Frequently Asked Questions
There are three main reasons why you should choose the experienced mediators at West Coast Family Mediation Center. First, we are dedicated to the art of peaceful conflict resolution. Your post-divorce relationship doesn’t need to be full of resentment and hostility. We can assist your family in creating a peaceful transition from marriage through divorce and into your life post-divorce.
Second, all of our mediators work full-time solely as family mediators. Hence, they have the experience of working with hundreds of families each year to figure out the best solution for each couple and family. It takes a very different set of skills to be a mediator vs. a litigator. Unlike many mediators who also litigate, we believe it’s important to focus solely on mediating to be the best problem-solvers and facilitators of communication we can. Since all of our mediators have their law degree, extensive mediation training, and most are also Certified Divorce Financial Analysts (CDFM™), they have the education and knowledge to assist with the legal issues as well as the emotional and financial issues couples face during divorce.
Third, unlike litigation, we are very flexible when it comes to scheduling your appointment. We accept morning and evening appointments to accommodate all work schedules. Our mediators also offer online mediation for added convenience. We understand that life is demanding and only becomes more so during a divorce. We will do our best to ensure we are available to meet with you and get your divorce completed in an efficient manner while allowing you time and flexibility when needed.
There are many reasons to choose mediation over litigation. Mediation is far less expensive than litigation and less stressful for you and your family (especially children). In California, mediation is also confidential and private, unlike litigation, in which hearings are open to the public and anything you do or say will end up on a public court record. Additionally, mediation offers you the unique ability to stay in control of your future, speak your mind, and achieve genuine closure through communication. To learn more about the reasons for choosing mediation, see our full page titled, “Why Mediation?”
Unlike attorneys who charge hourly, we use a flat fee model, so you will know from the start how much mediation will cost. Our fees range depending on how many mediation sessions your particular case will require. Our flat rate packages include between two to six sessions, depending on the complexity of the case. The mediation process is always a fraction of what most couples would spend in court. At your initial free consultation, your mediator will discuss our fees and you can decide which package is best for your situation.
This depends in part on your situation and complexity of the issues you are facing. Under California law, there is a mandatory six (6) month waiting period between the date a divorce is filed (and served) and the date the couple can be officially divorced. However, we can complete the mediation process and help get you to agreements well before the six months have passed. In that case, the agreement has been filed, and you’re just waiting for the six months to go by until your divorce is officially complete.
If you and your spouse have the desire to work together and the willingness to compromise to resolve your conflicts outside of the court system, you should be able to complete your divorce through mediation. But despite the best of intentions, sometimes mediation does come to an impasse. While we can work through most impasses with couples, mediation isn’t always the best fit for every couple. If either you decide that you no longer wish to proceed with mediation, then you can continue your divorce within the court system.
Since divorce mediation is a much more affordable option, there is little financial risk in trying, even if it isn’t successful, since much of the work we do in mediation, such as financial disclosures, is still necessarily in litigation. Most couples that begin mediation are successful, and save themselves tens of thousands of dollars. Just keep in mind that mediation can be challenging, and it is important not to give up.
Reconciliation does occasionally occur in our office. Sometimes all you need is effective communication to get your marriage back on track. If you and your spouse decide to reconcile and stop progress on your divorce, we can put together what we call a “martial contract” (also called a postnuptial agreement). A marital contract can act as a resource guide for what you discussed in mediation, and provide you with tools to solve any future conflicts that may arise in your marriage. Like every relationship, every marital contract is unique. Your mediator can discuss what your marital contract would look like in the context of your sessions.
The final terms of your divorce agreement are drafted into a marital settlement agreement (MSA). Each of you has an opportunity to review the MSA draft on your own, and to have it reviewed by a separate attorney or other professional of your choice. Once final revisions have been made, it is signed by both you and your spouse. The MSA is filed in the court along with the final court documents, and becomes an enforceable court order (ie., your divorce decree) once the Judge signs your Agreement.
While we cannot know how much you will ultimately spend in mediation combined with other associated costs, we can guarantee that your mediation will be a fraction of the cost compared to litigation. Many couples who hire a consulting attorney only do so to review the final settlement agreement and therefore only pay for the hours necessary to review and discuss. We can refer you to several mediation-friendly attorneys who provide this service.
