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Tips, Updates, Notes
A word about Lawyers
Lawyers get a bad rap. Too many folks think that using an attorney means things will become adversarial and mediation is no longer an option. Not true at all! Attorneys can be very supportive to the mediation process by protecting their client's interest while keeping them grounded in the realities of family law. Parties often presume they cannot afford an attorney. Considering what's at stake: Parenting time, retirement accounts, equity in the marital home, parties should ask themselves if they can afford to NOT use an atty. Many attorneys offer "unbundled" services. Instead of retaining representation for the entire process, parties pay only for the legal services with which they need help such as consultation, drafting proposals or reviewing agreements.
When shopping for an attorney, make sure they respect your objectives and they are "mediation friendly".
Couples often come to mediation trying to convince me of "what happened". Each party has a version and seems committed to proving who's right. Most parties never reach consensus on "what happened" but that's ok because, frankly, it doesn't really matter.
What does matter is how things will differ in the future. Allowing parties to explain "what happened" tells us what didn't work. The goal is not to agree about who was right and who was wrong but to agree how things will be different moving forward. The focus shifts from the past to the future. Parties have a new starting point and an opportunity to practice working together to decide what is best for their family.
Do we have to mediate if we already agree?
Family Mediators are trained in helping couples resolve disputes in divorce and parenting cases. If, however, parties are in agreement about all the details involving parenting, support and property distribution, they can schedule a Case Manager Conference instead of mediation. Not only are Case Managers very knowledgeable when it comes to completing the paperwork necessary for the court to issue a decree, but the cost of the Case Manager Conference is included in the filing fee!! So if you are involved in a divorce or parenting case, take a look at the required paperwork (helpful documents), if there are areas of disagreement, be prepared to mediate. If not, bypass mediation and go straight to a Case Manager Conference and save yourselves the mediation fee.
How long does a Mediated Divorce Take?
Answer: As long as it needs to ...
The quickest divorce I ever mediated was 72 hours from start to decree! In this case, the couple had been separated for a long time and just needed help documenting the decisions they made so the court could issue a divorce decree. Not typical.
The longest case I ever mediated has taken 20 months and counting! This couple was not yet separated when mediation started. We met several times to discuss which party would stay in the marital home, which would live elsewhere and how each household would be supported. Next we discussed and finalized parenting and child support issues. We are currently finalizing the distribution of the marital estate.
The length of most mediations falls somewhere between these examples, the average taking two months.
Occasionally, a case reaches impasse and court intervention is needed, but this is rare.
Given the stakes, how long a case takes to reach agreement matters less than taking the time to decide what is best for your family. Divorce is not supposed to be quick or easy and deserves whatever time it takes.
How to Make the Most of Mediation
Mediating a Divorce/Break up is not quick, easy or fun but here are 10 ways to make it as painless as possible:
- Assume you will reach agreement, even if you don't yet know what that agreement will look like.
- Consider the importance of a positive co-parenting relationship: You will be co-parents for the rest of your lives. That's either a lot of support or a lot of conflict -- your choice.
- Understand that your role as a parent will change. Regardless of how things worked in the marriage/relationship, you each have equal rights & responsibilities for your child(ren).
- Preview the materials. Reading the materials in advance gives you an idea of what information will be discussed during mediation and gets you thinking about possible proposals.
- Have all your financial disclosure (court rule 1.25A) information prepared for the first meeting. Child and spousal support cannot be discussed without this information.
- Bring proposals. Draft as much of the Parenting Plan, Uniform Support Order and Final Decree as you can to represent your ideas. Calculate the child support guideline worksheet. You don't want to use valuable mediation time to complete every line on every form.
- Don't get bogged down by the past. You won't likely ever agree about how things happened. Instead, focus on the future. This is a chance for a new starting point.
- Whenever possible, consider an issue from your children's perspective. You may want your weekend parenting time to extend through Monday morning drop off at school but that may mean an early morning for your child and a hectic start to his/her week.
- Be patient with yourself and your co-parent/spouse. Divorce/separation is a process that deserves as much time as it takes.
- Give serious consideration to consulting with an attorney. While you may not be able to afford to retain counsel to represent you through the whole divorce/separation process, many lawyers provide "unbundled" services and will charge a few hundred dollars to review your case and offer advice, help draft proposals, review agreements or attend mediation. Considering the stakes, this is money well spent.
Mary Sargent Mediation • 3 Executive Park Drive • Suite 204 • Bedford NH 03110 • (603) 836-3479
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