Should You Hire a Divorce Attorney or Divorce Mediator?

Deciding to get a divorce is a very difficult decision and not one to be made lightly. There are many things you will need to consider, starting with these 7 points. Once you think you want to move ahead, who do you call? Most think to call a lawyer, which most often leads to the traditional path to a divorce. While there are times you will need to have a lawyer  litigate your divorce in court, it should be one of the last options you choose. Do you need a divorce lawyer or divorce mediator?

The reality is that the vast majority of divorces should not be handled within the court system. Today, many choose a constructive divorce process that facilitates a more positive future rather than one that tears them down. At the top of the list of constructive divorce processes is mediation. 

Let’s look more closely at the differences between working with a litigating divorce attorney and a professional divorce mediator.

What is Litigation with a Divorce Lawyer

The court-centered, traditional divorce process is where each party gets a divorce attorney and then battles it out in the courts with petitions, hearings, mandated conferences, and maybe even a full-blown trial. This is a relatively costly, slow, and divisive process. 

Attorneys are trained to be adversarial and most divorce attorneys charge an hourly rate of $350 or higher. They are incentivized to spend more time working through the details of court filings, support, property division, and custody. and divorce settlement agreement. When you have two attorneys discussing the minutiae of your divorce and arguing in court, the couple may be paying well over $700 an hour! It’s no wonder that many litigated divorces cost $40,000 and sometimes significantly more.

What is a Divorce Mediator

Divorce mediation is the first of the constructive divorce processes you’ll want to consider. It’s expert-guided, relatively fast and inexpensive and it allows the couple to control their futures and privacy. Mediation is a process where both parties want to resolve their issues and come to an agreement together about custody and the parenting plan, child support, alimony, and property division. A mediator doesn’t make decisions but they assist through a variety of methods including education, financial analysis, conflict resolution, best practices, etc. 

Divorce mediation is a good choice for those who want a gentler divorce that will allow them to keep more of their money and dignity. The couple doesn’t have to be amicable, they just have to be willing to negotiate in good faith. One thing for sure, their long-term relationship will be much better if they can work through mediation rather than the courts. This is especially valuable for parents who will be interacting throughout their children’s lives but important for anyone’s future well-being and peace. 

A divorce mediator can be a lawyer, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA®) or other appropriately trained individual. Be sure you understand the differences in your alternatives and which would be best suited for your case. The decision of choosing a divorce attorney or a divorce mediator is a personal one.

If you need some help figuring out which approach would be best for you, get in touch with TruNorth Divorce and ask for a Free Divorce Strategy Session to explore your options. They specialize in providing expert divorce mediation advice to individuals and couples considering divorce. They are certified divorce financial analysts and trained divorce coaches who specialize in helping divorcing individuals and couples get their best possible outcome.

 

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Do You Need a Divorce Lawyer to Mediate Your Divorce?

Now that you decided mediation is probably the right process for your divorce, should you start looking for a divorce lawyer who mediates? No, you don’t have to—your mediator does not have to be a divorce lawyer and as such may not even be the best fit for the job.

Mediator Qualities

A divorce mediator needs to be skilled, experienced, and knowledgeable in divorce negotiation, finance, and state laws and procedures. Other ideal qualities include being adaptable, patient, and persistent. None of these qualities requires a law degree nor are divorce lawyers necessarily trained in anything other than laws and procedures. Many lawyers, too, are adversarial by nature or because of their law-school training or courtroom experiences. Unfortunately, this may lead them to unwittingly foster a hostile environment, undermining the cooperative and problem-solving nature of mediation.

The best divorce mediators have been professionally trained in mediation, are fully neutral, know the issues and surrounding laws and procedures, and are also experts in complex financial matters surrounding the divorce. Many today are choosing a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA®) to mediate their divorce, recognizing that a CDFA® has unique qualities and skills to develop optimal and creative settlements that address everyone’s best long-term interests.

Legal Documents and Attorney Review

Now, divorce does require legal documents and filings and you may want an attorney or other legal professional to do that for you. Alternatively, once you have your signed Memorandum of Understanding from your mediator, you can easily create your own documents. This can be accomplished with many inexpensive online services or by just relying on the information and forms provided on county websites.

Some individuals or couples, even if they use a divorce mediator who is also a lawyer, will want to involve attorneys. This might be to have their own attorney(s) counsel them during the mediation process and/or have them review the Memorandum of Understanding and Settlement Agreement once the mediation has been completed. It’s always wise to take this extra step and I encourage my clients to do so. In my experience, though, most do not.

When Not to Mediate

We recognize, of course, that mediation is not the best choice for every divorce and that you may need to involve the court’s oversight (with or without a divorce lawyer). Mediation may not be the right path, for example, when there’s been or is the threat of violence in the relationship or when one of you is just not willing to take into account the other person’s interests.

Assessment

If you’re seriously thinking mediation might be the best path for you and your spouse, take time to assess your needs and what skill-set, training, and qualities would best serve you. Read our free e-Book to learn about some steps you should be taking before you divorce. Talk to a few potential mediators and choose one that you and your spouse feel most comfortable with. You only get to do this divorce once and it could have long-term implications for your (and possibly your children’s) emotional and financial health.

