How Much Does Divorce Mediation Cost?

Find out how much divorce mediators typically charge and what factors can increase or decrease the cost of your divorce.

Private mediation costs ranged from $3,000 to $8,000.

Divorce is almost always an unpleasant process. But it doesn't always have to be a drawn-out legal battle that results in added emotional and financial pain. Many couples have found that divorce mediation can help them decide how they'll handle the practical issues in their divorce— including dividing their property and debts, child custody and visitation, child support, and alimony—in a way that lessens conflict and fosters cooperation. It can also help them save on the cost of divorce.

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How Mediation Affects the Cost of Divorce

When couples go through successful mediation—meaning that it leads to a settlement agreement on all of the issues in a divorce—they can avoid the considerable expense of a traditional, adversarial divorce proceeding. Also, as studies have shown, people who mediate a divorce settlement are less likely to go back to court after the divorce to request changes like a custody modification—which adds even more expense.

But how much does the mediation itself cost? There isn't one simple answer to that question. As with the overall expense of divorce, the price of divorce mediation will depend on several factors, which we'll get into below. However, the biggest difference in price depends on which of the three basic types of mediation you use:

  • private mediation
  • court-sponsored mediation, or
  • community mediation.

The Cost of Private Divorce Mediation

In private divorce mediation, you and your spouse will choose and pay a neutral, trained mediator. Or you might choose a divorce mediation service that will provide you with a mediator (more on that below). Rather than making decisions for you (as a judge would), or advocating for one side or the other (as your lawyers would), the mediator will help the two of you come up with solutions to the issues that need resolving in your divorce—solutions you can both agree on. (Learn more about what happens in divorce mediation.)

The total cost of private divorce mediation is typically between $3,000 and $8,000, but it can be outside of that range in some cases. If you and your spouse split the fee 50-50, as most couples do, that would translate to a typical cost of $1,500 to $4,000 for each of you.

How much you end up paying will depend on two basic ingredients in the cost: the mediator's rate (usually hourly or by the session) and how many hours of mediation it will take to reach an agreement on the issues in your case. Several factors go into each of these basic ingredients, as we'll explain below.

Attorney Divorce Mediator CostsNonattorney Divorce Mediator Costs

How Much Do Private Divorce Mediators Charge per Hour or Session?

Private mediators quote their fees in different ways, such as:

  • by the hour
  • by the session (which could be two hours, a half day, or a full day), or
  • a flat rate (often with a cap on the number of hours or sessions and/or after an initial evaluation and estimate based on the specifics of your case).

For comparison purposes, we'll look at hourly rates. But before we get to the numbers, it's important to point out that private divorce mediators come in two general types:

  • attorney-mediators, who generally have training in mediation along with credentials and experience in family law
  • nonattorney-mediators who, in addition to experience and training in divorce mediation, might have other types of relevant credentials like certification as a marriage and family therapist or a divorce financial analyst.

Of these two categories, attorney-mediators usually charge higher rates—typically $250 to $500 an hour. In comparison, typical hourly rates for nonattorney-mediators range from about $100 to $350. For both types, the fees you'll encounter will vary depending on the mediator's specialized training and credentials, experience, and location (with higher rates generally seen in large, expensive metropolitan areas).

Also, a few private mediators charge on a sliding scale (or semi-sliding scale), taking into account your income level. It's not common, but it's always worth asking.

There are advantages and disadvantages to using a lawyer or another type of professional to mediate your divorce (which we'll touch on later in this article). With either choice, you should ask about the mediator's other credentials, specialized training, and experience, including experience with divorce mediation in your state. You should also ask whether you'll need to pay a retainer fee (like a deposit) and, if so, how much.

What Other Factors Affect Total Mediation Costs?

When you're comparison shopping, it should be easy to find out what a private mediator will charge per hour or per session. Unless you're quoted a flat fee, the hard part is figuring out what the total bill will be. (And even with flat fees, mediators or mediation services often tack on additional hourly charges if the couple can't reach a settlement during the allotted time.)

