Letter To MacKenzie Bezos

To: MacKenzie Bezos
c/o The Los Angeles Times

Dear Mackenzie,

As a divorce mediator I would, on behalf of my colleagues, like to thank you for the brilliant encapsulation of the goals that we’d like all our couples to achieve. As a divorced mom I know that these are the things that my kids should never have doubts about for the rest of our lives together. The quote below will be displayed in our office so that every couple walking in the door sees how high the bar is set and what we are committed to accomplishing with them.

Gratefully Yours,

Stephanie M. Maloney
PeaceTalks Mediation

“We want to make people aware of a development in our lives. As our family and close friends know, after a long period of loving exploration and trial separation, we have decided to divorce and continue our shared lives as friends. We feel incredibly lucky to have found each other and deeply grateful for every one of the years we have been married to each other. If we had known we would separate after 25 years, we would do it all again. We’ve had such a great life together as a married couple, and we also see wonderful futures ahead, as parents, friends, partners in ventures and projects, and as individuals in pursuing ventures and adventures. Though the labels might be different, we remain a family, and we remain cherished friends.”

“Taxi Driver” Divorce Delayed

It would be difficult to find a celebrity that tries harder to avoid publicity than Robert De Niro but privacy is the true cost of fame and everybody pays eventually.

This is a brilliant example of how cooperation could have saved everyone incredibleembarrassment and pain. What struck me immediately from all the stories was the quote from his friend:

 A source close to De Niro was quoted as saying that “This could be resolved very privately and quietly behind closed doors but“Bobby’s”estranged wife is torturing the publicity shy actor by forcing him to go to court and run a gauntletof reporters and photographers.”

The evident anger that is displayed here gets a little more confusing when you consider that this is their secondtime in divorce court. The couple first filed for a separation in 1999 —at the time they were in a custody fight over their now-20-year-old son, Elliot. They later reconciled and renewed their vows in 2004.

So the publicity the family members are being flooded with represents the exact thing they could have avoided had they been open to engaging a mediator instead of a Judge. All of this could have been less painful if they had a mutually satisfactory “Settlement Agreement” in place as a kind of protectionand bond. This is precisely the goal of every PeaceTalks relationship, to provide couples with an agreeable path to successful cooperation.

Here are a few descriptions of scenes, which could have been avoided, at the courthouse:

Robert De Niro struck his best “Taxi Driver” glare for reporters as he tried to keep his divorce and custody battle quiet by securing an “Anonymous v. Anonymous” caption on the case but word of his presence quickly spread and the gawkers gathered.

They had been waging a secret custody battle over the 7-year-old girl they had through a surrogate. The “Raging Bull” actor kept the divorce filing quiet by securing a coveted “Anonymous v. Anonymous” caption on the case, records show.

He remained adamant about keeping details of the negotiations hush-hush as he and his estranged wife of more than 20 years, Grace Hightower, sat at opposite ends of the courtroom. At one point, he shushed his lawyers as they hashed out custody arrangements for the couple’s 7-year-old daughter in the courtroom gallery.

The two studiously avoided one another — De Niro hid behind his newspaper while Hightower, read a book and glanced at her phone. Sources said the two have a prenuptial agreement but Justice Matthew Cooper said that the former couple had made “some progress on some difficult issues” but will still have to resolve “particulars” of a settlement and exchange statements of net worth.

De Niro and Hightower had just spent hours in Manhattan Supreme Court, where their lawyers holed up behind closed doors to hash out their divorce.

It’s torture indeed being forced to spend the day in court, but with mediation, very possibly avoidable for people that can agree to be agreeable, if only for the kids.

Divorce Mediation Primer

I came across a nice synopsis of why mediation for your divorce may be the smartest choice.

It is safe to say that most couples facing divorce expect the experience to be agonizing as well as exhausting. Ending a marriage, and the ensuing divorce, is one of the most emotional events of a lifetime. Since couples anticipate a difficult time, many wish they could find an easier path and if this sounds like your situation, then divorce mediation may be your best solution.

• May benefit children: When kids of divorce see their parents work together to resolve conflicts, it often helps them feel more secure about the breakup.

• More affordable: In nearly all cases, divorce mediation imposes fewer costs than traditional litigation. Mediation may also proceed faster than a courtroom divorce.

• Reduces anxiety: The idea of going to court causes many couples to feel anxious. An out of court solution helps to reduce these feelings of anxiety.

