Now that I have
provided mediation services to approximately 200 families, I have developed
some overall impressions of who uses this approach.
Perhaps the most notable characteristics of those I have worked with in
divorce mediation are twin desires to remain friendly with the other spouse
and to be cost-effective. The parties generally are able to listen
to each other without interrupting, even while uncomfortable opinions
and proposals are being expressed. There is a flexibility and creativity
that each party generally brings with them from other experiences in their
lives. They often are people who do not want to give up control
to other people -- not attorneys, not experts, nor judges -- if at all
possible. They want legal information to make their own decisions.
For the reasons described above, the majority of my mediation clients
seem to be professionals or business people who are experienced at making
decisions, even when emotions run high. The largest group appears
to be teachers, then health care professionals (doctors in particular),
high-tech engineers, sales representatives, counselors (of course), small
business owners (who sometimes continue working together), Navy personnel
(active duty and retired) and even lawyers.
Ages have ranged from 21 to mid-70's. The majority are between 35-55.
Interestingly enough, I have had more retired couples recently, who remain
very cordial with each other. They want to cooperate regarding their
children and grand-children (who remain a large part of their lives),
but they want to live independently.
Incomes and Assets
Assets have ranged from the negative (when credit card debt has exceeded
the value of all the other assets) to $8 million. Incomes also range
widely, but the majority seems to be in the combined income range of $90,000
Issues in Dispute
While people may think of custody and visitation disputes when they think
of mediation, my divorce mediation clients rarely have serious disputes
regarding the children. They may argue vigorously about financial
issues, but seem to agree that they are both good parents and they wish
to protect the children from any conflicts.
The most frequently disputed issue has been spousal
support, perhaps because there are no clear-cut guidelines and because
attorneys often give opposite advice. Issues regarding one party's
substantial separate property can also be very difficult. However,
the parties have more flexibility with these issues in mediation.
In court the judge has certain limitations on the decisions he or she
can make, including the required use of child support guidelines, 50-50
property division, etc. In mediation, the parties often create solutions
which trade off between categories, including unequal property division
in exchange for higher or lower support payments, and built-in alternatives
for anticipated changes of circumstance in the future.
Length of the Process
As most parties want to control the process and the cost, they usually
use only 3-4 mediation sessions (although some use up to 13) before the
Marital Settlement Agreement is drafted, reviewed, revised and signed.
This process has ranged from one month to three years, depending on the
preferences of the parties.
It's Not Easy
While those who prefer to use divorce mediation may seem like positive
and creative people, they are also often angry, hurt, confused, and mistrustful--at
least at the beginning. Yet in the structure of the mediation process,
we are able to emphasize the positive and look together for solutions.
Not all cases finish in mediation, as some drop out and go to court.
However, by having attempted to work together in mediation they are often
able to focus the issues and keep their disputes from becoming too harmful.
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