Mediation and Settlement in the Tennessee Divorce Process

Compassionate Knoxville divorce attorneys help you avoid a lengthy, costly trial

One of the final phases of the divorce process is what we called the “negotiated settlement.” In just about every case, working with your husband or wife on a settlement agreement rather than going to trial to resolve disputes will result in a better outcome for both of you. We know this from experience. After all, do you really want to spend a huge amount of money just to let a stranger wearing a black robe who’s only known you for a few hours to decide how you are going to have to live your life?

Judges and attorneys prefer spouses attempt to work out the details of their divorce agreement and come to compromise together. Because think about it – who knows your children, your assets, and your family dynamics more than you? This judge just met you. They don’t know your kid’s favorite afterschool snack, or that they can’t sleep without a fan on, or that they’ll only wear purple shorts on Saturdays.

The Knoxville divorce lawyers at LaFevor & Slaughter can help you and your spouse avoid a long, costly, and public trial. With mediation, you can work through any disputes together, in the smart and strategic way our attorneys are known for. Call us today for strong representation and compassionate support.

What is a negotiated settlement in divorce?

With a negotiated settlement, you and your spouse can decide whether or not you want to settle your Tennessee divorce case in or out of the courtroom. There are many avenues to take to reach that negotiated settlement, depending on the facts of your case, but here’s one common method:

  • One spouse’s attorney drafts a proposed Marital Dissolution Agreement.
  • If you have children, you’ll also need a proposed Permanent Parenting Plan.
  • The other spouse can respond by making a counter-proposal, requesting mediation, seeking discovery, or asking for additional information.

You don’t have to fill out these forms or work out your dissolution agreement on your own. Using mediation to work toward a mutually agreeable settlement can help you both come to a reasonable compromise – without having to air all your dirty laundry in court. Mediation is typically mandatory for divorcing couples with children in Tennessee, and most judges prefer or mandate couples attend a mediation session (sometimes more than once), whether they have kids or not.

What are the benefits of mediation? Will I get what I want in the divorce?

Sometimes we hear from our new clients that they think mediation is a waste of time and effort. However, Financier Worldwide reports that 90% of all civil cases in the United States – divorce is a civil case – are resolved prior to trial, including those resolved through mediation. Ninety percent! So, as you can see, mediation can be a great and cost-efficient choice if you and your spouse are willing to work together.

Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 provides guidelines for mediation.

What does a Knoxville mediator do?

A mediator’s job is to help couples resolve their divorce disputes and other marital-related issues. A mediator is not a judge, won’t force you into any settlement or agreement, and doesn’t advocate for either spouse. Instead, a mediator works with both of you to help you come up with your own solutions on matters like:

Couples who attend mediation tend to find that the process is less stressful, allows more creativity and partnership post-divorce, less expensive, and causes much less family trauma and drama. The family law attorneys at LaFevor & Slaughter recommend couples always try mediation first, and we can address all your questions, concerns, or anxiety about the process.

What happens if divorce mediation fails?

In the event that your settlement negotiations or mediation fail, the next step is trial. Some Tennessee courts will force a trial date on the parties in order to give them a deadline for negotiations. Other courts will require the parties to ask for a trial date. In either event, preparing for trial and going to trial may end up being the most expensive part of your divorce – consult with an experienced attorney to weigh all of your options.

Do I need a Knoxville attorney if I choose mediation?

You don’t, but you should strongly consider it. Depending on the goals you and your ex-spouse wish to achieve, an attorney can be highly involved, or play a limited role. You should never sign off on any agreement or settlement until you have an experienced lawyer look it over to make sure that you really do understand what it says and it’s fair. And, since our attorneys are local and familiar with the court system, we can also provide knowledgeable guidance on how your divorce case might proceed in court, should it come to that.

Is mediation confidential?

It sure is. Unlike court proceedings, mediation happens in private. When the mediator files their formal report with the court, it merely states that a meditation session happened and whether or not it was successful. A mediator doesn’t have the right to reveal to anyone – including the court – what went on during your sessions. A mediator cannot even be subpoenaed to testify at either a trial or a deposition.  The only exception to this is if the sessions uncovered certain actions or threats of actions, like child abuse. Then the mediator is required to notify the proper authorities.

Note: You are not required to attend mediation if you are a victim of domestic violence. [source]

What should I expect during a Tennessee mediation session?

Most mediation sessions happen at the mediator’s office. Your attorney should be present so you know your legal rights, as well as the pros and cons of any proposed agreement. Most of the time, you’ll be in one room with your lawyer, and your ex will be in another room with his or her lawyer, and the mediator will move back and forth between you.

You both have the right to make a statement to the mediator, and discuss any issues and disputes you feel must be addressed during mediation. If your mediation session(s) are successful, then your attorney drafts up all the necessary documents, and gives you and your spouse a chance to look it over before approving and signing them. Then we file them with the court, which will adopt the agreement and make it legally enforceable.

LaFevor & Slaughter can walk you through this process so you don’t find it overwhelming or difficult.

What should I bring to my mediation session?

Don’t worry – once you set up a consultation with us, we’ll make darn sure you have all the right documents. But if you want to get started ahead of time, here’s a list of important stuff:

  • Create a list of all your assets, property, and possessions. It doesn’t matter if it’s separate or marital property – just everything you both own. This includes things like real estate, bank accounts (all of ‘em), vehicles, retirement accounts, insurance policies, art and jewelry, and things of that nature.
  • Collect records for all household income sources, like paystubs, W2’s, income tax returns, self-employment profit/loss statements, pensions, current alimony or child support, or Social Security. On the other side of the coin, record your household expenses too. Think rent, food, health insurance, utility bills, student loans, credit card debt, etc.
  • You and your spouse will likely be required to submit a financial affidavit. This is a legal document detailing the signer’s financial information. It’s a sworn statement and by signing it you both affirm it’s a true and complete picture of your income and finances. If either spouse submits a knowingly false affidavit, they can suffer legal penalties. Additionally, a thorough look at each other’s finances allows you to draft a more realistic settlement agreement.

Like we said before, this might seem like a lot, but everything matters when it comes to divorce – most  importantly, you.

We also advocate for members of the military with family law matters.

Knoxville attorneys helping you ease through a difficult life transition

Divorce can be hard; choosing the right lawyer need not be. At LaFevor & Slaughter in Knoxville, we help clients make the right choices for their futures, and strive to make a difficult process as smooth as possible. To schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, call us at (865) 637-6258 or fill out our contact form today.