Uncontested divorce (part 2): Mediation when both agree

Another way in which an uncontested divorce comes my way is in the context of a couple who are fairly amicable and would like to work together to complete their divorce. Often, they either agree on everything (how to divide assets, on support, and on child issues) or they have one or two relatively minor issues that they’d like help with.  Often, too, the couple is concerned about (1) completing the process correctly, (2) not having time on their own – with family, work, and other personal concerns – to figure out how best to proceed and fill out all of the documents, (3) making sure nothing is left out because of their lack of knowledge of the “ins and outs” of California divorce, and (4) having someone to reach out to for questions and concerns as the process progresses.

Mediation is the way to go in these circumstances. Mediation is where an attorney (or non-attorney, though I generally recommend working with an attorney-mediator) to help you to come to a resolution of your divorce case. It’s significantly less expensive than litigation and drastically reduces the amount of contention and conflict in the process. Essentially you are working together to come to an agreeable solution. Instead of forcing a stranger – a judge – to make decisions for you, your children, your future and your finances, YOU control the process. It’s much quicker, too, than the traditional divorce process.

If you and your spouse get along reasonably well & just want to get your divorce completed as quickly, painlessly, and with the least expense, consider mediation.

Thinking about filing for divorce? What you need to do first:

Are you thinking of filing for divorce?  Had it with your spouse?  Before you pull the trigger, so to speak, and file for divorce, do some investigating and some collecting.  You’ll be glad you did.  Specifically:

  1. Gather copies of financial documents, such as tax returns (at least the past three years), bank statements (go back several months to a year), investment accounts, and business records.  Print them out in case you lose access.
  2. Keep the copies in a secure location away from your home.  Try a friend or relative’s home or your workplace.
  3. Secure and possessions you’d be heartbroken to lose, especially anything breakable or very valuable. If your spouse “loses” your father’s antique watch, it’ll be up to you to prove it was your spouse’s fault.
  4. Learn your rights.  Listening to your friends, relatives and neighbors about what happened in their divorce will not help you one little bit as each divorce is individual to the circumstances of the couple.  Consult with a licensed lawyer or Family Law Coach in your area, and don’t feel pressured to hire someone at this point.  Do some fact-finding.  Read some books on divorce in your area.
  5. Learn your responsibilities.  Just as critical as rights, what you have to do as a member of a divorcing couple, and perhaps a parent, is as critical.  You don’t want to damage your children, your future, or your credit by not understanding what’s best for you to do.
  6. Consider counseling, like now.  Divorce is so difficult that it’s considered one of the five major life events/traumas.  The legal process is not designed to help you through the emotional aspects, and it won’t.  It will likely make them worse.  Find a counselor, find a divorce support group, talk to your church, or discover some way to deal with the emotional aspects.
  7. Learn the process.  Divorce, as I have mentioned before, takes far longer and is far more expensive then you ever anticipate.  If you’re not aware of this at the outset, then the delays, disappointments and cost can become quickly and repeatedly overwhelming.
  8. Open your own bank account, without your spouse’s name on it.  Just before you file, if you have money in a savings account, consider transferring HALF of the money – just half – into that account.  Check with a lawyer in your area first, however, to make sure you don’t get in trouble later for doing this, as every state has different rules.

The more prepared you are in advance, the easier the process will be.  Divorce is so difficult that it’s well worth your time and effort to make it easier, because when you’re going through it, you’ll appreciate each and every break you can manage.  And you could end up like this couple, whose divorce “rehearsal” actually saved their marriage.

Getting divorced? Don’t divorce your family – or your values

Us family law attorneys have a saying: criminal lawyers see bad people at their best and family law attorneys see good people at their worst. It’s true – divorce can turn the kindest person into a bit of a monster.

Indeed, it’s tough for even the attorneys to keep their distance from such extreme, deep emotion, hurt and anger. The legal system is no help – in fact, it encourages the hostility. The premise of the system itself, a winner and a loser, prolongs and perpetuates the conflict.

What is too often lost in the shuffle are the victims of divorce: the children. They get enmeshed in the arguments and even the court battles, whether explicitly or just because they live with the combatants. Children of divorce struggle mightily – and silently – and their needs should be more front and center in our system.

I came across an article recently, entitled “Ending your marriage should not end your family,” and while it’s five years old, it’s still pertinent today.

There is a better way. You don’t have to fight as hard as you can and spend $100,000 on legal fees. Your personal hurt and anger should not be played out in court. Talk to a therapist and work it out there. Take advantage of alternative dispute resolution like mediation. Take a deep breath and sleep on it for a night – or two or ten – before filing that motion just to get revenge. It will be worth it in the long run to you AND your family.

Mediation for California divorce & family law disputes: What is it? Why is it helpful? Who needs it?

Mediation for California divorce & family law disputes: What is it? Mediation is a way for couples to resolve their family law case (divorce, custody, support, visitation, asset division) outside of court. The couple can work with or without attorneys, and they meet with a mediator (that’s me) to discuss the issues before them in their case. Depending on the case, the number of issues to resolve and the intensity of the dispute, mediation can take two to many more sessions. In most of my cases, the issues are resolved in about two meetings.

Why is it helpful? Mediation is helpful for a variety of reasons. First, it’s MUCH cheaper than each spouse hiring their own attorney. Mediation can cost from about $3,000-10,000 TOTAL while just hiring an attorney for ONE spouse can be as much as $5,000 to start. Second, couples in mediation can come to agreements that the court is not permitted to make. For example, if the couple wants to make provisions for the payment of their child’s college expenses, then they can. The court is not permitted to make sure orders. Third, mediation is private, so the couple does not have to air their dirty laundry (and finances) in public court documents. Finally, mediation is a way for couples to OWN the agreements they make. Individuals in a dispute are more likely to disobey a court order handed down by a judge (who doesn’t know you, doesn’t know your situation, and makes a decision based on a few short minutes of listening to argument) than they are an agreement they developed themselves. There’s buy-in for decisions made in mediation, which makes all the difference in the world. As a side benefit, mediators are trained in diffusing the emotions of a family law case…and court proceedings are not really known for this.

Who needs it? Anyone with a family law case who would like to preserve their finances for themselves instead of spending it all on attorneys. Also, family law litigants who want to ensure that their children are as minimally damaged by the divorce as possible.

What’s not to like about mediation?