Guide to Divorce Mediation in New York

Learn how divorce mediation works in New York, including when you might be referred to mediation, how much mediation costs, and what happens after mediation.

By , Legal Editor

More and more New Yorkers are learning that they can lower the cost and stress of getting divorced with mediation. In divorce mediation, a trained, neutral professional meets with both spouses (either in person or remotely) to help them work together on solutions to the issues in their divorce. The goal is to reach a settlement agreement and avoid the expense and time of a divorce trial.

When Can You Use Divorce Mediation in New York?

You can use mediation anytime before or after you file for divorce, including when you have conflicts with your ex after your divorce is final.

Mediation Before Filing for Divorce

In order to file for an uncontested divorce in New York, you and your spouse need to agree about important legal issues related to ending your marriage, such as:

If you're having trouble working out an agreement on any or all of these issues, a mediator can help. The same is true if you need assistance with a separation agreement as part of getting a legal separation in New York.

When mediation leads to a complete marital settlement agreement (sometimes called a "stipulation of settlement" in New York), you probably can complete your divorce without hiring a lawyer. Plus, choosing the path of mediation will give you more control over the outcome of your divorce and help minimize the type of conflicts that can arise during a traditional, contested divorce. (Learn more about the pros and cons to divorce mediation.)

Mediation During the Divorce

You can still choose mediation if you haven't reached a complete settlement agreement before you file for divorce. In fact, the judge might order you to participate in mediation as a first step in the process (more on that below).

Post-Divorce Mediation

Divorce doesn't necessarily end disputes with your ex. For instance, one of you might want to increase the amount of child support or spousal maintenance, or one parent might want to move out of state with the kids. If you can't agree on changes to the provisions in your divorce judgment, mediation can help you avoid a court battle over the request.

As part of an original settlement agreement and order on custody issues, you and the other parent may include a provision that both of you will make a sincere effort to mediate any future disagreements before you go back to court and request a change in the arrangements.

When Does New York Require Family Mediation?

Under a statewide "presumptive mediation" initiative that started in 2019, many—if not most—divorce cases (known as "matrimonial" cases in New York courts) will be referred to mediation early in the legal process. The same holds true for custody cases that aren't part of a divorce.

The rules on court-ordered mediation vary from county to county in New York. In general, after you've filed for divorce, court staff will review your paperwork to decide whether your case is eligible for presumptive mediation. For instance, in Westchester County, unless there's a serious power imbalance between the spouses or a history of child abuse or domestic violence in the marriage (more on that below), divorce cases will be referred to mediation when:

  • a couple doesn't have minor children
  • there are kids but both parents are regular employees, or
  • the spouses have requested mediation through the courts.

If your case is eligible for presumptive mediation, you may request an exemption. In some counties, however, you'll have to convince the judge that you have a good reason for opting out; otherwise, you'll have to attend at least one mediation session. In other counties, mediation is voluntary even after a court referral, and you can stop the process any time.

How Much Does Divorce Mediation Cost in New York?

Different factors affect the cost of divorce mediation—most importantly whether you use court-connected mediation, a nonprofit mediation service, or a private mediator or mediation service.

Free or Low-Cost Mediation Through New York's Courts or Nonprofits

If the court has referred your case to mediation, you'll usually be eligible for some free or lost-cost mediation services, either through your local Community Dispute Resolution Center (CDRC) or with a mediator from the court's roster. Here again, the rules (and prices) vary from county to county. Typically, the initial mediation session is free. Fees for additional sessions might be as high as $400 per hour (split between the spouses), but there's often a sliding scale based on your income. Even without an active divorce case in the courts, any qualifying New Yorker should be able to get mediation through a local CDRC.

Why Pay the Cost of Private Mediation?

The cost of private divorce mediation—whether with a mediation service or an individual mediator—ranges widely, depending on the mediator's qualifications and hourly rate, the complexity of your case, how long it takes to reach a settlement, and other details. Typically, the total bill is between $3,000 and $8,000 (again, usually split between the spouses).

That probably sounds like a lot, especially compared to options available through the courts. But depending on your circumstances and finances, private mediation could be the best option for you. For example:

  • The typical cost of private mediation is based on multiple sessions with a mediator, while free or low-cost mediation through the New York courts is usually limited to one 90-minute session. If you aren't able to resolve all of the issues in your divorce in that time, you might find yourself faced with a high hourly fee to continue with the same mediator. You always have the option of switching mediators at that point, but that could be a waste of time and momentum in the process of reaching a settlement.
  • After you've reached an agreement with your spouse, some mediation services will also help prepare the paperwork and file it with the court, easing the entire divorce process for you.

It's also worth remembering that when mediation is successful—meaning that it leads to a comprehensive settlement—it's almost always far less expensive than going through a divorce trial. (Learn how contested issues affect the cost of divorce.)

How Does Divorce Mediation Work in New York?

Divorce mediation in New York is confidential. Typically, this means that the mediator may not reveal anything you or your spouse said in mediation or any documents or other written material you provided as part of the process. There are limited exceptions to the confidentiality rule, including:

  • documents or other information that must be exchanged and submitted to the court as part of the divorce process under New York law, such as standard disclosures about your finances
  • credible threats of serious, immediate harm
  • allegations of child abuse, and
  • any agreement that you sign.

Your mediator should provide you with a full explanation of the confidentiality rules before the mediation begins.

In New York, as elsewhere, the mediation process generally follows the same basic stages, including:

  • orientation
  • gathering information about your case (including your finances, property, and children)
  • identifying what each spouse needs and wants
  • exploring settlement options, and
  • negotiating a settlement.

If you and your spouse agree about one or more issues, the mediator will usually prepare a document that reflects those agreements.

What Is the Place of Divorce Mediation in Cases Involving Abuse or a Power Imbalance?

For mediation to work, both spouses must be able to negotiate freely, without feeling afraid or pressured to agree to something they don't want. That's why divorce mediation is generally not appropriate when there's ongoing domestic violence or emotional abuse in a marriage. It's also why many New York courts have a rule that cases will not be eligible for presumptive mediation if they involve domestic violence (or allegations along that line) or even a severe imbalance of power between the spouses. Mediation may also be inappropriate when one spouse is actively hiding income and assets from the other spouse.

If you decide to use mediation despite a history of abuse or bullying by your spouse, you might ask to have the mediator meet with you and your spouse separately.

Completing Your New York Divorce After Mediation

If you and your spouse reached an agreement in mediation, the next step will be to file the agreement with the court, along with all of the other final paperwork. (As discussed above, some mediators may help with this step).

In New York, you generally won't have to attend a hearing to finalize your divorce when you've submitted a settlement agreement with the documents. A judge will review your settlement to ensure that it meets New York's legal requirements, including the following:

  • provisions for child custody and support must serve the children's best interests, and
  • settlement agreements must include provisions regarding future health care coverage for each spouse.

You'll receive notice from the court once the judge approves your agreement and signs the divorce judgment. In some counties, you'll then need to file the judgment with the court; elsewhere, the court will do this for you. If you filed the original divorce papers, you'll also need to have the judgment served on your spouse.

What If Divorce Mediation Fails?

You're never required to agree to anything during divorce mediation, even if you've been ordered to participate in the process. In some New York counties, however, the judge may issue a second order of referral to a mediation program if the first mediation wasn't successful.

If you and your spouse don't reach a complete settlement agreement—either during mediation or later in the divorce process (typically through your lawyers), you'll have to go to trial and have a judge make a decision for you about any unresolved issues.