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How does divorce mediation in Rhode Island work?

Sometimes, despite all the anger, sadness and hurt that lead a couple to decide to divorce, they may still want to find a dignified way to end their marriage without having to go give up control of the conversation and process as occurs in  litigation, which can be stressful, time-consuming and expensive. For these couples, divorce mediation may be a wonderful option. Through mediation, couples in Rhode Island can resolve their divorce issues without protracted litigation.  Once they have reached an agreement in mediation, they can use the agreed upon terms to put their divorce through before the RI Family Court.

Through mediation, the couple will meet with a neutral mediator in a number of sessions that in general last between one to two hours each. At the first meeting, the couple, along with the mediator, will decide what divorce issues should be addressed through the mediation process and the order in which they will do so. After that, the mediator begins the process of determining the important facts.  This occurs by allowing each of the parties to speak about what they perceive are the issues and facts.  Parties can express their needs/wants and fears.  The parties will then have "homeowrk" to prepare a budget on a form that the RI Court requires and they will obtain all sorts of financial information (copies of income tax returns, bank statements, retirement account statements, credit card and loan statements, etc).  These same documents would be needed if the parties litigated. 

Parties may also speak to other professionals, such as financial experts. This is not unlike what would have to be done if the couple chose to litigate their divorce; however, the process is quicker, cheaper and allows the parties to vocalize their thoughts. Don't worry, experienced mediators will stop one person's bullying or dominance over the other person.

During the following meetings, the couple will determine how to reach an agreement on their divorce legal issues. Some issues that may need to be discussed include property division, child custody, child and spousal support and health and life insurance issues. In this process, each party must be willing to make a full financial disclosure and focus on each party's interests instead of the anger and hurt that can lead to a protracted and long process. I believe that often a party may need some time to vent, and then move on to find a reasonable resolution leading to the next chapter in his/her life.

Once the couple has reached an agreement on all of the issues they identified, the mediator will draft a Memorandum containing the terms the parties agreed upon to look over and approve. If the mediator is also a lawyer, clients may ask the mediator to file the court paperwork for them. I believe that it is unethical for the mediator, hired as a neutral party, to them represent one of the parties in the court process; the lawyer would them have an obligation in representing one of the parties to work in his/her best interest.  Some client ask if they still need to go to court to get their divorce if they mediate.  In RI, the answer is yes.  Only a state court can grant the divorce after hearing the testimony of the parties (concerning their agreement). 

Source: FindLaw, "Divorce Mediation FAQ," Accessed Jan. 8, 2017

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