December 28, 2018

Divorce Mediation

Thanks to RJ Media Group, which first published this post in the December 20, 2018 edition of The Cheshire Citizen.

My August 2017 Cheshire Citizen column “Divorce Doesn’t Have to Be a Battle” described collaborative divorce as one way for a couple to prevent their divorce from becoming a horror show.  Where it fits the situation, divorce mediation is another.

As a divorce mediator since the 1980s, I’ve seen mediation result in hundreds of customized resolutions that both spouses create, in a private setting, without the wasted money and emotional suffering of traditional adversarial divorce.

Here’s how it works.

  • Both spouses make a written commitment to the mediation process, which includes promising to share all relevant financial information. They agree upon a mediator who will serve the couple as a neutral go-between, consultant, advisor and facilitator.  While many lawyers offer mediation services, it is important to select one that has specific mediation training and family law experience.  As a neutral, the mediator can’t give the couple legal advice and, if the mediation process fails, the mediator can’t represent either spouse individually.
  • In face to face meetings, the mediator and both spouses jointly: explore goals, gather and analyze financial information, and brainstorm options to address financial, parenting and other issues.
  • With the mediator’s help, the couple develop a customized and mutually agreeable plan that is presented to a judge for approval. Getting that approval is the only time in the entire process that the divorcing spouses go to court and the hearing is generally short.

Mediation isn’t always easy.  Often there are very difficult discussions to resolve difficult issues.  But, in the end, the resolution that the spouses develop themselves will better serve their and their children’s needs than one from adversarial negotiations or that is imposed by a court.  It will be a resolution that the couple will be able to keep and, more importantly, will want to keep.

Mediation isn’t right for all situations.  For example, a substantial power imbalance between the spouses, such as a history of domestic violence or complete control of the finances by a dishonest spouse, is generally disqualifying. But you don’t even have to be friendly with your spouse for it to work.  I’ve successfully mediated in the awkward situation where one spouse was having an affair with the other spouse’s co-worker.

And mediation isn’t just for the “easy” cases.  It can be especially effective for hard complex situations, such as where the spouses are business partners.  In one successful mediation, we were able to separate the different business interests so each spouse became an independent business owner.  In another, the spouses achieved their goal of continuing as business partners even after the marriage ended.

The best way to find out if mediation is right for you is to consult with an experienced divorce attorney.  He or she can help you figure out if mediation is the better and feasible alternative to traditional litigated divorce.

Certainly no one looks forward to the divorce experience.  Mediation doesn’t make it easy.  But if right for the situation, it offers a better path through to the next stage in life than the adversarial process which, at best, often provides unimaginative solutions and, at worst, turns a bad situation into a horror show.

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