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Six Elements of a Successful Divorce Mediation

As a process to divorce, mediation has grown in popularity for several reasons. It’s significantly less costly than other assisted alternatives, it empowers couples to control their own destiny and make decisions that best serve them and their children (as opposed to relinquishing the control to attorneys, court masters, and judges), and it creates less emotional damage for all involved. On the other hand, it may not be the best solution when one of the parties is not able or willing to fully engage in the process. A properly-qualified mediator can work with a hesitant party to improve the chances for success. Nonetheless, you should consider six critical elements to a successful mediation.

Here Are Six Critical Elements For An Effective Divorce Mediation:

1. Readiness:

It is often the case that one spouse is way ahead of the other in calling it quits. If both spouses aren’t ready to dissolve the marriage, discuss the distribution of assets, or deal with custody issues then the process is crippled before it even gets started. To effectively mediate, both must be ready to move forward and not use mediation sessions to attempt to derail the divorce. Readiness also includes having emotions in check. Divorce is, indeed, a major life event that makes for strong emotions but these must be largely dealt with outside of divorce mediation sessions. 

If you are the reluctant spouse or know that you’re feeling too emotional to productively engage in divorce mediation, consider utilizing a divorce coach to help you address your concerns and issues until you feel ready. Beware, though, that If you stall the process for longer than your spouse can tolerate, he or she may hire an attorney and begin the litigation process—this may result in far greater expense and emotional damage.

2. Openness to Options:

A good mediator will educate the couple about alternatives to settlement options regarding asset division, support, and custody issues. She is an expert in divorce and is trained to address the pertinent issues. It’s good if you and your spouse have already had discussions around the key issues, but even better if you both enter the mediation process with an open mind about creative alternatives that might improve your situation.

3. Full Disclosure:

Your mediator can only incorporate the information you share with her. Key information includes what you envision as your needs and wants for your future apart as well as all income, assets and liabilities. Creative solutions to divorce settlements are born from an in-depth understanding of needs and concerns, also the available resources. If a mediator senses there are trust issues, she’ll terminate the divorce mediation process and suggest you consider litigation, instead.

4. The Right Mediator:

Not all divorce mediators are alike! Many family law attorneys have turned to mediation as a way to boost their incomes in a competitive marketplace but they aren’t really committed to a non-adversarial approach. If you consider a mediator attorney, you need to ask them if they exclusively mediate or whether they also litigate—you want someone who is committed to a less adversarial practice and not just looking for a way to boost revenues. Also, you want someone with expert training in the divorce issues that are most important to the both of you. Lawyers are experts in the law but not necessarily in divorce finances and custody. If your primary issues are financial, then consider a divorce financial expert, i.e., a mediation trained Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA®). Even better, a CDFA® who is also a CDC Certified Divorce Coach® who can help you make decisions that are consistent with your values and tackle some of the emotional issues getting in the way of a settlement that will serve both of you well into the future. If there are custody issues as well, a CDFA® mediator can incorporate a parenting specialist into the divorce mediation process or, if necessary, assist you in a collaborative divorce that incorporates parenting, financial, and emotional specialists in addition to attorneys for both sides (but beware, collaborative divorce can get quite expensive relative to mediation).

5. Sufficient Time:

Don’t let anyone rush you into an agreement you’re not ready for. Yes, in litigation there’s a clock running, but not in mediation! Take time to consider your options and make a decision that you won’t regret in the future! 

6. Attorney Review of Your Settlement:

Once you are satisfied with the agreements you’ve made with one another and have a draft of a Settlement Agreement, you should pay an attorney a few hundred dollars to ensure your Agreement is sound and can’t be legally challenged in the future. Once processed, it’s difficult and costly to challenge your Agreement, so make sure it’s thoroughly reviewed before you sign anything.

Starting the Divorce Mediation Process

Mediation is a great process for divorce and one you won’t regret if you make sure you’re ready and ensure you have the right mindset, fully disclose your finances and what’s important to you, allow yourself the time needed to make decisions you won’t later regret, have chosen an ideal mediator, and do a legal review before you finalize your Settlement.

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Gray Divorce, Divorcing Over 50: How to Thrive

Divorce at any age is a difficult experience. If you’re over 50 you’ve got obstacles that the younger don’t encounter. You’ve got fewer years to bounce back and less energy. But before you throw in the towel, look on the brighter side: you’re now the captain of your own ship. You have the opportunity to navigate to a destination of your own choosing. At the age of 50 we can expect to live another 35 years and there’s much to look forward to if you properly plan and adjust course.

The term “gray divorce” refers to couples who are separating after a long-term marriage or are older in age (gray-haired). Here’s what you need to consider if you’re going to thrive after a later-life divorce.

