In general, mediation is significantly less expensive than litigation. However, there are a number of factors that can affect the cost of mediation including geographical location, mediator experience, and the complexity of the dispute.
In addition, the parties to the conflict can often share the cost of mediation. This can eliminate any feeling that one party is paying a greater share of the fees and it can also encourage the parties to come to a quick resolution.
Court costs can be high and can quickly add up. By contrast, a negotiated settlement in mediation can be completed in sessions over a few months and can save thousands of dollars in legal fees. Furthermore, the costs of a court case can also destroy a relationship or family whereas a mediated agreement may help to keep hostilities to a minimum and allow the couple to remain on good terms going forward.
Most states have courts that offer family mediation at low or no cost and some even require mediation of custody issues in divorce cases. Mediation can also be offered through privately-hired private mediation providers who charge an hourly rate. Attorney-mediators generally charge more than nonattorney-mediators and rates can vary depending on the mediator’s specialized training and credentials, geographic area, and experience (with higher rates usually seen in metropolitan areas). Some private mediation providers offer sliding scale fees based on income level.
The length of the dispute will also influence the costs of mediation. If the issue is complex, it will take longer to resolve and you will need more sessions. However, mediation can be accelerated by the parties’ willingness to discuss their issues openly and honestly and by the couple’s ability to compromise. It can also be influenced by outside experts, such as financial consultants, real estate appraisers, and those who specialize in dividing retirement accounts. These experts are typically more costly than the mediator but they are not usually as expensive as bringing in a lawyer to testify at a trial.
While there are many benefits to mediation, it is not always successful. Some disputes are so contentious that it is impossible to reach a resolution in mediation. In addition, mediation can be time-consuming and difficult to schedule as the parties often have full-time jobs and families.
Other factors that can impact the cost of mediation include the amount of paperwork required, whether or not a lawyer will participate in mediation, and how long it takes for the mediator to complete the mediated marital settlement agreement. In addition, some mediators try to rack up billable hours by having the parties fill out forms and worksheets during the sessions or by extending the session beyond its scheduled time. A quality mediator will be very clear about how much time they expect each session to last and how the session fee will be charged. A mediator who does not provide this information can leave the parties with an unpleasant surprise at the end of a mediation session.