You can absolutely retain your own independent attorney, along with a neutral mediator, in any pending family law case.
A mediator will remain neutral, and should be retained jointly by you and your spouse. Mediation sessions will be conducted with all parties present and private negotiations or discussions should only take place with advance notice and consultation. However, many parties also want to receive the input – both before, during and after a final agreement is reached – from an attorney who represents their interests alone.
Retaining a private attorney in the midst of mediation can be a good idea. An attorney is your advocate and can help frame the issues, offer advice as to your rights, and offer feedback on ideas you have about resolving your case. Attending mediation with basic knowledge about what you are entitled to under the law can help you understand your “bottom line” and give you a framework for negotiating a settlement.
Simply showing up at mediation and expecting the mediator to protect your individual interests is a mistake. The mediator will remain neutral, and should help you bargain within the law, but a mediator cannot – and should not – protect your individual interests. Having an attorney in your corner will help you evaluate what you are giving up, along with what you are gaining, in a negotiated agreement.
Remember that a good agreement generally means both parties leave a bit unhappy – you get a little, and give a little. Your attorney will advise you about the pros and cons of any given agreement and the mediator can simultaneously help you reach resolution with your spouse by avoiding court interference and allowing you to take control of your family and finances. It’s truly a win-win situation.