Separation and divorce are among the most painful and disruptive events an individual and family can experience. As a divorced (and remarried) mother of three, I know all too well the devastating emotional and financial impact the process can have on every member of the family.
For many couples, mediation can be the difference between a long, adversarial and costly divorce and one that empowers them to work together to forge a settlement that meets their needs while honing the skills to manage future conflicts.
At the time of my divorce, I went from stay-at-home mom to financial planner seemingly overnight, with a great deal of pressure to provide for my three children and myself. Over time, I found myself helping many individuals who were going through what I had experienced—trying to navigate the divorce process with little or no knowledge or understanding of the financial aspects of their marriage.
My passion for helping couples to find a productive and satisfying way to dissolve their unions led me to become a certified divorce financial analyst and divorce mediator. It is incredibly rewarding to be able to support people in working together to arrive at a settlement that is fair and equitable for everyone involved without the costly legal battles and emotional wear and tear that are so often part of the process.
One of the most common things I find in my practice is that people don’t have a clear understanding of what mediation entails. Many prospective clients have the mistaken impression that mediation is only for couples for whom divorce is relatively simple. They don’t have children or a business or a lot of assets, so there is little to negotiate. Others believe mediation is something that works only for couples that are separating amicably, or are already skilled at compromise.
However, the reality is that mediation is for any couple that wants to retain control over the decisions that affect their lives. They will fully understand the consequences of their decisions as well as the implications of the agreement they sign. And the “bonus” is that they learn techniques for resolving differences that will be useful down the road.
How Does It Work?
In divorce mediation, couples reach agreements on their own that address both immediate and long-range concerns. The role of a divorce mediator is to help both parties focus on relevant issues and encourage their active participation in the negotiations. Together they create reasonable solutions that take into consideration the needs of their entire family.
During the initial session, the couple discusses key concerns, such as evaluating their present financial condition and providing for their future financial needs. Couples with children learn to separate their spousal role, which is ending, from their parental role, which is continuing. Then they gather any necessary data and, step by step, make decisions about the type of agreement they want.
Points typically decided include:
Division of property
Spousal maintenance (alimony)
Ways to avoid future problems
Each mediation session usually lasts from one to two hours. Once a tentative agreement is reached, every client is encouraged to have a lawyer review the document. An attorney case consultant will draw up the final agreement and file it in court.
Benefits of Mediation
While the goal of mediation is to reach an agreement that both parties feel good
about, there are also some practical benefits:
Mediation takes less time than the court process. The average agreement can be reached in six to 12 hours.
Since the process is confidential, couples can avoid public disclosure of financial information and other personal matters.
Mediation costs less than a litigated divorce for a number of reasons, the most obvious being that there is no need to pay two lawyers to work out the multitude of legal details.
Couples often find that what they appreciate most about the mediation process is that it reduces tension and conflict. It’s the rare couple that doesn’t feel some anger during a divorce. Mediators show people how to work together productively in spite of their anger. While mediation won’t necessarily eliminate angry feelings, it keeps those feelings from adversely affecting major financial and parenting decisions.
Our divorce court system fans the flames of distrust between divorcing spouses by encouraging a winner-take-all mentality. The objective of a divorce mediator is to help couples achieve a win-win. Unlike an attorney, a divorce mediator does not advocate for either party or make any decisions for them. The divorce mediator’s role is to help maintain the balance of power as they work towards a fair and satisfactory settlement with no winner or loser.
An open line of communication is essential to making decisions that serve both parties. So the mediation process itself creates a cooperative environment that helps couples avoid getting caught up in an adversarial struggle. This can make a dramatic difference for those hoping to maintain a civilized relationship post-divorce. While they may not end up best friends, people who move through mediation successfully learn techniques for resolving their differences. This can be life changing, especially for those sharing custody of their children.
For couples that decide to separate or divorce, there is no doubt that mediation is a viable alternative to a lengthy and costly legal battle. It empowers people to take charge of their destinies and gives them the tools to successfully get on with their lives.