Do I Need a Lawyer?
Many mediations don’t require a lawyer, but there are some situations in which consulting a lawyer is a smart thing to do and may be recommended by the mediator. It is recommended that the parties obtain legal counsel to write up the divorce agreement after a mediated settlement agreement has been reached. The role of lawyers representing parties involved in mediation is quite different than in other types of divorce. Parties in mediation are less likely to need a lawyer to advocate for them because they are trying to work together to solve their problems, not trying to convince a judge of their point of view.
Some people do not have lawyers when they first contact a mediator. Some believe that retaining lawyers will make the process more adversarial; others want to save on expenses; and some have already reached some form of consensus and are simply looking for a process and person to aid in the conversations.
In many mediation cases, if parties have already filed for divorce and thus obtained attorneys, the attorneys do not attend the mediation, but are simply available for consultation by their client. It can be beneficial for the parties to have a lawyer advise them about their rights and responsibilities since mediators are neutral and not acting as attorneys, and as such they do not provide any legal or other advice to any of the parties. In other cases, clients decide to have attorneys present during the mediation.
Not every divorcing couple needs the same degree of a lawyer’s involvement. Some people choose to have just one good consultation with a lawyer prior to beginning mediation. Others prefer a lawyer who can answer their questions and suggest solutions throughout the mediation process. Some bring their lawyers to the mediation sessions. Others retain a lawyer only to write and file the final agreement. The rules of mediation are few and straightforward, and the mediator is responsible for maintaining the integrity of the mediation process so that the parties can usually handle the process on their own without too much trouble, thereby reducing the total costs.
Mary Sanger is a trained mediator in divorce and family mediation.