Knowing when to use a divorce mediator is not so much a question of legality as a question of expediency. Instead of both spouses hiring their own lawyer and then have the lawyers request information from the opposing side and waiting for this process to run its course, a mediator allows for an easier flow of information and negotiation between the parties. Lawyers have their place in divorce proceedings but they aren't necessarily essential when working out the details of the division of property and custody issues, as a mediator can just as easily fulfill that role at less expense.
With the Mediator Present
The mediator will likely have both spouses sit down together in the same room (although this isn't a hard and fast rule). His role is not to take aside, but remain neutral. He acts in a flexible and confidential manner. If well skilled, the mediator will be able to lessen the emotionally charged situation and get both spouses to work together. Properly done, he will get both parties to open up and feel free to discuss concerns and desires and guide them to reaching acceptable compromises and resolutions. In particular it is good to have an unemotional agent in the room when dealing with difficult issues - including how to divide personal assets, property and care for any children. The hope is to go to court will all issues involved with the divorce resolved.
Role of the Mediator
The mediator should be thought of as Switzerland, the neutral ground that both sides can come to work out issues. He cannot offer either side advice, nor can he represent either side later on during court.
His job is to inform each side while working together of those things they need to be aware of that will allow them to successfully accomplish what they set out to do. The mediator should create an environment that make both spouses feel free to open up during the negotiations and know that all that takes place is in the highest of confidence.
All information will be drawn from the same source, which means that the process will take less time in arriving at final resolutions that are satisfactory to both parties.
While going through the mediation process, both or either side is free to bring an attorney to help support their rights. Another alternative is to counsel later with your attorney between the mediation sessions. Either way it's good to remember that the less time you involve your attorney the less you will need to pay him. Don't allow your attorney to force you to include him in the mediation sessions. Whether to include him is your choice.
Remember that mediation is totally voluntary. If you wish to withdraw you are always free to do so. You and your spouse can at any time for any reason pull out of mediation. The mediator has to have more specific grounds to do so, but each of you is, in essence and independent agent.
Research has indicated some significant findings when one uses a divorce mediator. Couples who use mediation are more satisfied once the process is completed. They also are involved with the proceeding for less time and spend less money. They also experience fewer experiences returning to the court in order to argue over earlier resolution which left them feeling as if their rights were not adequately protected.
The most important result of using a divorce mediator is that spouses have a stronger sense of control. They feel like they are listened to and are able to participate more effectively than those who go strictly through an adversarial divorce process.
Consult with an Attorney
Mediation is generally done without attorneys, however; you are still best served by consulting with one. Your rights are more likely to be protected if you at the very least request assistance from a professional divorce lawyer.