Once upon a time, when a couple no longer wanted to live as man and wife, they would file for divorce, quibble over who gets the Beemer or the season tickets, and eventually reach a compromise. Or not. In which case everyone suffered, especially the children, because divorce is expensive – litigation even more expensive – and the primary caregiver (the wife and mother) often came out second best. However this may be true, there is also mediation.
According to a recent study, these hardships were not only financial, but emotional, mental, and social as well. After a divorce, two thirds of children typically found themselves in the bottom half of the family income scale, or worse. The impact of this sudden poverty was immeasurable. As adults, these children of divorce were only half as likely to find work, or to have the qualifications needed for skilled, good-paying positions.
Today, divorcing couples can hire a divorce mediator. This person, typically trained in law, mental health, or conflict resolution, will help achieve a settlement – with or without a lawyer.
The concept is fairly new, but also a long time coming. Most lawyers can arrange an equitable legal settlement, but few are trained in crisis counseling, and that is what a divorce represents. In fact, in some instances of bad feeling, it may resemble a hostage negotiation.
Most important, litigation is costly. For couples trying to preserve as many assets as possible for starting a new life or raising children, saving the cost of a lawyer – or two – can mean the difference between a successful separation and one doomed to failure.
What Makes a Good Mediator?
Choosing a mediator can be complicated and time-consuming, but the effort is worth it. Failure to reach an agreement means divorcing couples have to start over from square one, including all the costs associated with that fiasco.
Before choosing a mediator, ask:
For educational background in law, mental health, or conflict resolution
For familiarity with your state’s divorce laws
For ongoing education/training in the field, or associated fields
For length of experience, and the number of mediations during that period
For the cost per hour or per session
For a sliding scale payment plan, or a free introductory consultation
For an explanation of his/her mediation style
What Can a Good Mediator Accomplish?
A good mediator doesn’t take sides, offer advice, or act as a lawyer. A good mediator does keep the negotiations on track by reducing bickering and point out the ultimate objective to each party. This may be as simple as an amicable settlement, or as complex as wealth preservation for the sake of the children, often through lowering a potential tax liability.
Moreover, mediation is voluntary, whereas legal divorce is adversarial. Either spouse can withdraw from mediation at any time, and this helps reduce the pressure to resolve issues. A mediator can also withdraw, but most will persist unless the couple simply cannot agree.
The main advantage of mediation is that it keeps you and your spouse in control of your own divorce. That can make all the difference in your recovering from your divorce and moving on with your life. Mediation allows the two of you to get through your divorce with less conflict than you would experience in an adversarial divorce.