Separation & Divorce Mediation
Couples have the ability to make good, healthy decisions about the end of their relationship. I can help in sorting out the issues and the solutions.
"Divorce mediation, is that where you try to keep a couple together?"
As a mediator concentrating in divorce and other family conflicts, I am often asked these questions. In short, my answers are: 1. No, that is called marriage counseling; 2. Yes, but it is enormously rewarding; 3. No. In arbitration, you submit your dispute to a third person who renders a legally-binding decision. In mediation, the parties themselves retain complete control over the outcome.
That famous trial lawyer, Abraham Lincoln, once urged his fellow citizens to "discourage litigation" because "the nominal winner is often the real loser -- in fees, expenses, and waste of time." Indeed, litigation can often seem like an endless series of nasty skirmishes, leaving the parties not only economically spent, but emotionally depleted as well. Litigants often feel as if they never really had a chance to "tell their story," and resentful of their attorney's need to demonize their adversary. This "demonizing" is particularly disturbing when the adversary is a spouse, and even more so when children are involved. Mediation holds the promise of making divorce no more traumatic for the children than it has to be, nor less dignified to the participants than it can be. In ever-increasing numbers, individuals, families, businesses and community groups are turning to mediation as a saner, more humane, and more economical method of resolving disputes. Once referred to as the "quiet revolution," it has truly arrived.
Simply stated, mediation is "assisted negotiation." The mediator is impartial -- with no vested interest in any particular outcome but committed to ensuring that the process by which each participant finds his or her way to an agreement is a fair one. A skilled mediator helps to create an atmosphere in which the participants can communicate more effectively and better understand both their own and the other's point of view. The mediator never imposes a solution upon the parties nor presumes to advise them what they "should" do; he or she helps the parties to identify and articulate all concerns and interests that may need to be addressed and to acquire all the information needed to reach a circumspect decision.
A more apt term for "divorce mediation" would be "separation agreement" mediation. When a couple is in the process of divorce, they need to make important decisions about, among other things, future parenting arrangements, child support, property distribution, and spousal maintenance. The decisions a couple ultimately makes about these issues are memorialized by the attorney mediator in the "Separation Agreement" or "Stipulation of Settlement." (If the mediator is a mental health professional, he or she may draft a "memorandum of understanding" which will then be converted by an attorney into a legal document.) When signed by the parties, it becomes a legally-binding contract. That agreement is ultimately filed in court and is incorporated in the divorce judgment.
As a mediator, I do not act as an attorney; I give no advice to either participant. I will, however, give the parties legal information to the extent they ask for it. That might include the definition of marital versus separate property, statutory factors in determining property distribution and maintenance, or the statutory formula used to calculate child support (they must be made aware of this). I will also alert them to tax implications of certain options they may be considering.