Divorce mediation does not work for everyone, so it is crucial to seek a legal opinion to determine if you and your spouse are good candidates. In the end, anything you can do to make the process of divorcing as easy as possible for you and your children, it is worth the effort. Call the office with any questions you’d like to talk over.

Creative Co-Parenting

One of the great dynamics that we participate in at our Divorce Mediation sessions at PeaceTalks is the age-old mantra “necessity is the mother of invention.” Once we’re able to establish a common goal for our couples in each of the areas involving conflict it’s amazing how quickly they discover resolutions through cooperation and creativity. By treating each situation and its possible solutions differently, according to the needs of the moment, people find a way to do what is best for the family, especially when it means making some unexpected “cooperative adjustments” in the schedule.

Adjustments will always be part of the daily plan but they will vary with the respective ages of the kids, as the issues will be different with each age group. I’ve put in a link to a very informative piece by a local authority on this subject and here are a couple of highlights:

Babies and toddlers tend to be the most challenging group for which to plan a reliable schedule. Babies need consistency, and even little changes in their schedules can put them in a state of distress. It is important for the other parent to see children at this age often—around 2 to 3 times a week for several hours. 

As your child gets older, it is a good idea to slowly transition into overnight visits in order to help your child adjust to an unfamiliar schedule. Alternating one full day every other week is a good way to see if your child is okay being away from their primary caretaker.

Teens and older children have less predictable schedules and are thus harder to accommodate. It is important to consider your child’s social lives and busy schedules when planning how to organize visits between parents.

While flexibility is essential when first trying out a new plan, it is important to eventually agree on a fixed schedule in order to help your child maintain stability in their everyday lives.

Leyla Balakhane is a distinguished and experienced mediator, facilitator, coach, and trainer in the Los Angeles area, specializing in high conflict divorce and family law.


Amazon Fairness and Divorce, Oh My!

For anyone who can’t let go of that “Money=Happiness” thing, just read and be kind of glad that you don’t have so much money that God borrows from you.

The divorce fairness issue that Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos don’t have to worry about


Less Painful Divorces

With just less than half of married partners ending in divorce, therapists over time have developed some suggestions for making the process possibly less painful for everyone.

You will see from these suggestions why PeaceTalks always makes sure a therapist is available for both parties for every session. You can see a thread with these ideas that reinforces the principle that this is between the two of you and nobody else.

It’s always a great thing when a couple gets helpful advice but one of the primary benefits of Divorce Mediation is the fact that you are in control.

Once the decision is made the announcement should be as simple, heartfelt, and brief as possible.

The reaction might seem to call for an explanation but it’s best to let things play out before getting into the “why’s” and “how’s” of your relationship and its new direction.

Unsolicited advice will be one of the first reactions you encounter and remember it’s not your job to justify your decisions or to act upon a loved one’s advice. You can always be grateful but non-committal as you navigate through the well intentioned and the misinformed.

Divorce Mediation Means Talking

In getting to a mutually agreeable divorce settlement we make progress, literally, by getting couples to communicate with each other. Many couples find it difficult to communicate. Our therapist mediator will provide tools to better communication and can also facilitate a “difficult conversation.”Communication is an interactive process, and text messages can be a great way to stay in contact, but too much can be lost in tone for real communication.

At the Peace Talks table we establish a neutral ground for couples to exchange their points of view and identify the goals of their mediation. The questions and answers are the bricks for the foundation of the settlement agreement but not all of the work gets done at the table.

Throughout the process and even after the final decree couples have to deal with a lot of decisions that require cooperation. We set the tone in our mediations that reinforces the idea that a problem needs to be addressed early especially when someone is in distress.  When a person is having difficulty simply asking, “How can I help?” can be a way to start.

If you only reach out when something is wrong and don’t balance that with positive conversations, it will be difficult to communicate in a healthy way. Call just to share some good news. Sharing positive moments can make a difference.

This is a process that you are learning to manage and listening to each other can make things much easier for everybody.Your family can benefit from conversations that are open, and respectful and your relationships will improve as your family learns to feel more at ease.

If you have questions about Mediation please call the office and we will have a chat about your situation.

Amazon Fairness and Divorce, Oh My!

For anyone who can’t let go of that “Money=Happiness” thing, just read and be kind of glad that you don’t have so much money that God borrows from you.

