Archive: Mediation Articles

Mediation Allows You to Keep Your Dignity

You can easily lose your dignity in traditional divorce litigation.  First, you lose control because the court system will determine when you see a judge and how much time you receive from the judge at various hearings or even trial.  Second, you lose your privacy because everything that is filed with the court is public record.  Finally, you are likely to experience a financial disaster because the cost of litigation is often more like a runaway train.

If you choose mediation, you can protect your privacy and your dignity.  Mediation avoids the emotional trauma of an adve rs arial process.  Some couples will choose mediation because they know it will save them a great deal of money and there is nothing wrong with that.  However, perhaps the better reason to choose mediation is to keep control of the outcome of your divorce and thereby maintain your dignity.

A successful mediation outcome does not necessarily mean that you and your spouse are going to hold hands and sing “kumbaya.”  However, it does mean that you and your spouse will feel safe and smart—knowing that you have designed your own agreement and avoided the emotional rigo rs and expense of courthouse litigation.

If your divorce involves minor children, you will create a parenting plan with the help of your mediator.  Your mediator might also suggest the assistance of an outside neutral parenting coach, such as a trained family therapist.  Here in Los Angeles County , I encourage divorcing parents to attend the free P.A.C.T. class, which stands for Parents and Children Together.  It is an excellent 3 hour parenting class, which is designed to give parents the skills to communicate with each other and their children going forward.  Parents may attend the class individually or together.  Children do not attend.  The P.A.C.T. class is also available in paternity cases.

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For more information, please call Philip A. Wasserman at 661-294-8484 or email him at paw@santaclaritafamilylaw.com.

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MEDIATION CAN HELP YOU AVOID FINANCIAL DISASTER IN DIVORCE

First, my thanks and credit to Ron Lieber who wrote an excellent article in the November 14, 2009 New York Times called Financial Decisions to Make as You Divorce.

A legal Black Hole is what people who choose divorce litigation can easily become sucked into. Money goes to attorneys, accountants, custody experts, process servers , even private investigators. As Mr. Lieber points out, people going through divorce often get swept up in the rage. Instead, their first step should be to sit down with a mediator and consider all of the issues in their divorce, such as how they will be able to financially support two households if there are children, health insurance, college education for the kids, preserving their good credit and taxes, to name a few issues. If they cannot agree on a roadmap for resolving these issues, the parties are still free to jump into the legal vortex, retain attorneys, and litigate in court.

Here’s a partial checklist to consider when beginning mediation:

1. CREDIT: Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. Often, couples stop paying joint credit card bills or other legal obligations because they’ve simply stopped communicating with each other. This is more likely to occur when couples have square off with attorneys and have chosen the path of litigation or what often becomes mutually assured financial destruction. A mediator can help couples work out a plan for the payment of bills, so credit scores don’t get ruined.

2. HEALTH INSURANCE: If your spouse covers your health insurance, he/she probably won’t be able to continue to do so once the divorce is final. You can continue on your ex-spouses health insurance on COBRA, but the time period is limited. COBRA can be prohibitively expensive if you are already paying rent or a mortgage, even if you are receiving support from your ex spouse. In mediation, there are more possibilities to negotiate a settlement that will cover health insurance premiums. A mediator might even suggest using a neutral financial planner to assist the parties in this area and in developing a post-divorce financial plan.

3. COLLEGE EDUCATION FOR THE CHILDREN: Here in California, there is no requirement that parties pay for the college education of their children.  However, parties may agree to set up college education accounts, such as 529 college plans, as part of their divorce agreement, which becomes a court order. Because mediation is generally at least two-thirds less expensive than litigation, parties who chose to mediate will likely have more money left over and available to establish a college education account for the child or children. Divorcing parents should not loose sight of their children’s long-term educational needs.

Divorce can be an emotional roller coaster, but there is a price to be paid for anger and failure to communicate, and that price can be very real in dollar terms. Indeed, divorce litigation is one of the few human experiences where anger trumps greed. Couples who choose to mediate can still have their own attorneys advising them along the way. However, they should make it clear to their attorneys that litigation is not an option and that they are committed to making the mediation process work. If you stay on track and stay committed to the mediation process, you will end up with a divorce agreement that will work.

Finally, I often have mediation clients ask me what happens if things change after their divorce agreement is entered by the court and becomes final. My answer is always the same: If there is a change of circumstance, for example a change in a parties financial situation, then both parties are free to return to mediation to work out a modification of their original divorce agreement. Mediation does not have to be a one time only process.

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For more information, please call Philip A. Wasserman at 661-294-8484 or email him at paw@santaclaritafamilylaw.com.

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The Advantages of Mediation Are More Than A Good Meal

In his book Heat, author Bill Buford goes behind the scenes of celebrity chef Mario Batals three star New York City restaurant Babbo. In this short column, I’ll attempt to take you behind the scenes of family law litigation. Like the restaurant, Babbo, family law litigation is expensive. In fact, you could probably eat at Babbo two or three times a week for a year, wine included, for the price of a family law trial and still have money left over for a gym membership to work off your weight gain. Sure, your spouse may be ordered to pay a portion of your attorney fees and costs, but that money has to come from somewhere.

Forget what you see on television. Those fast paced television trials have no place in family law, where a child custody evaluation can take as long as eight months. Due to crowded court calendars, family law trials rarely proceed day to day. Trials can be spread out over weeks, even months.

The alternative to expensive litigation is mediation. Ironically, the only way people reach a resolution during litigation is when they see that is better than the continuing conflict. In mediation, an experienced mediator will help the parties identify their positions, interests and commonality and delineate the gaps between them, thereby helping them reach a mutaully acceptable agreement. Mediation is also available for post-divorce matters, such as modifying custody, visitation and/or support.

With the cost of mediation about two thirds less than litigation, a successfully mediated divorce or post-divorce matter should leave you with enough money for dinner at Babbo, and your child’s college education.

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For more information, please call Philip A. Wasserman at 661-294-8484 or email him at paw@santaclaritafamilylaw.com.

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The Truth Behind Mediators

Like the contestants on the hit ABC television show Dancing with the Stars, it takes two to tango in divorce mediation. This means that parties entering divorce mediation need to have realistic expectations and not throw out the mediation and run to court at the first bump in the road. People don’t resolve cases until they’ve had an opportunity to be heard. That often involves airing emotions that would otherwise be irrelevant and inadmissible in family court. Mediators are not judges. Therefore, parties in mediation should not expect the mediator to dictate a settlement. In fact, the job of a mediator is not to create an agreement, but to work with the parties so they come up with their own agreement.

If parties are unable to accept each other’s position, then a mediator needs to take them down a different path, but at the same time get them to recognize that they are interdependent insofar as reaching an eventual agreement. This often means taking so-called baby steps along the way to a mediated agreement. A mediator should be hard on the problem and soft on the people.

The Navajo Indians recognize that with litigation you normally have a winner and a loser. This outcome usually just starts future conflicts. Even in a high conflict custody case, mediation is possible where the parties will at least acknowledge each other as parents. Conflict can often be an opportunity because most conflicts in family law started with a positive relationship. Dating, getting engaged, the wedding, the honeymoon, the birth of children, buying the first house, and so on. Parties in mediation need to know there is a future beyond the conflict. But, parties must also understand that mediation will not cause a behavioral change in their spouse. The goal is to reach an agreement that deals with who your spouse is, not who you want your spouse to be. After all, isn’t that one of the reasons you are getting divorced in the first place?

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For more information, please call Philip A. Wasserman at 661-294-8484 or email him at paw@santaclaritafamilylaw.com.

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