Private mediators' websites often include rosy predictions like "Most clients resolve their issues in two or three sessions." But how do you know whether you'll be in that "most clients" group? Any reasonable estimate of how long mediation is likely to take in your case—and therefore the total cost—requires a consideration of your specific circumstances, including:

  • The complexity of your case. If you and your spouse have worked out most issues in your divorce, you might turn to mediation to resolve one remaining sticking point. In that situation, you might very well reach an agreement in one session. In contrast, mediation will almost surely take longer when you have several issues to work out, such as what to do with the family home, how to divide other assets (like retirement plans or a family business), whether a spouse will provide support that's not legally required (like contributing to a child's college expenses), and difficult custody disputes (for instance, when one parent wants to move far away with the children).
  • The level of conflict. When one or both spouses aren't able to set aside their residual anger, controlling behavior, or even emotional abuse during mediation, the process of reaching a settlement will always take longer—or may lead to a stalemate, which would mean the cost of mediation was essentially money down the drain. (That's one reason divorce mediation is generally inappropriate when there is ongoing domestic abuse in a relationship.) In some cases involving a history of abusive or bullying behavior, the mediator may recommend meeting separately with each spouse, which could increase the cost (because that would take more of the mediator's time.)
  • Willingness to engage in mediation. Even when a couple doesn't have a high level of conflict, mediation might get bogged down if one spouse just isn't ready, on an emotional level, to deal with the practical and financial issues related to the divorce. It can also take longer to reach an agreement if both spouses aren't willing to come prepared for mediation and do their homework.

Some of these factors can also affect whether it makes sense to use an attorney-mediator or one who has expertise in the financial aspects of divorce or in interpersonal conflict resolution and/or couples therapy.

In addition to these case-considerations, other factors could affect the cost of private mediation, such as:

  • Extra services and charges. For example, some mediators might charge an initial set-up fee and/or additional hourly fees for time spent on the case between mediation sessions, for writing a settlement agreement, or for preparing other divorce paperwork.
  • Remote versus in-person mediation. Many mediators will conduct online divorce mediation, and some might offer reduced rates for these remote sessions. Other mediators charge travel fees for in-person sessions that aren't in their own offices.

Divorce Mediation Packages

Some private mediators or mediation services will quote a flat rate after an initial evaluation of your case. There are also companies that offer flat-rate packages for divorce mediation services in some states, without having to evaluate your situation. The price for either type of flat-rate package is typically between $4,000 and $5,500, though it can go higher in complex cases.

Mediation packages might include different levels of service or features, so it's important to look at the details when you're comparing costs. For instance:

  • Some services offer a flat rate for unlimited mediation hours, while others set a cap on the number of hours (with an extra hourly charge if further sessions are needed). Still others will quote a flat rate that's specific to your case, after a free initial consultation.
  • Some services use attorney mediators with family law experience, while others use nonattorney-mediators, or a mix of the two.
  • The package may or may not include preparing a formal settlement agreement and/or processing other divorce forms.

The Cost of Court-Sponsored Mediation

In most states, if you've filed for divorce and have children but can't agree with your spouse on a parenting plan, the court will order you to child custody mediation. Court-ordered mediation is usually provided through the state or county court system and is either free, at a reduced rate, or on a sliding scale tied to your income. When there's a charge, you can usually request a waiver if you can't afford it.

Even if it's not required, you might be able to request free or low-cost court-sponsored mediation in some states or counties. Usually, this service is available only after you've filed for divorce. For example:

  • Once your divorce is in the court system in New York, you can request a referral to a court-based mediation program; most of these programs offer a free initial mediation session and follow-up sessions at a reduced fee.
  • California offers mediation on parenting issues at no cost through Family Court Services.
  • Florida law sets the fees for court-ordered mediation through its court programs at $120-$240 per session (or $60-$120 for each spouse) for couples with combined incomes below $100,000.

Court-sponsored mediation is almost always limited to custody and visitation issues, though a few courts offer mediation on other issues as well. For instance, when couples are ordered to mediation in Tennessee, the court will usually allow them to try to resolve other issues in mediation (like what happens to the house or retirement plans) after they've agreed to a parenting plan.