5 ways to handle a successful Gray Divorce

Retirement Readiness:

As with all divorces, you’re going to have to split your assets and create two households. Two living separately is not as cheap as two sharing a household and your share of the assets isn’t going to see you through retirement like the whole pie was going to for the two of you. If you’re middle-age plus you don’t have as many years to recover like you did if you were in the prime of your career. You’re going to have to significantly ramp up those savings or downgrade your retirement expectations. Yes, that stinks, but moaning and groaning isn’t going to make it any better.

So what can you do about it? Cut back, save more, get creative, create a household with a friend, find a new partner/spouse, ramp up your career, and, if you are currently preparing for divorce, consider a less costly process that can adequately address the complexities of your situation, i.e., mediation or a collaboration.

Lifestyle:

No, two can’t live as cheaply as one. If you’re lucky, that means you may not have access to a vacation home anymore; if you’re living more frugally, you may have to compromise your lifestyle more drastically—in housing, cars, clothing, entertainment, etc. Regardless, you worked hard to get to where you are in mid or later life and it’ll feel particularly daunting that you’re no longer going to be living like you did before the split.

So, what to do? Buck up, for one. Whether this gray divorce was your choice or not, it’s not going to help if you wallow about your present financial state. Your friends don’t want to hear it repeatedly and your kids don’t want to listen to it anymore, either. Make the best of what you’ve got and make a plan. What can you afford? Utilize a financial planner to create a budget and goals. Determine what’s really important to you and work for it. Set realistic expectations and then adapt.

Work and Career:

Women, especially, may have cut back on working to be home with the kids or care for the home. Now they are faced with a temporary alimony order and need to get back to work if they are going to be able to pay the bills and save for retirement. But who is going to hire you now that you’ve been out of work for so long? Or maybe it’s time for a career change or to put it on a faster track and you’re not sure how to go about it. Enlist the help of a career coach if you don’t have any ready-made answers. And before you say you can’t afford to enlist a career coach, let me say that yes, you’re going to have to spend some money to make some money.

Loneliness:

Your spouse may not have been good company in the later years of your marriage but at least s/he was a warm body who grunted once in a while, right? There will be times when you’re jubilant that you’re free to do as you please and excited about enhancing the friendships you have and making new ones. There’ll come a time, too, that you’ll feel a bit empty and lonely. Remember that you have to let go of things, people, and circumstances that hold you down in order to make room for ones that will lift you up! Work with a divorce coach or a therapist, join some clubs, and accept the times of loneliness as necessary in order to move on. You will again have a full life!

As for dating, that’s a choice you need to make based on your own needs and desires. Online dating works for some and there are numerous avenues to pursue if you want to meet potential partners. Don’t get out there, though, until you’re happy with your life and circumstances. If you’re lonely, depressed, or bitter, get some help to deal with those issues before you go partner hunting.

Health and Well-Being:

Let’s face it, at 50+ we’re going to have more health issues. When you had a partner who looked after you, willingly or reluctantly, you had a crutch. Now you don’t. So it’s even more important to take care of yourself. Eat better, get some exercise, and develop a support network. If you can afford it, purchase long-term care insurance. If you can’t, talk to your children, other relatives, and close friends about a plan if you are temporarily or permanently disabled.

Getting older has its plusses and minuses no matter your marital status. If you’re becoming single as an older person, you need to face your realities and make plans to address them head on. If you don’t you may find yourself alone, broke, disabled, and unhappily dependent on others. It’s up to you to make informed and wise choices so that you thrive after your divorce.

Reach out to our trained divorce mediators and personal divorce coaches to help you through this confusing and and often frustrating time. Gray divorce isn’t easy and we can help to guide you through it. 

 

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484.321.6990

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Virtual Divorce Mediation: a Good Idea?

You want a divorce and think virtual divorce mediation might be the best choice. Sometimes in-person meetings aren’t feasible or the better alternative. In the midst of this COVID-19 lockdown, you may have heard a good deal about virtual meetings, classrooms, etc. Let’s look at when and how they might be best applied to a mediation.

Reasons for Using Virtual Divorce Mediation

You probably already know why mediation might be the best path for your divorce—cost, dignity, privacy, control, sheltering the children, reduced toxicity, and duration of the process. Here are some reasons you might want to consider a virtual divorce mediation:

  • Mediating online is fast—you can get started right away
  • You don’t have to sit together or be in the same location as your spouse
  • All you need is a smart phone, tablet, or computer with a camera and an internet connection
  • No travel = time savings
  • Documents can be electronically signed
  • Wider choice of qualified mediators

Zoom Mediations

Do you lose anything by not meeting in person with your mediator? Not necessarily. We find that couples quickly adapt to virtual meetings and realize how convenient they are. Zoom is our preferred web-conferencing software as it’s super easy to use, costs nothing for participants, and uses encryption to maintain privacy and security.  Zoom allows break-outs, too, that facilitate one-on-one conversations with either spouse when necessary, just as if we met in-person.

Rushing to divorce during the COVID-19 crisis might not be prudent (read Nine Reasons You DON’T Want to Get a Divorce (YET)). If you’re ready to start the process, though, schedule a free consultation to explore whether a Zoom mediation might be a good choice.

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484.321.6990

hello@trunorthdivorce.com