Every divorce is different, and, more often that not, difficult, lengthy and costly. So when it comes to confronting legal separation, local divorce lawyers look to give their clients options tailored to their needs.

An increasingly popular alternative is divorce mediation, touted for its high-control, low-conflict, cost-effective and time-efficient qualities. During mediation, the husband and wife meet with a neutral third party—a mediator—who facilitates negotiation and assists them in drawing up a divorce agreement. Mediations are strictly volun- tary, confidential and collaborative, says Sam Hais, of Hais, Hais, Goldberger & Coyne. Each party is in control, sharing his or her goals for the divorce outcome, while also receiving support and ideas for compromise from the mediator. “A judge is impartial and is not there to protect either party; a mediator is there to protect both parties and deliver a settlement that is agreeable for every- one,” Hais notes. He adds that some couples opt for mediation because it allows them to stay in control of their divorce—reaching final choices between themselves rather than leaving the decisions to a judge’s discretion. “Some believe it is more apt to have a longer-lasting, if not a permanent, solution.”

And while traditional divorce proceedings can cost thousands of dollars and drag on for months, or even years, mediation may run less than $1,000 and reach completion in a few hours. Typically, a mediator will charge $100 to $300 an hour. The time spent in mediation meetings, which can range from a one-hour session to multiple sessions, will determine the final cost. “For the right couple in the right context, with a good, competent mediator, it can be a very rewarding, time-saving and cost- effective process,” Hais says.

Kirk Stange, of Stange Law Firm, agrees, but also notes that mediation will only work if parties are on the same page when it comes to major issues. The process can quickly reach a positive outcome for both sides if the couple only differs on smaller issues. But in the case of larger conflicts, such as each parent desiring full custody of the children, it is unlikely a mediator will be able to lead them toward a compromise. Additionally, Hais notes, if one spouse has been dominant over another in relation to decision-making throughout the marriage, the mediator will have a difficult time overcoming that obstacle in order to reach a resolution.

Yet, no matter the couple or the separation circumstances, Stange recommends everyone facing a divorce participate in at least one hour- long mediation session.