IS MEDIATION RIGHT FOR ME?
Every couple is different, and there is no right or wrong way to come into mediation. Here are mediation stories that show a range of experiences with mediation.
Abigail and Barb—single mediation session regarding parenting
Abigail and Barb got together nine years ago, and separated three years ago. Their children are now ages seven and five. Abigail and Barb managed the separation on their own, and have established a comfortable parenting routine. As their children enter their school years, they find there are topics they had not prepared for. Their child care providers have changed, and their oldest is having a hard time keeping track of his gear as he transitions from house to house in the school week. Abigail and Barb know they dislike conflict, and it has become harder to make decisions as their lives have evolved in different directions. They arrived at mediation with a few topics, and found that they had time to clarify how they bring up topics to each other, and how they involve their partners in parenting decisions. They decided to write their own parenting plan, and return to mediation as needed. Since they mediated, they have a renewed confidence that they will be able to manage parenting their children together.
Chad and Dolores—six mediation sessions regarding parenting, finances and separation
Chad and Dolores were ecstatic when they married 14 years ago. Their children are now ten and eight.
They never fell into a pleasant or satisfying rhythm after the kids were born. Dolores had been successful in her career before children, and has endured years of feeling invisible since. She recognizes that her career cannot return to the same trajectory, and that had been okay when she and Chad were a team. Chad has devoted himself to his work. He had assumed that giving up time with the kids would be an okay exchange for providing for the family, and now worries that he does not know them as well as he should.
Dolores has been mostly in charge of shopping for the family, and Chad has been mostly in charge of earning for the family. They have always fought about money: Chad has never understood that Food Costs Money, and Dolores has never understood how Hard it is to Make a Living.
Last weekend, Dolores and Chad had a huge fight in front of the children that ended with both of them yelling for a divorce. They have reluctantly concluded that the marriage is ending. The only thing worse than divorce would be staying together, and the only thing worse than parenting alone would be continuing to parent together. They agree that their fights in front of the children are toxic, and have to stop.
Dolores has started to look at full-time jobs, and her skills are more out-of-date than she had thought. She is very worried about how she will continue to manage the kids’ activities and appointments while beginning to work full-time. She was already exhausted, and she can only see more effort ahead.
Chad had been putting aside as much as possible into a 401K, which had looked like it would be enough when he and Dolores were retiring together. He’s now feeling threatened that she will demand his current income, plus (some? all? half?) the retirement he has been assiduously saving. The thought that Dolores could demand a divorce, then ruin his retirement, makes Chad irate. Sure, she can leave, he thinks, but she should finance it herself.
Chad was on the point of taking Dolores’ name off their joint credit cards, when he talked to a co-worker, Barb, who suggested mediation. Barb had recently been to mediation, and she and her ex had found it helpful. Chad has terrible memories of being in the middle of his parents’ divorce, and he would much prefer to sit down with Dolores and work something out. Dolores used to be reasonable, maybe it would work?
Dolores needs Chad to move out of the house yesterday, and she also needs to have temporary parenting and financial arrangements in place before he moves out. She knows a few other mothers at the kids’ school who have gone through a divorce in the last few years. She talked to one at pickup yesterday, who suggested mediation. Dolores had seen Christine and her ex at a few school functions, and had been surprised that they were pleasant with each other. She would like to be able to be around Chad at future events. She had assumed that she and Chad would have to fight in court, but maybe there is another way?
Neither Chad nor Dolores slept well the night before the first mediation session. They had spoken briefly with their mediator, and had a vague idea of what to expect. They ended up using the mediation time to introduce the mediator to their situation, and plan the kids’ birthday parties for the following weekend. The mediator gave them several financial worksheets to fill out in preparation for a discussion of when and how they would get another apartment to begin the much-needed separation.
In the following mediation session, Chad and Dolores decided to rent a small apartment nearby, and take turns living there. This was meant to keep the kids’ routines stable as Dolores and Chad thought through their financial separation. Having less contact with Chad gave Dolores space to imagine that she could come up with a good-enough plan for her financial future. Chad found that working was harder to manage while caring for the children, and also doable with support.
They were surprised by how similar their mediation goals were. They each wanted financial autonomy, to stay in the area, for the kids to continue at their current school, and for the kids to feel safe and loved. As they tried out various ideas for how to manage the separation, and creating longer-term parenting and financial arrangements, they felt both relief that the divorce wouldn’t go on forever, and tremendous grief at all they were losing.
The mediator helped them work through the financial side of the divorce, and they gave themselves some time to practice managing their individual finances before they became final. They also had a safe place to plan the shift from parenting together to parenting apart. Dolores found a short-term training program, and was able to cover school pick-ups for Chad as he gradually adjusted his work schedule to synch with his parenting schedule.
