Until a lawsuit for custody or equitable distribution is filed, mediation is not required in North Carolina. However, that does not mean that if you and your spouse are separating that you cannot choose to participate in private mediation on a voluntary basis. In most cases, being a proactive participant throughout the separation process will promote a more efficient process - both financially and emotionally.
Private mediators range in costs between $100.00 hour to $500.00 an hour. I usually recommend finding a mediator that will cater to your specific needs but who is also within your budget. It may be a good idea to hire an attorney who is also a mediator as they can help to provide sound legal knowledge throughout the mediation process and may be able to help with drafting a formal and final agreement once mediation is finished. A non-attorney may not be able to draft a binding document.
Once you or your spouse files a lawsuit for custody and or equitable distribution, mediation becomes mandatory. There are distinctions between them both. Custody mediation is a free service provided by the state. The court will assign you a free trained mediator and a mediation date. You will have to participate in orientation prior to attending mediation. You and your co-parent will sit in the same room for a period of about two hours and try to come to an agreement. If an agreement is reached, the mediator will draw up the paperwork and schedule a second appointment so that you can both sign. Once signed the mediation agreement will be submitted to the judge who will also sign the agreement. Once signed by the judge the agreement is converted to a court order. In most cases, it will become a permanent custody order. So be mindful, of what you are signing before you do so. Permanent custody orders cannot be changed absent a substantial change in circumstances. Attorneys are not allowed to be present during custody mediation provided by the court system. Finally, mediation can be waived in certain situations such as, domestic violence, drug addiction or distance.
Mediation for equitable distribution is not provided by the state. You must hire a private mediator in order to attempt to settle equitable distribution before you will be entitled to have a trial in front of a judge. Mediation in this context is mandatory and failure to participate can lead to sanctions by the court. Many couples will attempt to resolve any and all remaining issues during private mediation for equitable distribution so that they don't have to go back to court at all. For example, if a lawsuit for custody, alimony, child support and equitable distribution is filed - all of those issues can be discussed and resolved during mediation for equitable distribution. It is always best to try to be as efficient as possible when involved with legal matters so that you don't go bankrupt through the process.
Our office provides mediation services as low as $150.00 per hour and even as low as $100.00 per hour when there is a active domestic violence protective order in place. We have two separate office buildings that adjoin one another so if you are uncomfortable being in close proximity to your partner or cannot be due to a court order, our office spaces accommodate your comfort and privacy.