The divorce fairness issue that Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos don’t have to worry about


Change In Divorce Mediation for 2019

Change In Divorce Mediation for 2019 - Peace Talks Mediation Services - Divorce Mediation, Divorce, Divorce Mediation Laws Copyright: <a href="https://www.123rf.com/profile_wutwhan">wutwhan / 123RF Stock Photo</a>California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a new law that changes the California Evidence Code that requires attorneys representing clients in mediation to provide disclosures in writing about mediation confidentiality. The attorney must provide the disclosures to clients BEFORE the client agrees to participation in mediation, or AFTER if the client hires the attorney after agreeing to mediation. The law tells attorneys what this disclosure must say and how it must be formatted. The client must sign the disclosure form. The law went into effect on January 1, 2019.

This is a real example of why PeaceTalks maintains the teamwork dynamic and associations with litigators that save time and prevent worries about details being handled thoroughly and correctly throughout the process. We make sure that you are aware of exactly what needs to be done and by when as we offer access to advisors that we trust to provide information, guidance, and support.

Anytime there is a change in procedure or the introduction a new form we make sure that everything is handled in a timely manner and nothing catches you by surprise. If you have considered mediation to help with your divorce but you have questions more suited to a conversation, please call the office and we’ll find a time to talk.

Should We Try Mediation?

The following was excerpted from an article in the Boston Herald by Wendy Hickey

Should We Try Mediation?

The answer is yes for most people. The majority of couples we see at PeaceTalks have enough common goals to negotiate an amicable and equitable settlement agreement.  Since most people will listen to a neutral third-party guide in more constructive ways, PeaceTalks’ lawyers team with therapists and financial advisors to help navigate some tough decisions for a quicker, peaceful settlement.

Here’s an example of the logic involved as part of why mediation is worth a try for most situations.

I asked my wife for a divorce six months ago. I don’t want a big fight, but we do have kids, and different incomes, so I understand there are some complexities.

She hired a lawyer but also wants to hire a mediator and have the lawyers review things when we agree. This seems like wasted money to me. Why hire both?

Mediation is always worth trying, provided there is no real power imbalance in the relationship. The process saves money, and brings you both to the table to talk about difficult things. Couples find a jointsolution, setting a precedentfor future disputes that might arise involving the children.

The mediator’s job is to help you reach an agreement. Most, if not all mediators recommend hiring counsel for advice during mediation. It is not overly expensive, and your lawyer will make sure you understand your rights and obligations so you are educated going into the mediation. It is easier to reach an agreement when you understand the law and expected norms.

Wendy O. Hickey has since 1994 been involved in and since 2003 been a trial lawyer who concentrates her practice on national and international family law.

Click here for full article

More Divorce Mediator Tips

Here’s a couple more tips from the article I saw by Oren Kaufmann on the Mediate.com website.

Don’t be penny wise and pound-foolish.

Imagine the following not so unusual scenario. You have resolved all the tough issues and for some reason these one or two remain “as a matter of principle“. It makes no sense financially to terminate mediation and turn it over to lawyers because you cannot resolve these issues. The financial and emotional costs are likely to be very high. Unfortunately, despite these dangers, I see people doing this repeatedly (or at least contemplating it). Remember that arguing over “principle” can be a very dangerous and expensive proposition costing what otherwise could have been investment “principal.”The ultimate agreement should be based on a rational financial analysis. The problem and challenge is that this isn’t just a business deal. There are multiple layers of emotions involved. If it is emotionally based- i.e. revenge, guilt, anger, fear- there will inevitably be problems down the road.

The PeaceTalks mediation sessions are always supported by whatever type of financial and psychological professionals the couple might request as most of the difficult negotiations center around assets and income accompanied by anger.

Find someone to talk with.

Having someone you trust that you can talk about this with is critical. It may be that you talk with one person about the financial and one person about the emotional. Remember to careful about not confusing support and a good sounding board with nonsense based on some incorrect legal information/advice they received from a relative or friend.

That aside, having someone with whom you can discuss the process is invaluable and PeaceTalks can refer therapists.

Oran Kaufman-runs Amherst Mediation Services in Amherst, MA and he is a former president of the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation.

Mediator Tips On Divorce Difficulties

There are a lot of commonalities with divorce and lessons from shared experiences can be extremely helpful when going through extremely stressful situations like divorce negotiations. Some great suggestions were offered by a mediation expert named Oran Kaufman in a series of articles for Mediate.com and I wanted to pass along these very cogent, and insightful pieces of advice to all, and to all a good night.

