Mediation is an increasingly popular way to help reduce the conflict and cost of getting divorced. And in Ohio, a judge might order you to mediate certain disputes. Here's what you need to know about divorce mediation in the Buckeye State.
You can use mediation at any stage in the process of ending your marriage, including after your divorce is final.
In order to file for the streamlined divorce process known as "dissolution of marriage" in Ohio, you and your spouse must attach a divorce settlement agreement (known as a "separation agreement" in Ohio) when you file your initial dissolution petition.
The separation agreement must cover all of the important issues involved in ending your marriage, including:
If you and your spouse are having trouble working out your differences on any of these issues, a mediator can help by meeting with both of you and guiding you through the process of negotiating, finding solutions, and hammering out an agreement. When mediation at this stage leads to an agreement, you can choose to get help with the dissolution paperwork from an online divorce service, and you may get your final decree quickly (more on that below). (Ohio Rev. Code §3105.64 (2021).)
If you haven't been able to reach a separation agreement before filing for divorce in Ohio, you can still turn to mediation at any point during your case. Even when you and your spouse have hired lawyers to represent you in the divorce, mediation can still help you work through disputes more efficiently.
When the mediation is successful, you may then convert your traditional divorce (usually called a contested divorce in other states) into a dissolution of marriage case. (Ohio Rev. Code § 3105.65 (2021).)
Even when you and your spouse haven't agreed to mediation voluntarily, the judge might require you to give it a try (more on that below).
As any divorced parents will tell you, the end of your marriage doesn't necessarily put an end to disagreements with your ex. For instance, you might disagree about one spouse's planned move with the children or about a request to change the amount of spousal or child support.
Disputes over requests to change (or "modify") orders included in a divorce (or dissolution) decree can easily lead to expensive and time-consuming legal battles. Mediation can help you avoid that.
Under Ohio law, if you and your spouse have minor children but haven't been able to agree on the issues related to your parental rights and responsibilities (child support and custody) or on a specific parenting schedule, the judge may order you to mediate those issues as part of your divorce case. (Ohio Rev. Code § 3109.052 (2021).)
Local courts have their own rules (under the County Courts of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Divisions) for mediation in divorce cases, and those rules might expand mandatory mediation beyond parenting issues. In Hamilton County, for instance, judges may order couples to mediate their divorce disputes over financial matters like spousal support, property division, and the allocation of their debts. (Hamilton County Common Pleas, Domestic Relations, rule 2.8 (2021).)
In general, the cost of divorce mediation depends on several factors, including:
You might be eligible for free or low-cost mediation services through the court, particularly when a judge has ordered you to mediate certain issues in your divorce case and you can't afford to pay. But the rules—and the costs—vary from county to county. For instance:
When you choose private mediation, mediators who are also attorneys typically charge about $250-$500 an hour, while rates for those with other types of mediation training or certification generally start at about $100 an hour. Mediation services usually charge a flat fee for a certain number of sessions, although they often allow you to pay extra if you need more time. They may also charge extra for additional services like helping you prepare and file the paperwork to finalize your divorce.
Nationally, total mediation bills typically range from about $3,000 to $8,000. If that seems high, it's worth pointing out couples usually split the bill. Also, the cost of divorce is almost always much higher when you have to hire lawyers and go to trial to resolve your disputes. And you have more control over the details of your divorce with mediation than if a judge made those decisions for you.
Mediation is almost always inappropriate for couples who are experiencing ongoing domestic violence or abuse. In order for mediation to work, both spouses should be able to say what they want and voice their opinions without worrying about being bullied or abused. Mediation might not be a good idea in other situations as well, such as when:
Under Ohio law, a judge may not order parents to mediate custody disputes when either parent has been guilty of a domestic violence crime or child abuse, unless the judge has looked at the facts and specifically found that mediation would be in the spouses' best interests.
Local courts in Ohio often have their own detailed rules about court-ordered mediation in cases involving actual or suspected domestic violence. Franklin County, for instance, requires several conditions before the court may order mediation when there is actual, suspected, or alleged violence between the spouses. Among other things, there must be measures in place to protect the safety of the spouse who is or might be the victim, and that spouse should have the right to have a support person present at mediation or not to participate at all. (Franklin County Common Pleas, Domestic Relations, rule 22 (2021).)
If you choose to go ahead with voluntary mediation despite a history of abuse from your spouse, you can ask the mediator for safety measures, including meeting with the mediator separately from your spouse—which is possible even if you use online mediation.
Before you start mediation, you should gather information and documents related to the disputes in your divorce. For instance, if you have a disagreement about whether certain assets are marital property or separate property belonging to one spouse, you'll want to track down all of the financial records related to those assets. Some private mediators or mediation services will ask for this information as part of the initial intake process. Other times, you'll simply bring this material to the first mediation session.
Mediation generally has similar stages:
Mediation in Ohio is confidential, with limited exceptions. The mediator may not disclose—to a judge or anyone else—any statements or documents provided during the mediation process (including for the intake), unless both spouses agree to the disclosure. Other exceptions to this confidentiality rule include:
(Ohio Rev. Code §§ 2710.03, 2710.04, 2710.05, 2710.07 (2021).)
At the close of mediation, most mediators will prepare a written document that reflects any agreements that resulted from the process. Some mediators (particularly those who are also lawyers) may also help prepare a formal separation agreement. Even if you haven't hired an attorney to represent you in your divorce, it's a good idea to have a lawyer review the agreement to make sure that it protects all of your legal rights. This is especially important when you have complicated assets to divide (like retirement accounts).
If you reached a complete settlement agreement in mediation before filing for dissolution of marriage, you'll attach the agreement to the petition. Then, within 30 to 90 days after the filing date, you and your spouse will need to appear in court for a hearing. At the hearing, the judge will approve your separation agreement after making sure that both of you are satisfied with it and that any provisions regarding your children serve their best interests. The judge will then make the agreement part of your dissolution decree, which has the same legal effect as a divorce decree in Ohio. (Ohio Rev. Code §§ 3105.63, 3105.64, 3105.65 (2021).)
When you reached an agreement in mediation after filing for a contested divorce in Ohio, you may file a request with the court (known as a "motion") to convert the divorce to a dissolution proceeding, attaching a new petition and the separation agreement. You'll then proceed to a hearing as with other dissolution cases. (Ohio Rev. Code § 3105.08 (2021).)
You never have to agree to anything in mediation, even if a judge has ordered you to participate in the process. If you don't reach a separation agreement with your spouse—whether in early mediation or later on during the legal divorce proceedings—you'll need to go to trial and have a judge rule on any unresolved issues in your case.