by William J. Leininger, Esq.
You've decided to seek a divorce. Your nerves are frayed; the in-laws are asked pointed questions; the children are beginning to act up in all-too-transparent ways; and your pleasantness is in the midst of an earthshaking landslide. What can you do? Clearly, you can hire legal advice. But who? Here's a checklist of reasons why working with a trained mediator can often help:
When both spouses meet with one Divorce Mediator they can share the cost, which is commonly $2,750 to $8,000 total. If the spouses were to retain separate attorneys to represent them in the divorce, each would be paying a retainer of between $5,000 and $10, 000 just to get started!
In Divorce Mediation the couple controls how quickly or slowly decisions are made, when the divorce Petition is filed, and what the terms of the divorce will be in the Marital Settlement Agreement. Each step is by agreement, in contrast to the adversarial process in which attorneys set court dates and judges make decisions with very limited time and information.
Many people try to do their own divorces these days, but run into difficulty trying to understand the laws and the complex paperwork involved. A mediator who is an attorney can prepare the Marital Settlement Agreement (Stipulation of Settlement) in draft form for you to review - line by line, and to ask questions about anything you don't understand.
The worst aspect of a divorce for children is the conflict between the parents. It will be traumatic enough for them, but they can heal knowing that their parents are working together to make adult decisions and will not put them in the middle.
The way your marriage ends will significantly impact the way you approach your future relationships. When you use a mediator to help both of you communicate and make important decisions, it can be easier to move forward and accept the past, rather than turning hurt and anger into an expensive court battle.
When people use divorce mediation, they do not give up their right to go to court. If you are not satisfied in mediation, you can stop at any time, retain a separate attorney and have the judge decide the issues. What has occurred in mediation will remain confidential, so the parties can start fresh.
In divorce mediation with an attorney you will be provided with enough legal information to make your own decisions about what is fair. While an attorney acting in the role of mediator cannot advise either party, the attorney can share his or her general knowledge of how the court might address the issues in your case. Each spouse is also encouraged to consult with a separate attorney for legal advice, especially before signing the Marital Settlement Agreement.
Many people simply want to be heard and understood in the divorce process. However, on their own this can get out of control, as each person triggers anger and resentment in the other -- often unintentionally. A mediator trained in counseling can assist the parties in acknowledging feelings but not allowing feelings to control the decision-making process.
In private divorce mediation, all discussions and tentative agreements are confidential. This makes it safe to propose solutions for possible consideration without having them all thought out. This can lead to new solutions neither party had previously considered.
In mediation, both parties are encouraged to recognize the positive in the other person and to find common ground for agreement. In court, each side must emphasize the negative about the other person in order to "win" against the other. Especially when there will be future contact between the parties, such as in parenting, whatever goodwill remains between the parties should be preserved and not destroyed.
Divorce Mediators are not yet licensed in New York. However, it is recommended that a Divorce Mediator be knowledgeable about family law, family counseling, child development and the mediation process. A few mediators possess all of these skills, and a team of a mental health professional and an attorney can also be quite effective.
Since 1994, we have worked with hundreds of couples going through the divorce process. We believe that we can help you and your spouse dissolve your marriage with dignity and with as little harmful effects as possible on you and any children of the marriage.
In picking a Divorce Mediator, ask how many mediations that person has completed. Many people are just adding mediation to another practice area and may have done only one or two mediations so far. Mr. Leininger has been a certified Divorce Mediator since 1994, and has mediated well over 500 divorces to completion. We believe that he is the most experienced attorney divorce mediator on Staten Island!
While mediation isn't the only alternative to an ugly divorce experience, it is one to seriously consider. Make a list of pros and cons for your specific situation, and weigh the facts for yourself. The 10-15 minutes you spend on your list could well be worth the effort!