How Much Do Mediation Services Cost?
Reviewed by Carina Jenkins, J.D.
Mediation is often a more cost-effective way to resolve conflicts than taking the case to court, but it still comes with a high price tag.
Exploring mediation costs can help you plan for this expense if you're going through a divorce or dealing with a dispute with someone else.
Mediation uses a neutral third party to help you resolve conflict and make decisions about a situation. Both parties work with the mediator to agree on the issues. The mediator can help facilitate communication between the parties and suggest possible solutions, but they don't actually make the decisions. Mediation often happens in divorce cases to resolve things like dividing property and determining custody agreements. It's usually the most successful when both parties want to work cooperatively to find a solution that benefits both people.
You can choose to go through private mediation, or you might be forced to go through court-ordered mediation. Private mediation requires both parties to agree to it and agree on the mediator. This can be a way to get help on the topics where you don't agree and avoid going to court. The parties typically split the cost of private mediation. In some cases, the judge will order you to go through mediation, especially if the case involves child custody and parenting time. Parties may be required to split the cost of court-ordered mediation, or the judge may order another payment structure.
Mediation can often take multiple sessions, especially if you have lots of topics to resolve. The goal is to come to a complete agreement on all topics. However, that doesn't always happen. You can come to a partial agreement on some topics or come to no agreement at all. If mediation doesn't help you come to an agreement, your case will likely go to trial.
If you opt for a private attorney-mediator, you can expect to pay around $250 to $500 per hour, according to pricing data from Nolo. This is usually the most expensive mediation option because the mediator likely has extensive experience and expertise.
Other professionals also offer mediation services. They typically have some relevant experience, such as a marriage counselor, as well as some mediation training or certifications. The hourly rate is usually lower for this type of mediator, often between $150 and $300 per hour.
While this option is cheaper, it's not always the best. Consider where you need help and choose your mediator accordingly. For example, if you have complex legal issues at play, paying more for an attorney-mediator might be worth it. If you're dealing with complex financial conflicts, a mediator with extensive financial knowledge might be the best solution.
Because most mediators get paid by the hour, the complexity of your situation and the willingness of each party to settle can have a major impact on the cost. If you have most things worked out and just need to finalize a few decisions, you can likely complete mediation in a few hours, which saves money. If one or both parties don't want to compromise and fight on every decision, you could spend multiple sessions in mediation, bumping up the cost, and still end up in court, which costs even more.
You might have additional costs associated with the mediation process. If you hire your own attorney in addition to the mediator, you'll have those legal fees. You'll also still need to file your divorce papers or other settlement documents with the court, even if you resolve everything through mediation, which adds roughly $100 to $400. Some complex situations might call for experts, such as appraisers or tax professionals, to give insight into the topics you're mediating. They'll likely charge a fee for their services.
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The process for court-ordered mediation varies by state. Many states require mediation on civil disputes, especially those involving child custody. Court-ordered mediation is often low-cost compared to private mediators and may be free for qualifying parties. However, you're assigned a mediator or required to pick from a list of court-appointed mediators, so you have less choice in the person who works on your case.
You can usually hire a private mediator if you're ordered by the judge to go through mediation. This allows you to choose your mediator, but it also means you'll pay for the sessions. However, this option is only available if both parties agree to it.
Judges and arbitrators can make decisions on your behalf that are enforceable. However, mediators don't take sides or make decisions for you. They remain neutral and come up with possible solutions without deciding what you should do or placing blame on one party. The agreements you make during mediation aren't binding until a judge approves them. Once the judge signs off on them, those terms are enforceable. Be aware that mediators usually can't offer legal advice, even if they're also attorneys.
Mediation can be right for you if you can't come to a decision on your own, but you're willing to work on it. If you refuse to consider other solutions or give up anything for the other person, mediation could be a waste of time and money. You might also choose mediation if you want control over what happens. If you let the case go to court, you have to accept what the judge decides. Mediation is typically cheaper and faster than litigation, so it could be a good option if you're motivated to resolve things quickly.
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