They cooperated in unexpected ways. Chad felt excluded at school because he was one of the few dads active in their kids’ care. Dolores introduced Chad to some of the mothers, and it became easier for Chad to arrange play dates for the kids. Dolores entered a field that Chad was familiar with, and he helped her set up a few informational interviews.
The cooperation was bittersweet. They still wonder if they could have stayed married if they had gotten help before it was too late, and this makes their new relationships more precious. The kids had a relatively smooth experience, because Dolores and Chad worked hard to keep their divorce issues their own.
WHAT IS MEDIATION?
Mediation is a voluntary process, intended to create complete, final, sustainable and legally enforceable agreements. There are many styles of mediation; the type of mediation I offer is an alternative to litigation. Clients in mediation will only submit final, agreed orders to the court, and will not be asking the court to decide the terms of the divorce for them.
We will meet periodically for about two hours per session. You and your spouse will usually be in the same room. If we are working with a therapist, we will meet together most of the time, although there may be times when you meet with the therapist separately or with me separately.
It is essential that you provide complete, accurate and timely information about your needs, concerns, finances, and other relevant issues. I assume that I may share whatever you tell me with your spouse, unless you tell me otherwise.
WHAT DOES A MEDIATOR DO?
As mediator, I will work with you to generate complete agreements needed to complete your family law matter. I will assist both of you with gathering information needed to make informed decisions, serve as your memory from session to session to help you maintain the continuity of your thoughts, brainstorm with you, evaluate with you various options, guide you through implementation, and find ways to resolve and manage conflict throughout.
While I am licensed as an attorney, I will not act as an attorney for either of you. This means that I will not provide either of you with legal advice, nor will I advocate for either of you. My efforts are focused on helping you efficiently make informed, workable and long-lasting agreements.
As part of the process, I memorialize final agreements in agreed court orders. I will draft commonly used pleadings. I do not draft orders to transfer 401K or similar assets, and will give you a referral to attorneys who do prepare such orders. While I cannot file agreed orders with the court on your behalf, I can assist you in filing them yourselves.
Another professional with expertise in child development, law, finances, or mental health may be part of this process as a co-mediator, consultant or therapist. You will be responsible for the fees of any other professional, and those services will be covered by a separate contract among the two of you and the professional. I receive no referral fee from any other professional, nor do I have a fee-splitting arrangement with any other professional.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?
Delay and conflict will lengthen the mediation process; prompt furnishing of accurate, complete information, and a willingness to consider the other’s point of view will shorten the process. In a typical mediation, we would need five to eight meetings to create complete legal papers encapsulating financial and parenting agreements. This is a guideline only.
CAN I HAVE AN ATTORNEY? MUST I HAVE AN ATTORNEY?
You should have an attorney. Attorneys provide legal information, brainstorm, review written agreements, and sometimes participate in mediation sessions. Because the way we use attorneys is particular to mediation, your attorney should be familiar with and supportive of mediation. I will provide you with a list of attorneys whom I find reliably add value to mediation, and will not pull the case into litigation.
My work with you as a mediator cannot be a substitute for legal advice or representation. Many clients find it helpful to speak with an attorney toward the start of the mediation process, and return to the attorney for advice as the final settlement takes shape. Attorneys typically review the final written papers to confirm that they match the agreed settlement.
DO I NEED A FINANCIAL SPECIALIST?
There are many types of financial specialists. You may use a financial specialist to value an asset such as a business or pension; give an opinion as to the community or separate nature of an asset; support you in developing your budget; or provide a detailed illustration of how a particular division would evolve over time. You will discuss with the mediator whether and how to bring in a financial specialist.
DO I NEED A CHILD SPECIALIST?
Child specialists offer a perspective of child development, and particularly how children navigate the transition into two households. Combining that perspective with parents’ knowledge of their particular children can provide parents assurance that they are minimizing disruption to their children.
HOW DOES MEDIATION FIT WITH THE LEGAL PROCESS?
Mediated agreements are typically entered with the court. Once you have created a mediated agreement outside of court, the legal process is reduced to a series of formalities. The first formality is to file a petition for dissolution or legal separation. The petition can be filed at the start of mediation, after you have signed off on the final settlement, or anywhere in between. We will discuss when to file, as there can be reasons to file at a specific time.
Three months or so after filing, you will enter your final papers with the court. Final papers must include a decree, and findings to support the decree. The financial settlement will be described within the decree, or in a private contract. If you have dependent children, the final papers will also include a parenting plan and order of child support.
If you are working with attorneys, then I am available to write up your legal pleadings for your attorneys to review with you. I have constraints on my ability to draft your pleadings if you do not have attorneys to review them.
WHAT IF I HAVE ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS?
Mediation offers a way for you to address the practical, legal and emotional aspects of separation and divorce. Please bring in your questions and comments regarding mediation for us to discuss during our first meeting. I look forward to meeting with you soon.