For couples divorcing through mediation, working with a “consulting attorney” can provide vital support throughout the mediation process, and ultimately, in reaching a durable settlement. Before highlighting the ways in which consulting attorneys can help you in a mediation, I’ll explain a bit about what it looks like to work with one.
The initial consultation is an opportunity for you to explain to your consulting attorney the details of your situation, to receive general guidance about what to expect in the mediation process, and to get answers to any specific questions you may have.
You begin with an initial consultation, typically before your first mediation session or shortly after the mediation process has begun. The initial consultation is an opportunity for you to explain to your consulting attorney the details of your situation, to receive general guidance about what to expect in the mediation process, and to get answers to any specific questions you may have.
Following that initial consultation, the frequency of contact between client and consulting attorney varies pretty widely. You may speak with your consulting attorney regularly, checking in in advance of or following mediation sessions. At the other end of the spectrum, you may not have another conversation with your consulting attorney until your term sheet or agreement draft is ready. Or anywhere in between. It completely depends on your needs.
More often than not, there will be an issue or two that you and your spouse find challenging, which your consulting attorney will support you in working through. In particular, your consulting attorney will help you to (i) pinpoint and minimize possible trouble spots between you and your spouse; (ii) understand key points of New York divorce law as they apply to specific issues that arise in your mediation, (iii) brainstorm and frame settlement options to propose; and (iv) assess settlement proposals from your spouse.
Once you’ve negotiated the terms of your settlement in mediation, your consulting attorney will review those terms with you and ultimately will provide a detailed review of your separation agreement (i.e., the contract that comes out of a mediation process). However straightforward your agreement seems in principle, the actual document ranges from 30 to 80 pages long and is challenging to review, especially if you’re not used to reviewing documents of its kind. It helps to have an experienced matrimonial attorney on your side, to give your agreement a close read.
You may be reading this and thinking, “But I chose mediation to avoid working with divorce attorneys!” That’s understandable. No one going through a divorce wants their divorce to be commandeered and made more expensive, complicated and acrimonious by the very attorneys who are supposed to be helping them. However, working with attorneys does not always have that effect. Finding and working with the right consulting attorney can, in fact, facilitate your mediation process and be key to your success.