In a contested divorce, parties must attend mediation before going to trial. Mediation is a formal negotiation. An unbiased third party acts as the mediator. Both parties and their attorneys are present, usually in separate rooms. The mediator goes between the parties and attempts to facilitate a settlement of the case.
Mediation can be beneficial for many divorce litigants. Trial dates can be many months away. Mediation can typically be set within a couple of months. The trial judge may come to a ruling that upsets one, sometimes both, of the parties. Mediation helps find a middle ground. Most mediated settlements make both parties at least reasonably happy. Going to trial likely means a much higher attorney fee, as your attorney must prepare themselves and any potential witnesses for trial. Trial also means a fight. Both parties and both attorneys will be using any and all evidence possible. People will get upset.
While Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-131 requires mediation in a divorce, there are some exceptions. For example, some grounds to waive mediation are if one or both of the parties cannot afford mediation or if one party is the domestic abuse victim of the other. Also, uncontested divorces do not require mediation.
It is an occasional misconception that divorces require marriage counseling before proceeding to finalization. This belief is completely wrong in Tennessee. Marriage counseling is not a statutory requirement and cannot be ordered by a judge. This misconception likely arises from the requirement to mediate a divorce. Mediation, however, is the opposite of marriage counseling, as mediation seeks to hasten the divorce or separation of the parties.
One should never go to mediation without an attorney. Your attorney is there to guide you and to propose solutions and strategies. Negotiation is a game. Never play it without help.
Finally, never go into mediation with a closed mind. Even the most complex and most rabid cases can sometimes be settled at mediation. Before beginning, identify the issues on which you are willing and not willing to budge. Go in with a plan. You never have to settle. If it does not work, go to trial.