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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Are You Going to Be a Winner or Loser In Your Divorce?

My experience as a child of divorce had a profound and lasting impact on me. I was ten then and if I wasn’t already hard-wired to become the strong woman that I am today, dealing with my parents’ divorce would have made me one. It affected my choices in men, need for accomplishment and independence and, ultimately, it lead me to a career of championing winners in divorce.

My father was liberated in his newly-single life: he dated frequently and widely, learned to cook, grew his business into one of the most celebrated in its industry at the time, frequently took his boat out for a spin on the Chesapeake, and was even being cited as one of our city’s most eligible bachelors in Baltimore Magazine.

My mother, meanwhile, was so devastated by her divorce that she attempted suicide after the birth of my sister, with whom she was four months pregnant when my father announced he was leaving. Just 33 years old, my mom was attractive, smart, sweet, and capable, but she never recovered and died much too early of a disease that, I’m convinced, was brought on by a broken heart never mended and the inability to embrace life after her marriage ended. If ever there was a dichotomy between winners and losers in a divorce, my parents’ was a notable example.

There are winners and losers in divorce. At least that’s what the late Judith Wallerstein told us in her seminal book on the longer-term impact of divorce, Second Chances: Men, Women, and Children a Decade After Divorce. While such a dichotomy is now considered more a spectrum, I have spent much time since reading her book considering the question of what makes someone a winner or a loser in divorce.

So, what makes someone a winner in divorce? It’s really simple: being a winner in divorce is about deciding to be one. Do you choose to wallow in misery, cry the blues, dedicate your life to getting even, fold because you never want to be so hurt or vulnerable again? Or do you pick yourself up, stand tall and make an affirmative choice to create the best life you are now able? Winners accept the reality of the divorce, including the necessary changes to the most important elements of their lives—their relationship with their children, their home, career, financial status, and friends. Is it easy? Hell no! You are going to have to work really hard, persevere, be willing to accept setbacks, and most of all, get help—because it’s going to be hard to make good choices when you’re feeling so overwhelmed.

What kind of help are you going to need? If you and your spouse can tolerate each other and want an amicable divorce, start with a divorce mediator, preferably one with specific divorce financial training (a CDFA®). If your circumstances rule out mediation and you instead go the litigation route with lawyers, consider first working with a divorce coach.  You may be thinking “who can afford an entire divorce team when I can barely afford a lawyer?” A divorce coach can, in fact, often help save you money by assisting you in working more efficiently with your lawyer and communicating more effectively with your (ex-) spouse to bring about quicker resolution—all the while at a lower hourly rate than your lawyer’s! A CDFA® may, too, help put more money in your pocket by avoiding costly and irreparable mistakes and getting you a better settlement than you might with a lawyer alone.

Even if you don’t have it in you to make the choice to be a Winner for yourself right now, do it for your children. Kids, no matter their age, need two strong parents, not one winner and one loser. The research strongly supports that children can only win in divorce when their parents are both stable and able to largely focus on their children’s needs. Conflict and despair take precious energy that could otherwise be spent on being a good parent to your children.

Being a winner in divorce starts with making the choice to get through your divorce with courage, emotional maturity, and integrity and, eventually, to thrive again in your un-coupled life. Your divorce team, and especially a trained divorce coach, is critical in doing so. I so wish my mom had chosen to be a winner—it would have made all the difference in her life. And mine.


Nine Reasons You DON’T Want to Get a Divorce (YET)

So you’ve had it with your spouse and are thinking it’s really over. You’ve mentally prepared for moving on and are just waiting for the right opportunity or the next major blowup to pull the plug. There are many reasons why you might want to hit the pause button on that divorce.

Hastily making a short-term decision that may not serve you well in the long run. You may not have exhausted potential sources of help to repair the marriage. Someone may be overly emphasizing the positives of being free versus the negatives. A failure to address your own shortcomings and character flaws that may also be contributing to your unhappiness.

Each of these deserves discussion in its own right. The point of this particular piece, though, is to identify primary reasons you may want to hold off before you tell your spouse you’re done with the marriage or move out (even if your spouse has already told you s/he wants a divorce).

Unless you or your children are at risk of physical or serious psychological harm, here are nine reasons why you should pause before pulling the trigger on a separation or divorce:

  1. You might not have enough money to pay your bills, e.g., mortgage/rent, groceries, utilities, car payment, attorney’s fees etc.
  2. You could jeopardize custody/shared custody of your children
  3. You might make a knee-jerk decision on the wrong divorce process and lose a substantial amount of time and money
  4. Your retirement could be compromised
  5. Your credit could be destroyed
  6. You could lose assets, money, or property to which you’re entitled if you don’t understand the nuances of property division and taxation before you put the divorce in motion
  7. You might say or do stupid things that will damage your future divorce settlement, your relationship with your (ex) spouse or harm your children
  8. You could lose access to important information and documents that could make getting an optimal settlement more difficult and/or expensive to obtain
  9. You might unnecessarily leave money on the table if you jump too soon (e.g., future social security benefits, bonuses)

What can you do to avoid these mistakes? Start with a Certified Divorce Coach®. S/he can help you explore if you’re ready for separation or divorce and, if not, what steps you might take. If you do decide to move forward with a separation/divorce, s/he can assist you with determining how to tell your spouse, children, family, and friends, as well as choosing the right divorce process and lawyer.

You should also talk with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA®) who can look at your complete financial picture and assess what impact a divorce could have on your ability to pay your bills, keep your house, put the kids through college, or fund your retirement.

Additionally, you should talk with two or three different family law attorneys to identify where you may be vulnerable and how best to proceed legally.

If you know or suspect your spouse has serious psychological or psychiatric issues, talk with a qualified psychotherapist about how to best move forward. If you or your children are at risk for physical harm, this is imperative! Above all, protect yourself and your children.

It may very well be that the best path for you and your children, overall, is a divorce. A few years from now you’ll be really glad you took the time now to address the issues that could adversely affect your long-term outcome. 

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