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Is Mediation Binding?

Law Office of MariAnn Hathaway Oct. 12, 2023

Business people shake hands while negotiating a business dealMany people think that ending a marriage is messy and expensive, but the truth is that it does not always have to be this way. Today, many married couples are turning to mediation as an alternative to traditional divorce litigation. But what is mediation and is it really a good option for you? And, more importantly, is divorce mediation legally binding? These questions may be on your mind if you are exploring your options when filing for divorce.  

At the Law Office of MariAnn Hathaway, our divorce mediator helps clients ensure that their dispute resolution is as successful as possible to avoid the stress and expense of going to court.  

What Is Divorce Mediation?  

Divorce mediation is an alternative dispute resolution method for couples who wish to end their marriage amicably without having to step foot in court. Mediation involves selecting a neutral, third-party mediator and scheduling sessions to allow the couple to discuss the issues surrounding their divorce. Such issues include but are not limited to: 

The end goal of mediation is for both spouses to come to a mutually beneficial agreement that spells out how the parties have agreed to resolve their issues. The mediator plays a critical role during the mediation process because it is the mediator’s job to facilitate communication between the parties and manage settlement negotiations. However, a mediator does not have control over the outcome nor can he/she make decisions for the parties or provide legal advice.  

While divorce mediation is voluntary in the state of Pennsylvania, courts may require divorcing couples to attend an orientation session to learn more about the benefits of mediation.  

Is Mediation Legally Binding?  

Any agreements made between the spouses during mediation are not legally binding unless the parties create a written, fully executed agreement. Since mediation is voluntary, any party is free to abandon mediation at any stage, which means any verbal agreements made between the parties will not be binding.  

However, if the parties enter into a written agreement as a result of mediation, the written agreement will be legally binding. Once the parties reach a resolution on the issues, a mediator will prepare a Memorandum of Understanding, a written document that contains the agreed-upon resolution. While a Memorandum of Understanding is not a legally binding document on its own, it can be used to create a marital settlement agreement.  

An experienced mediator will be able to assist the couple with incorporating the terms spelled out in the memorandum when drafting a legally binding and enforceable marital settlement agreement.  

How Is Mediation Beneficial?  

Mediation is a popular alternative dispute resolution method among divorcing couples for the following reasons: 

  • Both spouses can control the process and the outcome. 

  • Spouses can save money in court and legal fees. 

  • The process is less stressful and less adversarial. 

  • Couples can protect their privacy to the greatest extent possible. 

  • Both spouses can express themselves during mediation. 

  • Spouses can end their marriages faster to move on with their lives. 

If only one spouse wants to try mediation but the other doesn’t, mediation will not be effective. In addition, both parties must be willing to work together and make compromises. However, not all divorcing couples are able to maintain a respectful and productive dialogue, which is why mediation is not for everyone.  

How to Prepare for Mediation 

Many couples have a vague understanding of the mediation process. However, you need to know what to expect at mediation sessions and how to prepare to ensure a successful outcome.  

  • How to prepare. Once you and your spouse select a mediator and schedule the first session, you should gather any information that may be relevant during mediation sessions. Work with a divorce attorney to identify your key interests, reality-check your case, and determine the non-negotiables.  

  • What to bring. If you and your spouse have made any agreements so far and signed any documents, bring those documents with you. In addition, bring court files, if any, as well as asset and debt-related data, such as bank statements, employment information, tax returns, and others. While you may not need all of these documents at your first sessions, organizing them beforehand can streamline the process.  

  • What to expect. Mediation sessions usually take place in a room with just you, your spouse, the mediator, and your attorneys. When the session begins, the mediator will go over the rules of mediation as well as explain the parties’ rights and obligations. The parties then make their opening statements, which are basically a summary of the key issues that will be discussed during the session. Then, the parties will go to separate rooms, where the mediator will alternatively discuss the issues with one party and then confer with the other party. The mediator will go back and forth between the rooms to help the parties find common ground. At the end of the session, the mediator will assign some “homework” for the next session.  

Mediation sessions usually last about an hour, though more complex cases may require each session to last from two to three hours. With attorneys present, parties are more likely to make more progress during mediation sessions and reach an effective resolution faster.  

Get Your Questions Answered  

Our mediator at the Law Office of MariAnn Hathaway guides divorcing couples in Pennsylvania to an amicable closure and ensures that any agreements they reach at mediation are legally binding. If you want to discuss the possibility of mediation in your divorce case, contact our office today and schedule a time to meet with MariAnn Hathaway. We are based in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, but serve individuals and couples throughout Washington County.