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Divorce Mediation 101

Jim Robenalt Dec. 13, 2023

Mediation is a great option for divorcing couples who wish to be constructive and thoughtful in how they conclude their marriage.

Mediation is a voluntary dispute resolution process that allows participants to directly negotiate and craft their own agreements. As a mediator, I help facilitate the negotiation and ensure the participants are informed and cover all aspects that need to be covered in a divorce. Mediation offers many benefits, including the fact that it is confidential, flexible, cost-effective, and more peaceful than a traditional adjudicated divorce.

For those couples interested in divorce mediation, they can begin by participating in a free 30-minute consultation to ensure they are good candidates for mediation. Mediation is a great option for divorcing couples who wish to be constructive and thoughtful in how they conclude their marriage. While it can accommodate even high-conflict individuals, it is not ideal when one participant lacks adequate bargaining power (due to issues, for instance, of domestic violence), or where one participant does not have adequate facilities to negotiate (due to issues, for instance, of drug and alcohol abuse).

Mediation is divided into multiple sessions. Each session typically lasts 1-3 hours. The number of sessions will depend on how well the couple communicates, and how complex the various issues are that require resolution. For example, the number of sessions will be impacted on whether the couple has children and the degree of complexity of their finances. The process typically requires anywhere from 3-6 sessions.

During the first session, I discuss what divorce mediation is (and what it is not), and what they can expect from me as a mediator. As I explain, I am there to walk them through the various issues that need to be discussed and resolved in order to complete the dissolution process. I invite the couple to provide some background on why they are attempting mediation and what are their goals. I also invite them to explain what issues might come up during the mediation that will require special attention.  The first session, therefore, is typically focused on a more conceptual discussion of priorities and concerns. It also is a time for the couple to agree to the bigger picture objectives in advance of the details.

In subsequent sessions, we get into the details. If the couple owns a home, we’ll need to discuss what happens to the family home? Is there a plan in place? Do they want to sell the home and divide the proceeds? Does one spouse want to refinance and “buy out” the other? Are they interested in alternative co-parenting approach such as “bird-nesting” where the children remain in the house 100% of the time and the parents alternate? There are often emotional attachments to a family home that need to be skillfully addressed.

As for financial accounts, we’ll need to address the various retirement accounts, brokerage accounts, checking/savings to understand how they will be divided and what will be the potential tax consequences. For many employer-based retirement accounts, we’ll discuss the possible need to obtain a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO). Other financial considerations include whether the couple owns their own business.  There is also the issue of marital debt, and how that debt will be apportioned, assigned or paid off in conjunction with a dissolution.

For parents, we will need to discuss what type of parenting plan makes sense given the needs of your children? How do you want to handle holidays, birthdays, and special occasions? How will you make joint decisions about education and healthcare? Who will pay for insurance and non-covered medical health expenses?

At the conclusion of the mediation, I will prepare and discuss the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding that carefully details every point of agreement. This way, the couple will have a comprehensive document that reflects the decisions they made regarding their dissolution and the future of family. They will be in a strong position, at this time, to prepare the documents necessary to file for divorce.

Every couple, of course, has their own particular circumstances, whether financial or personal. But the goal for every couple is the same: to have a constructive conversation that addresses the myriad of details that require resolution so they move on with confidence and hope into the next chapter of their lives.