When you go through the court system, your lawyer is not your only litigation expense. There are a whole lot of other professionals and fees you will pay: paralegals, court reporters, messengers, expert witnesses, consulting experts, photocopiers, document processors, travel expenses, court filing fees, etc. Even with all of those expenses, lawyers don’t settle all lawsuits in direct negotiations. Quite often, an attorney will hire a mediator in the late stages of litigation. After all the discovery, depositions, motions, and pre-trial legal fees have been paid, your lawyer is likely to hire a mediator to help settle the case just before trial. In the end, many couples find that they wind up paying for both a lawyer and a mediator regardless of which they pay first.
The marital settlement agreement (MSA) is filed with the court and will become your divorce judgment is an enforceable court order that must be followed by you and your spouse. In mediation, you and your spouse are involved in the process of creating your agreement, which is why agreements made via mediation are more likely to be voluntarily followed. If one of you violates the terms of the MSA, you can come back to mediation to work out your issues with the agreement or you can always file a motion in the court.
Your division of assets and debts is a final order that cannot be renegotiated. On the other hand, a parenting plan and/or a support order are modifiable (unless the spousal support was agreed to be unmodifiable). Your current “custody order” or parenting plan is likely to be changed as time goes on. Children grow and change, family schedules change, and modifications will be needed.
As mediators, we routinely assist couples in modifying their existing parenting plans to create a plan that works for everyone. The new parenting plan will be filed with the court and replace your existing order. And as a courtesy to all of our past clients, we will always recalculate support numbers free of charge if there is a change in circumstances. If you decide to modify your current support order or need mediation to discuss, our hourly rate will apply.
Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit us (or any mediator) from advising you on your legal rights while we’re acting as your mediator. We cannot ethically advise you, and that is to your advantage. If you choose to have a lawyer, your lawyer is just that—your lawyer. They have a duty of loyalty to you and, in this dispute, to you alone. As mediators we can’t have loyalty to you over the other person. That is to your advantage. Your mediator works with both of you and for both of you, so while your mediator can give legal information they cannot provide legal advice to either of you
Like a judge, the law considers us a neutral. Like a judge managing the litigation, a mediator manages the mediation. Unlike a judge, who is there to decide your case for you, we are here for your benefit. Our job is to help you reach the agreement that is your best solution for you and your family.
So your lawyer (should you choose to have one) and your mediator have different jobs. That specialization is to your benefit: a lawyer protects and advises you on your legal rights, and we manage the mediation process. We each get to focus on what we do best, and you will benefit accordingly.
If you and your spouse can resolve all of your issues within the mediation process, you will never have to set foot in court. Your mediator will take care of drafting and filing all of the necessary court documents. Once everything is filed with the court, the judge will review the agreement before they sign it. Your mediator will discuss with you to let you know if there is something that may be flagged by the judge beforehand, so you will have the choice to remove it or try to push it through. While there are some rare exceptions, the vast majority of mediation clients will never be required to make a court appearance throughout their divorce.
One of the services we offer is premarital mediation. This service is meant to assist you and your future spouse to have important conversations before you get married. Too often couples do not discuss their current financial situation or future financial and family goals before they get married. During the mediation, we’ll talk with both of you about these issues and can draft your premarital agreement (aka prenuptial agreement) for you. However, the mediation does not have to end with a written agreement, and it can just be used as a safe space to learn more about each other and memorialize each of your “starting positions” so to speak. See Premarital Mediation, Premarital Financial Mediation, and Prenuptial Agreements to learn more.
Blended family mediation can help you bring two (or more) families together in a respectful way. Blending families can be one of the most stressful matters for a married couple. You and your new spouse only want to start your “happily ever after,” but the truth of what it means to bring two families together can begin to hit you once reality settles in. Just as mediation helped you through your divorce, it can also help you through this. The future of your family depends on all parties getting on the same page as soon as possible. See Blended Family Mediation to learn more.
We have mediators available that carry a CDFA™ designation, which means that they have completed additional courses and training on how the divorce will affect you financially. This allows us to look deeper into the financial aspects of the divorce and help you understand what they mean in the short term and long term. Working with you to understand the financial implications of the divorce—from the marital home, to a business, to tax issues—helps you make smarter decisions. While your mediator cannot give tax or legal advice, we’re here to help you better understand the situation and refer you to the right professionals when you do need advice. See Divorce financial mediation & analysis (CDFA™) for more information.