You should be able to find out about local court-sponsored mediation programs (and the fees) by calling or searching the website of your county court or the state court system.

Community Mediation Services

If you can't afford private mediation and can't (or don't want to) use court-sponsored mediation, you might look into whether there's a community organization in your area that offers divorce mediation services. Usually, community mediation is either free or on a sliding scale, if you meet the qualifications. Some agencies that use volunteer mediators (who may be attorneys) will ask you to pay only a small fee for administrative expenses.

Because community mediation services don't require that you have an active divorce case in the court system, this might also be a low-cost option after your divorce is final if, for instance, you and your ex have a coparenting dispute and want to avoid returning to court.

You can search for a local community mediation center on the website for the National Association for Community Mediation. (Outside of that association, there might be other nonprofit organizations that offer mediation services.) Because some of these organizations won't mediate some or all divorce issues, be sure to ask about that. You should also ask about the mediators' qualifications and training in divorce issues, because that can vary considerably from program to program.

Other Costs in a Mediated Divorce

When you're figuring out the cost of mediation, it's important to consider other associated costs in a mediated divorce. Along with required court fees to file the divorce petition, these other costs may include:

  • Attorneys' fees. Most people think of mediation as an alternative to hiring a lawyer, but you may want to pay an attorney to help you prepare for the mediation, coach you through negotiations, and review a formal settlement agreement. Instead of the traditional set-up where a lawyer handles the entire divorce (known as "full-scope" representation), you could hire a consulting attorney just to handle these specific tasks. Also, many people with full-scope attorneys choose to use mediation to help them reach agreement on certain issues in their divorce—or the court may order them to mediate custody issues.
  • Outside experts. As part of the mediation process, you might need to bring in experts such as real estate appraisers, tax consultants, counselors, and pension experts (to help with splitting retirement accounts). Naturally, you'll have to pay them, but their fees are likely to be lower in the relatively informal context of mediation than in the context of formal pretrial discovery (when the two sides in legal proceedings request and exchange evidence and question experts under oath in depositions).

Saving on Mediation Costs: Benefits and Risks

As with most financial decisions, sometimes you'll end up paying more in the end if you choose a mediation service based solely on the direct cost. Here are a few things to consider when you're looking to save money on mediation:

  • Success rates. A private mediator will cost more than court-sponsored or community mediation. But private mediation is more likely to lead to a comprehensive settlement of all issues in your divorce, so it could be less expensive in the long run, depending on your situation.
  • Lawyer-mediators or nonlawyers? On the one hand, you can generally save money on private mediation by using a nonlawyer-mediator—if appropriate for your situation. For instance, a mediator with a background in counseling can be better at conflict resolution and helping couples find creative solutions, and a mediator with a strong financial background (such as a certified divorce financial analyst) might be most effective when working with complex assets. On the other hand, attorneys might be more effective in cases that require a mediator to fully understand and explain all of the legal options, and to troubleshoot an agreement for unexpected legal consequences.
  • Limits on issues covered by mediation. Most court-sponsored mediation programs will handle only custody and visitation issues. In theory, you could mediate parenting disputes through a court-sponsored program and then tackle any other issues in your divorce through private mediation (or through informal negotiations with your spouse or between your respective lawyers). But custody disputes are often intertwined with other issues, such as whether the parent with primary physical custody will stay in the family home with the kids after the divorce. When that's the case, it can be difficult to resolve the issues separately.
  • Time limits on mediation. Most court-sponsored and community mediation programs offer only one mediation session. This means you won't have time between sessions to think further or do some research, and you could feel pressured to agree to a settlement before exploring all of your options. It might also mean that you can't reach an agreement at all. Still, if you have relatively simple disagreements with your spouse that can be mediated in a court-sponsored program, it could make sense and save you money to go that route. Mediators who work for court-sponsored programs are highly experienced with mediating custody issues and so are often quite effective, even within the time constraints.

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Considering Divorce?

Talk To A Divorce Attorney.

We've helped 85 clients find attorneys today.

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