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 - of
an attorney who represents their interests alone.
Retaining a private attorney in the midst of a mediation is 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 a 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 a 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're giving up, along with
what you're gaining, in a negotiated agreement.
Remember that a good agreement generally means that 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.