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Divorce and Family Mediation; What Is It?

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Approximately 50% of American marriages end in divorce, and about 25% of children will live in a single parent family at some time in their lives. When people engage opposing attorneys to help them divorce, they begin an expensive adversarial process which often entrenches anger and bitterness and takes the power to create solutions out of their own hands. Divorce mediationis a better, shorter, very much cheaper alternative to the alienating and destructive legal/adversarial process that often occurs when two parties engage opposing lawyers.

BETTER? Divorce mediation empowers the couple to handle their own negotiations, making them active at a time when they most need to feel in control. It builds competence in decision making, communication skills, and often fosters an atmosphere of trust and cooperation, all of which will help them in their continuing shared role as parents. The couple is helped to separate their spousal roles, which are ending, from their parental roles, which will continue. The mediator helps them evaluate their present financial situation and future needs, making sure that decisions are based on openly shared information and reasonable assumptions rather than on threats, manipulation, or concealment. Most mediation includes agreements on parenting arrangements, parental decision making, division of property, spousal maintenance (alimony), and child support. With divorce mediation there are no winners or losers, only solutions that are fair and acceptable to both parties. Both parties take an active part in shaping an agreement called a Memorandum Of Understanding, or MOU. Because of this they can both have a sense of ownership of the results. That is why agreements arrived at in mediation tend to hold up.

SHORTER? In many cases divorce mediation requires only 4 to 12 hours.

CHEAPER? For anything more than a simple divorce, not involving division of property, child or spousal support, or custody and visitation with children, the average retainer for matrimonial attorneys just to begin the adversarial process in cases is usually many times greater than the cost of achieving a mediated agreement. The same would be true for settling unresolved or contested conflicts over custody or visitation issues between already divorced partners. Because mediation is usually a much shorter process than litigation and involves only one mediator, rather than two opposing attorneys, a complete mediation can easily cost a very small fraction of just starting legal proceedings. And the mediator may be able to help the couple reduce the tax consequences and other costs of separating. The couple will still need to see at least one attorney (two if they wish), but only to review and translate their MOU into a legal separation agreement, and to file papers. This will still be far less expensive than having the lawyers involved from the beginning.

How Does Divorce Mediation Work?

The mediator is a facilitator who guides the couple through the negotiation process. He helps the couple separate their spousal roles from their parental roles. He helps them evaluate their present financial situation and future needs. He guides the process, making sure that decisions are based on openly shared information and reasonable assumptions rather than on threats, manipulation, or concealment. He helps the couple move from opposing positions to the creation of options from which they can settle on one agreement that is fair and acceptable to both. The mediator also sets the agenda, organizing the discussion in an efficient way, keeping the couple on track with each area of concern to be discussed: parenting arrangements (residence of and access to the children as well as parental decision making); division of property; spousal maintenance (alimony), and child support. But the couple controls the content by presenting their concerns, explaining their needs and wishes, thinking up many of the options from which the agreement will emerge, and ultimately accepting or rejecting the outcome of the mediation. This gives the clients a sense of control at a time when their lives seem to be falling apart, and a sense of ownership of the outcome. Because both parties have agreed on issues of parenting and support, both parents are much more likely to remain involved in parenting, to meet their financial obligations to the children, and to cooperate with each other in the future. When issues do come up in the future that they can not resolve themselves, they are more likely to return to mediation rather than turn to the courts or become adversaries.


  • Division of family business or property
  • Decisions as to care of dependent relatives
  • Prenuptial agreements
  • Almost any decision that can be made by family members where dispute can occur

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