Give yourself all the time that you need, as hurried decisions are often bad decisions. Maybe you’re contemplating selling a house, buying a house, or which school will your children attend and so on. These are decisions the impact of which will be felt for a long time so take the time necessary to consider all the consequences.  Do your research. Consult with your lawyer, friends, accountants or anyone else who you trust to give you a rational perspective. 

 From the moment the decision is made to engage in mediation with PeaceTalks we start to help the couple form a plan that includes delineating all assets and the decision-based issues that require negotiation. Whenever necessary we provide access to a choice of legal, financial and emotional support professionals, all veterans of the divorce mediation process.

If you are already in court and you feel rushed by the court process, almost any judge I know will gladly give you more time and continue a pre-trial conference or status conference if the judge knows that you are actively engaged in mediation and the additional time will help reach an agreement.

The courts have been very supportive of the growing role that mediation is playing in settling divorce cases and we are very grateful for the cooperation that judges have extended to our clients, particularly this year with the crazy packed court calendars. If you get worried about making the December 31St deadline call the office for possible help with your filing.

Divorce is an anxiety producing process. It is particularly important during this process that you take care of yourself. By that I mean, take care of the basics: get sleep, eat, try and have some fun and exercise. All those things that are important when life is “normal” are doubly important when you are going through the stress of divorce.

PeaceTalks by location has nearby parks for walking, yoga, or just some quiet time before and/or after sitting down with us to get you closer to your settlement agreement. We also have health professionals for tips on diet and special types of exercise developed expressly for stress. All those things that are important when life is “normal” are doubly important when you are going through the stress of divorce.

Oran Kaufman runs Amherst Mediation Services in Amherst, MA and he is a former president of the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation. www.amherstmediators.com

Divorce Mediation Misconceptions

I came across an article in Divorce Magazine by Susan E. Guthrie that echoed familiar misconceptions that we come across at PeaceTalks, as do many of our colleagues. Here are a few highlights and I’ve provided a link to the entire article, which makes some excellent points:

Almost any divorce case, or really any family law matter, is suitable for mediation and the parties can successfully resolve their issues without the great expense and emotional costs of litigating.”

“The most common misconception that I hear about divorce mediation it that it is onlysuitable for couples that are very amicable.In fact, mediation is also very well suited for helping high-conflict couples work through their differences and reach a reasonable solution.

It may be true that the couple is too emotional to sit down alone, so they work with their mediator, a neutral third party, trained to help them focus on the issues at hand and work together towards a resolution.

At PeaceTalks we team with a lawyer for the legal information, a financial forensicto work through and optimize the asset division, and a therapistto help manage the emotional stress that comes with high conflict cases.

Legal advice is going to be a necessary part of the process; the mediator does notreplace review and input from a lawyer.

All Mediators suggest using consulting lawyers at certain points during the process to enforce their third-party status.

Because the mediator must remain neutral, they cannot give either party advice specific to their individual best interests. Here, a consulting attorney, on a limited, as-needed basis, can provide that specific legal advice to help a party decide how to best move forward in the negotiations.When a draft Separation Agreement is prepared, it is advisable that both parties review that agreement with their own attorney before they sign it. The use of a consulting attorney will cost far less than full-scale divorce litigation representation and is well worth the expense to ensure that both parties are fully advised and supported.

PeaceTalks has a network of attorneys that we rely on whenever a client has a particular need for a specific resource.

Click here for link to full article

Creative Not Clueless Divorce

Christopher Jarecki and Alicia Silverstone

Besides the slight “Dog Bites Man” slant to another celebrity divorce, with the wife paying alimony, I want to highlight another example of the kind of “creative agreements” that PeaceTalks encourages in our mediation strategies.

Alicia Silverstone to Pay Ex Spousal Support

by Brian Hood, Page Six

As part of the couple’s divorce agreement, the “Clueless” star will pay Chris Jarecki $12,000 per month in spousal support, reports TMZ.

But the website adds that the couple agreed to a “cohabitation”clause that could end the payments earlier than expected.

If Jarecki lives with someone for five months within a one-year period, Silverstone, 42, is off the hook for the payments. Normally, one pays spousal support until their ex is married again.

The couple also agreed to share legal and physical custody of 7-year-old son Bear Blu.

At 12K a month it’s easy to see why this kind of insurance would be important to the paying former spouse. While it’s not always possible to find or create the perfect agreement, amazing things are possible if you come to the table with an open mind.

