Divorce is as popular as ever in America, with over 50% of first marriages and 70% of second marriages ending prematurely. In addition to traditional litigation couples are increasingly turning to mediation and the “do it yourself” pro se divorce process in the quest to have “successful” divorces as measured by satisfactory settlements, minimal relationship damage and reasonable cost.
However a recent survey conducted by the Wentworth Divorce Financial Advisors LLC suggests these benefits are not being realized by a significant portion of divorcing couples, and that there is room for improvement in helping them through the financial aspects of their divorce.
Of interest was whether mediation or pro se divorce approaches scored better than traditional litigation along the measures described above.
Over 400 divorced Americans were asked 17 questions regarding their divorce process, and how they felt about their divorce experience and key indicators of divorce success.1 They were also asked about their experience in building their financial settlement and whether using a divorce financial expert would have been helpful to them.
Some of the survey results are:
? More people chose pro se “do it yourself” divorces over mediation as an alternative to litigation.
? People that used mediation alone were only slightly more satisfied with their financial settlements than those choosing litigation.
? Those using a litigated divorce process reported the most damage to spousal relationships, but mediation comes in a close second.
? Nearly 40% felt at least somewhat unprepared to enter financial negotiations
? Most felt the cost of their divorce was reasonable. Those going the do it yourself route were the most satisfied, while those opting out of mediation in favor of litigation were the least satisfied.
1 Survey conducted through Survata, Inc. Questions were developed by Wentworth Divorce Financial Advisors, and refined with assistance from Survata survey analysts. All 401 respondents were US residents with incomes in excess of $50,000. 59% were female, 41% were male. 84% were between the ages of 35 and 64 years of age. Respondents were balanced by geographic region. In depth analysis of results was conducted using Statwing®. Only statistically significant results are described in this article.
? 75% felt a financial coach would be helpful in preparing for negotiations, assisting in the development of their settlement, and in reorganizing their financial life after divorce was complete.
Pro Se Divorce is Gaining Ground
Pro se divorce appears to be gaining in popularity vs mediation or traditional litigation. Fully one third of respondents (32.9%) divorcing in the last 5 years chose to go it alone vs 28% choosing mediation. Only 19% chose litigation, which had been the dominant choice (40%) of respondents divorced over 15 years.
It should be noted that 29% said they used a “combination of mediation and litigation” which could suggest a significant number of mediations which were started but did not result in completed agreements.
Mixed Results on Mediation’s Affect on Spousal Relationships
Respondents were asked “How did the process of getting divorced affect your relationship with your spouse? Of those who litigated, 43% said it either “somewhat” or “greatly” worsened as compared to 24% of mediation only clients.
Of those using a combination of mediation and litigation 46% reported worsened relationships.
Dissatisfaction with Financial Settlements
Respondents were asked “How well do you feel your divorce settlement met your financial needs”. Those that used a combination of mediation and litigation were least satisfied with 41% saying they were somewhat or very dissatisfied.
It should be noted that 24% of “successful” mediation clients were also somewhat or very dissatisfied with their financial settlements. 30% of litigating respondents were dissatisfied, while only 11% of those choosing the pro se approach were dissatisfied.
Many People Feel Unprepared to Enter Financial Negotiations
A full 40% of people who mediated said they were either “completely” (24%) or somewhat (16%) unprepared to enter financial negotiations. Those litigating were the most unprepared (45%) followed by mediation/litigation (42%). Pro se divorcing couples fared best with “only” 31% feeling somewhat or completely unprepared.
Divorcing Couples Want Financial Guidance
Regardless of the approach couple’s chose to get divorced, most would have found it helpful to have had a financial expert help them throughout the divorce process.
For mediation clients 68% would have found it “extremely” or “very” helpful to have a divorce financial specialist help them understand their finances in advance of negotiations. Similarly 55% of those choosing litigation would have found it extremely or very helpful to have financial help.
Most people looked to their attorney as their primary source for advice in making financial decisions in mediated (40%) and litigated divorces (57%). The second most popular source for advice was “no one” with 36% choosing to go it alone. 70% of those doing it themselves with a pro se divorce process used no advisor.
Potential Conclusions, More Questions
This survey supports the idea that, relative to litigation, successful mediations help support positive spousal relationships, and potentially better settlements.
However, nearly half of mediating clients were dissatisfied with the amount of financial guidance they received throughout the divorce process, and they were only slightly more satisfied with their financial settlements than those who litigated.
And one cannot overlook the data suggesting many couples bail out of mediation and choose litigation, which results in the most perceived damage to relationships, and the least satisfactory settlements.
The questions that are raised are numerous, among them:
? How can the mediation process be adjusted to help prepare divorcing couples feel more prepared for financial negotiations?
? How can mediation become a more attractive alternative to the pro se divorce?
? How do we keep couples from leaving the mediation process and opting into litigation?