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The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on a wide variety of legal issues in the Province of Alberta. This service is provided by Calgary Legal Guidance funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.
This topic will discuss divorce mediation.
Mediation is a form of negotiation by which to resolve family matters regarding your children, your property, and the financial support of a spouse and children. Mediation is the preferred method of making decisions. You and your spouse will speak to what you want and then attempt to resolve your differences. You work out your differences. All decisions that are agreed to will be your own. In Canada, lawyers have a duty to inform their clients that divorce mediation services are available to assist in settling your family matters and in reaching a reasonable agreement.
To assist you with this process, there is a mediator, not a marriage counsellor, to sit with you and your spouse at the table. The mediator provides an avenue of communication between you for each of the family matters that must be determined. They have a duty to keep the negotiations confidential and will ask that you and your spouse do the same unless either of you need to consult with your lawyers. The mediator is often a social worker, a psychologist, a lawyer or other professional. Their role is to be neutral. This means that they cannot side with you or your spouse. They do not decide what is right and wrong between you and your spouse. They help to keep the discussions going. The mediator has a duty to tell before you begin that you or your spouse may end the mediation at any time.
The mediator will start the mediation only after you and your spouse agree to mediation. If you contact the mediator, the mediator will ask your spouse to confirm that they enter willingly into the mediation. The mediator will also ask whether you or your spouse wish to have your own lawyers assist with the legal aspects of custody, access, and maintenance and property division.
The mediator will describe the process of mediation. The mediator controls the process of the discussions and you and your spouse control what is to be discussed. The process is the order and the time at which the topics are to be discussed. For example, there may be only one, or two topics discussed per session. The mediator will, first, deal with any emergency conflicts between you and your spouse. For example, if you deny your spouse access to the child because they not paying enough children support, the mediator attempt to resolve this conflict.
Other topics include the financial situations of both you and your spouse. You and your spouse must provide full and honest information about your financial situation. Some homework may be required so that an accurate report can be provided. In another session, the topic of property division may be discussed. Other sessions will deal with the children, who the children will live with, child support, decision making for the children, and the visiting rights of the other parent. The mediator will encourage you and your spouse to make decisions that suit your needs.
Mediation requires compromise. You and your spouse must be willing to mediate without quarrelling and difficulty. Divorce mediation may not be suitable for all divorcing couples; however the costs of mediation are less costly than if you and your spouse paid for a lawyer to represent you in Court. If there is no agreement between you and your spouse after mediation, the decision-making becomes much more expensive, and more stressful. You will no longer have the power to make the decisions yourself. You would need to consult with a lawyer for your Court appearance where the Court would make the decisions for you concerning your family matters.
The cost of mediation may be shared between the spouses equally, or otherwise. Generally both spouses contribute to the mediation cost if the spouses are doing the negotiating themselves without lawyers. Some mediators will consider your financial situation in determining their fees. Ask the mediator to reduce their fees if you are having financial difficulties. You may obtain a list of mediators from the Alberta Family Mediation Society. Also check with the various Family Services organizations in your community. In Calgary and surrounding areas, there is access to the Mediation Services, operated by Alberta Family Justice Services.