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What is the Difference Between a Mediator and a Lawyer?

D'Cotledge Mediation
July 19, 2021

When saying your heartfelt vows at your wedding in front of everyone you love, nobody imagines themselves sitting in court, ten years later, discussing how to split assets for months on end. But, that is the reality for a fair amount of Americans as 50% of marriages end in divorce, according to the American Psychological Association. 

When faced with a divorce, you have plenty of options of what to do. Some have a prenup which does make divorce a bit easier, while others don’t. However, most couples that don’t have a prenup usually choose between a mediator or a lawyer. If you want to find out more about mediators and lawyers used in divorces, keep reading. 

First of all, what is a mediator?

A mediator is a neutral party; think of them as having the same neutrality as Switzerland. They are there to keep things civil and open a line of peaceful discussion between either party. A mediator does not give any legal advice and doesn’t represent anyone. 

Mediators can come from all types of backgrounds, so it is best to do your research before hiring one. For example, mediators can have a history of being a family law attorney, a judge, a mental health professional, or even a divorce attorney. 

Mediators that have been professionally trained in mediation and know how to stay neutral and on task are the best mediators to hire for a divorce. 

What happens if I choose a mediator over a lawyer?

Suppose you hire a mediator during a divorce instead of a lawyer. In that case, the mediator will be focused more on helping solve disagreements between both parties to make the divorce go more smoothly. The mediator will help both clients compromise and find agreeable solutions to issues required to end their marriage out of court. 

In most divorce mediation cases, a mediator will cost less than a lawyer and possible court fees. In some cases, the former couple might have kids together, which means having a civil relationship should be very important to both parties. In addition, the mediator might be able to help create a peaceful dialogue between both parties, which could lay the groundwork for a courteous relationship in the future. 

It is important to note that while a mediator will be fully involved in negotiations and meetings between the spouses, each party will still be in full control of the decisions that are made. There will be no judge that will make the choices for them after hearing both of their cases; each partner will have to compromise with each other. 

If a mediator is used during a divorce, the couple will not have to hire a lawyer. A lawyer can be involved if one of the parties requests to have a lawyer present, but it is an optional choice.

Three reasons to choose a mediator:

1. To keep a divorce peaceful

Divorce can be stressful, and it’s easy to lash out at your former partner, which is why a mediator might be a good third party to keep around. The mediator can help ensure that each party has a fair chance to speak their mind without insulting their former spouse, which can help the couple learn how to compromise. 

This civil communication can be very important if the former partners have kids. No kids should have to see their parents argue in a lengthy divorce, so keeping a peaceful relationship can benefit almost everyone’s mental health. 

2. To save money and time

Divorce can be very expensive. The fees for a lawyer, court, sometimes a whole defense team, etc. can stack up and put people in debt. Not only does it cost hundreds to thousands of dollars, it can also take months or even years to finalize. 

Getting a mediator instead can help save money and time. A mediator is much cheaper than a lawyer and doesn’t come with court fees. Also, depending on how well the couple can communicate, divorce mediation can take one-quarter of the time it would take when working with lawyers.

3. Have full control over your divorce

Since a mediator is just there to make sure all conversations are peaceful, the spouses will be in full control of all negotiations, which can be a blessing in some cases. Both parties can make personal decisions that benefit them both without a lawyer taking full control. In most cases, two spouses probably will be able to understand what each of them wants out of a divorce better than a lawyer who has met them only a handful of times before. 

What is a Lawyer?

A lawyer, unlike a mediator, is meant to represent their client and fight for whatever their client wants out of the lawsuit, divorce, custody, etc. A lawyer is not allowed to represent two parties in the same lawsuit. Each lawyer’s goal is to find and achieve the most favorable outcome for their client. 

What happens if I choose a lawyer?

Typically, if lawyers are hired for a divorce by each party, then each lawyer will try to negotiate and resolve any issues to allow the marriage to end as favorably as possible. However, things can change during a divorce, and it can take a fair amount of time for a couple to divorce if they own a lot of assets together or have kids.

If an agreement was not reached, the divorce can be taken to the family court system. That can be a very lengthy and intense process for some couples because of the time and money spent on court fees. A divorce attorney can even be hired at this point. 

The court can even involve witnesses like neighbors, friends, or even their children to testify about the marriage in question. Each lawyer will do their best to represent their client in the best way possible and try to convince the judge to give their client what they want. 

Eventually, the family law judge will decide the outcome of the divorce, which includes but is not limited to custody, child support, property, assets, debt, alimony, etc. 

Three reasons to choose a lawyer:

1. One spouse refuses to mediate or is disabled

Sometimes, divorce isn’t black and white. In some cases, a spouse will refuse to mediate because they would rather deal with a lawyer. If so, then that’s a good enough reason to also want a lawyer. 

However, if your spouse is an addict or is not mentally sound enough to make their own decisions, it also might be best to get a lawyer. Mediation works best when both parties are sound of mind and can help make decisions for themselves. In some cases, some spouses can’t and will need a lawyer to help them make decisions. 

2. There is abuse in the relationship

If someone is fearful of their spouse due to abuse in the past, or even present, then mediation will most likely not work for them. Mediation is all about compromise and finding a middle ground, which can be impossible if a spouse has suffered verbal, physical, or emotional abuse at the hands of another spouse. 

Manipulation from an abusive spouse can put enough fear in the other spouse to make decisions they don’t want to make. In this case, it is probably best to get a lawyer and go to court. 

3. One spouse might be hiding money, assets, or debt

Marriages end for a lot of different reasons; one of those reasons might be deceit. It’s hard to meditate with someone who may be lying, as mediation requires clarity. If you fear that your spouse might be lying to you about money (whether that be how much or little they have), then getting a lawyer is your best bet. At court, a lawyer can file a motion to request to see any documentation that may prove or deny your suspicions. 

Which option is better?

Ultimately the choice between a mediator and lawyer is one that should be made between the spouses. If former spouses know that they wouldn’t be able to compromise well and don’t mind spending time and money in court, then a lawyer will probably best suit them. However, if the couple knows that they can communicate decently (or at least well enough with a third party involved), then they should save the money and hire a mediator. 

Divorce can be very difficult no matter the length of the marriage, but finding the right legal professional for you can make all of the difference. Mediators can help solve disputes and open communication for couples that are willing, while lawyers can negotiate for their clients that don’t have a civil line of communication. So, when choosing between a mediator and a lawyer, it’s best to do your research and find one that best suits you and your former partner’s needs and relationship. 

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