In 2015, after 20 years of divorce litigation, I began to offer divorce mediation to my clients because no one wins in Court. By that, I mean this: you can win a court hearing, but the battle is not won. Bad feelings abound, and conflicts continue. It’s never over!
Money is a big impediment to hiring lawyers, and most people, with the help of a mediator who is experiences in family law, can reach a settlement agreement and begin their healing process. I want people to heal. Litigation does not accomplsih that goal.
WHAT IS DIVORCE MEDIATION?
Divorce mediation is when the parties agree to hire a neutral third party to find solutions to their conflict. Rather than lawyering up and duking it out in Court, mediation brings the parties to the table for meaningful discussions. In my experience, people are able to move on when they have finality. Litigation does not yield finality. Many a litigant have called my office crying, “When will it end? Why is my divorce taking so long?”
You are in control – NOT the lawyers, Judges, evaluators, forensics, or anyone else.
Every lawyer’s retainer agreement contains a “Disclaimer of Guarantee”. No lawyer can guarantee what will happen in your case. You are simply not in control. The outcome depends on the Judges, the attorneys, the evaluators, the forensics – all of their past experiences and biases. Basically, the outcome depends on circumstances beyond your control. In mediation, YOU and YOUR SPOUSE make the decisions regarding your life. You can take charge of your family, and your future. You can still have an attorney (I always advise this!), but you can choose to use your attorney as much or as little as you want.
Documents filed with the court are public record. Anyone (your children, in-laws, nosy neighbors) with a case number can access your legal documents and peep into your personal business. In mediation, there is confidentiality. Unless you two agree to the documents being filed, and what the documents say, everything else discussed is private. Why do you think the smartest of celebrities elect mediation?
You get to tell your story.
I’ve been a divorce lawyer for 23 years.
I know everyone needs to be heard. No one wants to feel alone or ignored.
Some people will FIGHT for the right to tell their story in court. But in a no-fault divorce system, very little gets heard.
The reality is that our courts are clogged. You want the Judge to hear your story? You have to file a motion and your hearing date will be set 3-4 months later.
Once you get to Court, you are vying for the Judge’s time – Judge has 20 – 55 matters on calendar. The reality is, you get very little time to tell your story in Court. (maybe 15 minutes max). Mediation, on the other hand – is all about you and your partner. You are in the room with your partner and the mediator.
You can book a half-day session (3 hours,) or full-day session (6 hours), or ten 3-hour sessions. It can go as fast or as slow as you want.
This is truth: Many people leave the Court feeling robbed of Due Process. On the other hand, people who leave mediation (even if it doesn’t settle that day), leave feeling a bit “lighter” – having been able to tell people how they feel.
Mediation is cheaper than litigation. BY A LOT.
As a litigator, my favorite quote to my clients is this: “Marriage is grand! Divorce… a hundred grand.” It is not unusual for a divorce to cost over $100,000 . The cost of hiring an attorney ranges from $500 – $1,500 per HOUR, with typical $10,000 – $50,000 replenishable retainers), per party. The costs of a mediator ($500 per hour) are shared between the parties. In mediation involving complicated issues, the parties may choose to hire Mental Health Professionals, Financial Experts, or a Parenting Plan Coordinator to aid them in the process. In addition, I always advise parties to consult with attorneys. Yet, even with all these added helpers, mediation still costs a lot less than litigation. With my many years of experience at litigation, I can help you resolve your issues in a fraction of time and fraction of cost. My mediation fees are listed here.
Mediation is a better way to handle conflict.
How many times has a client said to me, “I am SO glad we spent all this time and money fighting in court!”? None. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. The general consensus is that you go to Court only when absolutely necessary. In 90% of cases, mediation IS an option. This is true even in the bitterest of cases, or when you and your spouse are barely talking. Conflict is natural in a marriage. In a divorce, it’s expected. I believe that conflict should be resolved at all possible using mediation. Court should be the last resort.
If you have children, MEDIATION is always better than LITIGATION.
Studies after studies have shown how conflict negatively impacts children. I highly encourage the documentary “Split” by Ellen Bruno. In this film, the filmmaker interviewed several children of divorcing parents. Their testimonies will break your heart. I have a copy in my Client Library. I invite you to arrive an hour early to your consultation to view. You and your partner have made wonderful children. Why leave your parenting plan to be created by child custody evaluators, therapists, attorneys, and a Judge? Consider Mediation.
Mediation can heal you.
Sometimes court is unavoidable. Remember though, litigation may get you temporary “results”, however, it does not heal you. Even if you “win” one hearing or trial, the win is temporary because bitterness continues. More often than not, divorcing parties thrown into the court system end up worse than where they started – mentally, emotionally, and financially. Your divorce does not need to be that way. Time heals all wounds. Mediation, if done right, is a better alternative in family law. Mediation, if done right, heals.
Commitment to Action.
Studies after studies have shown that often, people ordered to do something will be less likely to commit to doing it. Child support orders often need garnishments. Contempt actions are common in litigation. In mediation, when you reach an agreement, it’s something you both can commit to. It may not be easy to reach an agreement. It may take many sessions. We may need help from other professionals. But it’s worth it.
IS MEDIATION FAIR?
Fair is the F word in Family Law. Fair is the reason people fight, because each person’s perception of fairness is different. To some, fair is paying zero spousal support because the other cheated on you. To others, fair is getting as much money as you can from the other person because they are leaving you. The law is blind, and does not apply “fairness” to situations. Frequently, fairness in divorce is not about how much you can get, but what both of you can live with.
Unlike traditional litigation, the parties are free to reach their own decision about their lives, and not bound by the unfair ruling/order of a Judge.
IS KELLY THE RIGHT MEDIATOR FOR ME?
Every mediator has their own style. Our purpose is to enable you and your partner to reach your own agreements regarding your children, finances, and property. It is important that both of you trust me to do this job; to remain neutral at all times. This is why I offer a free 15-minute Orientation. You do not have to spend a dime until you are absolutely sure that I am a good fit for your case.
I am both a “facilitative” and “evaluative” mediator. I am trained to aid in resolving conflict. With the permission of both parties, I may make suggestions and recommendations based on my experience.
I have been a family lawyer for over 23 years, and a Certified Family Law Specialist since 2008. I am a litigator, and I know what happens in Family Court. More often than not, I have “won” in court. However, the small reward of winning one hearing does not recover the money spent and years lost. Most people do not have the financial resources to fund a trial.
I am a believer in purpose. Just because you are going through a divorce does not mean you or your spouse is a bad person. Most people, with help from a trained mediator, can reach a resolution that they can live with. In most cases, I believe a mediated outcome is better than any litigated outcome.
I have experience mediating disputes. In law school, I trained with the San Diego Mediation Center. I was a volunteer mediation for the San Diego Superior Court, mediating small claims disputes for 3 years. In addition, I was one of the first mediators for SquareTrade, a online dispute resolution company. In fact, I participated in the launch of online dispute resolution services, mediating thousands of conflicts arising out of eBay transactions.
I have also trained intensively under Forrest Mosten, a pioneer divorce mediator and teacher in 2005, and again in September 2015. I am currently a Daily Settlement Officer in the Los Angeles County Family Court, where I volunteer as mediator for family law cases.
After almost 20 years of litigation, my heart goes out to the many brave souls whose paths have crossed mine during their times of need. I hope that I can truly help everyone who comes to see me. Not every case is right for mediation, but more cases deserve mediation over litigation. If you have a choice, I would advise you to give mediation a try. You always have a choice. Choose wisely.
Kelly Chang Rickert