Once you have dealt with the more pressing issues on a temporary basis whether by separation agreement and/or temporary orders, or despite the advice of your attorney, you have decided to put nothing in writing you can then sit back and consider what you would like your final divorce decree to look like. Most people hope to agree on all the issues, rather than take the matter to trial and have a judge decide. Mediation is one good avenue for this process. Mediation is simply a setting where a facilitator or mediator tried to get the two people to agree on all or some of the issues. A mediator may not ethically give legal advice to either party. I strongly recommend that each party is represented by an attorney during the mediation, and most certainly, before any agreement is signed or put on the record by the mediator. When I act as a mediator, I always recommend this to my clients.
Mediation is not for every case, for example, in cases where one spouse is much stronger than the other, and the other spouse finds it difficult or impossible to exercise free will in opposition to their spouse, or there is abuse involved, it is simply not an appropriate forum.
Not everyone goes to mediation. I have personally settled many cases without mediation and have simply drafted the proposed final orders with provisions that my client finds acceptable and have submitted them to the other side (usually another attorney) for their acceptance or suggestions. They have then accepted it or made their suggestions. We have gone back and forth typically a few more times and then upon reaching an agreement as to the final terminology, one or the other of the attorneys has taken the agreed order to the judge to be signed.
Note that if you do not reach an agreement before trial, by the date set forth in your Case Schedule, you will be required to go into mediation, unless excused by a judge.