement in writing if you intend it to be legally binding. Photo: Antonio Litterio/Wikimedia

Put your mediated agreement in writing if you intend it to be legally binding. Photo: Antonio Litterio/Wikimedia

To make divorce mediation legally binding, get it in writing

When you are ready to sign off on an enforceable agreement, get it in writing. Most attorney mediators will create the legal document for you to sign. If you are working with a non-attorney mediator, he or she will probably prepare a memorandum of understanding. You can then take this paperwork to an attorney to draft a binding document. Once all parties sign, the agreement is binding like any other contract.

Follow the Code of Civl Procedure to ensure agreement enforcement

The California Code of Civil Procedure (CCP) section 664.6 provides a way for agreements reached pending settlement to be enforced by the court.  Section 664.6 provides:

“If parties to pending litigation stipulate, in a writing signed by the parties outside the presence of the court or orally before the court, for settlement of the case, or part thereof, the court, upon motion, may enter judgment pursuant to the terms of the settlement. If requested by the parties, the court may retain jurisdiction over the parties to enforce the settlement until performance in full of the terms of the settlement.”

Sometimes when parties reach an agreement during their divorce mediation, I will write up the notes of the settlement on a legal pad and note it is a binding agreement pursuant to CCP 664.6. When the parties sign, the agreement is binding and the Court will enforce it.

Have your attorney review your mediated agreement

Before anyone signs on the dotted line, I always advise parties to have a lawyer review their agreement. As the mediator, I have to be neutral like Switzerland. This means I can’t advise you about your legal rights or your best interests without violating legal ethics. Parties should have a lawyer who can review documents and provide the necessary legal advice before signing.  This reduces your risk, and guarantees everyone is making informed decisions.

Only a judge can ensure your mediated divorce settlement is legally binding and enforceable under the law.

Only a judge can ensure your mediated divorce settlement is legally binding and enforceable under the law.

Only a judge can make your agreement legally enforceable

It is your option to send your mediated agreement to a judge for signature. This is particularly common when you use mediation to create a final marital settlement agreement for your divorce. The mediator sends the signed agreement to the Court for the judge’s signature. Once the judge signs, the agreement becomes an order of the court.  This means it is enforceable just like any other order of the court. This is the only way you can turn to the legal system in the future if someone violates any portion of the agreement.

 

Does mediation sound like the right process for you?  Call us at 858-410-0144 to make an appointment with San Diego Divorce Mediator Shawn Weber today.

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Does Divorce Mediation Work for Complicated Financial Issues?

Complicated financial issues can make a divorce complicated. Mediation can help you sort out your issues.

Complicated financial issues can make a divorce seem complicated. Mediation can help you sort out your issues.

One common myth about divorce mediation deserves a debunking:  You can’t mediate when there are complicated financial issues. This advice is completely wrong. The opposite is true. The more complex your divorce finances, mediation offers the best way to sort them out without resorting to expensive litigation.

Comparing costly, stressful divorce litigation in court, and the same divorce process using mediation, these are the reasons why mediation can be a better choice for complicated fiancial situations.

Financial disclosure same for mediation as in court

Financial declarations in divorce cases are the same no matter whether you go to court, or pursue alternative dispute resolution.

Financial declarations in divorce cases are the same no matter whether you go to court, or pursue alternative dispute resolution.

Courts require the identical forms used in mediation. Parties complete an Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150) and a Schedule of Assets and Debts (FL-142). The law requires disclosure of all material facts and circumstances related to money – whether asked for or not.

Additionally, parties can have financial disclosures reviewed by counsel before agreeing to anything. Whether your divorce is simple or you have profoundly complicated financial issues, your divorce process will require full disclosure. There is no difference between mediation and litigation in the level of detail.

Because mediation relies on informal discovery rather than formal and expensive discovery, people actually tend to get more information in mediation than in litigation.

Lawyers know the name of the game when served with discovery in a litigated case is to provide as little information as legally possible.  It’s even more the case when there are complicated financial issues.  But in a mediation, the information tends to be more forthcomingbecause people are not being forced into tedious formal discovery processes.  This may seem counterintuitive, but actually it’s human nature.  When people are forced to do things they tend not to cooperate.  When things are more voluntary, people are less threatened and more likely to do what they are supposed to do.

Use a neutral financial specialist in mediation

The financial specialist can help gather information when there are complicated financial issues. Sometimes the parties may not know which questions to ask relating to the divorce finances.  The financial specialist can help know what questions need to be asked and can also alert parties to red flags.  This is especially helpful when the parties are at different levels of knowledge relating to the finances.  The financial specialist helps bring people to a level playing field.  Reports that the financial specialists produce can be very helpful in uncovering options and finding pathways to settlement.

Mediation lets you be creative with solutions for your divorce finances

Judges must follow the law. The law isn’t flexible. Judges have limited options to offer you. But when people mediate, they are free to create a settlement best for the family.

I have seen many “outside-the-box” settlements in mediation. Most are far better for the family than what a court could ever provide.

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There is no risk in mediation. Parties are not required or pressured to enter into any agreements without the option to talk with a lawyer before signing. You can have an agreement reviewed by your own financial professional at any point.  This ensures parties are not left to their own devices when considering challenging money questions.

Avoid shark attorneys who discourage mediation

Shark type attorneys will discourage you from mediating. They might tell you court is your only option. Be skeptical. If you have significant assets, they want your case. This serves their interests, not yours. They know they can make a ton more money if they can fight over your financial issues.

Don’t get sucked into a litigated case when you don’t need to. You might believe your case is so difficult, only a judge can sort things out. In today’s family courts, judges do not have the time to spend on complicated details. Those details important to you can be lost. A skilled mediator can handle any issue you present. Mediators take all the time you need to be sure you address and resolve each detail to your satisfaction.

Make sure your mediator possesses the training and experience necessary. When things get complicated, he or she should be willing to bring in additional experts. Ask whether he or she has worked with couples in circumstances similar to yours. Your mediator should be able to offer examples. Don’t work with someone getting on the job training during your case.

Read more about money and mediation:

Mediating Your Divorce When The Other Party Is a Bully

We Don’t Get Along Very Well. How Can We Possibly Mediate Our Divorce?

Will I Be Able to Keep the House?