Full article here

Celebrity Divorces and Mediation

I came across an article by Jill Stanley, who covers celebrity legal stories, as to why some celebrities choose mediation for their divorce process. Using some couples from Malibu as a general backdrop she covers a few of these reasons that really can apply to any amicable couple looking to avoid costly litigation. PeaceTalks has handled agreements for celebrities and they have the same goals and speed bumps and are just as appreciative after filing their agreement as regular couples. You might be hearing some stories at Thanksgiving that present an opportunity to pass along the idea to the right people.

Mediation is quicker and less expensive than full-blown litigation.
LA power lawyers are pricey, charging their celeb clients upwards of $750.00 per hour. Even stars with a net worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars don’t want to throw out money. So while clients generally have lawyers throughout mediation, the process is much, much quicker than traditional litigation thanks to less stringent rules regarding documentation, evidence and testimony. This quicker process means that not only do parties save money, but they also reduce the pain and stress on the family. It is well known that Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck turned to mediation in order to keep their children’s best interests as top priority when the couple opted for mediation when working out visitation, custody and other matters related to their three children.

(PeaceTalks has a relationship with a group of lawyers that assist in the mediation process on an as-needed basis.)

Mediation is Private.
Divorce is messy for everyone but with celebrities these matters often involve salacious tales of drugs, cheating, bad judgment, and, not to mention, disclosures of financial details. So, it is no surprise these clients, perhaps more than average Joes and Janes, want to keep these matters private. Celebrity couples going through a divorce can harness some sense of security by knowing that mediation is confidential and that by staying out of court their family’s private life remains just that–private. Though other factors were at play, it is thanks to the confidentiality of mediation that the details of Tom Cruise’s three divorces are nowhere to be found. Without that, imagine the details and drama about Mimi, Nicole and Katie’s lives that would be out there in the public domain.

(PeaceTalks works under a basis of complete confidentiality)

Mediation offers a distinct path to settlement.
The goal of mediation is to settle amicably. Trace and Rhonda Atkins divorce is a great example of how mediation can coax a settlement. Their divorce, stemming from Trace’s years of boozing and womanizing began intensely with Rhonda demanding a settlement worth nearly $20 million. But instead of engaging in an aggressive, drawn out legal battle, she soon sought dismissal of the case, and the couple proceeded with mediation. A private compromise was reached and family was spared further trauma and exposure along with a quicker path to a mutually agreeable settlement.

(This is exactly the path PeaceTalks follows with every couple)

Link to article here

Giving and Saying Thanks

A fireman works to keep a home from catching fire, as the neighbor’s home burns.

Whether you are in or out of a divorce, the holidays are challenging enough without constant pictures of hellfire and smoky air in your eyes. It can be tough find time in order to target the most effective channel for giving help during a catastrophe and our fires are no exception. I’m passing along some very practical advice from an article in MarketWatch (Alessandra Malito) that focuses on feedback from the professionals, “on the ground”, after a few days of initial responses.

Darrell Steinberg, mayor of Sacramento, tweeted:

“Americans are rushing to donate supplies, food and clothes to help victims. But organizations including the American Red Cross and the Humane Society say victims need cash more than anything else.

We all want to help the victims of the #CampFire, but please don’t send supplies, as the evacuation centers say they have been inundated. Those working on the front lines say giving to the @RedCross or @Habitat_org is the best way to help” 

 “After a disaster hits, the American Red Cross witnesses the incredible generosity of people from across the country who want to help in any way they can with donations of items like clothes, shoes, food and household items, but the reality is, cash donations are best,” the Red Cross said in a statement.

In Southern California, where the Woolsey Fire has ravaged communities, the Humane Society of Ventura County said it was stocked with supplies, but will need more money for items like pet food. Actress Sandra Bullock donated $100,000 to HSVC, which is caring for cats, dogs, donkeys, pigs, horses, chickens, ducks and other pets displaced by the fire. (The organization will care for these animals until the owners can reunite with them, it said.)

If you have kids they’ll probably want to follow Sandra’s lead, as they look at thousands of frightened pets, think of their own, and want to give some thanks for being safe.

If you or someone you know is in dire straits trying to get divorce-related materials filed by December 31St call the PeaceTalks office and we’ll tell you if we know of any available resources that might be of immediate assistance.

Links to donate to  Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity

Quotes From Divorce Veterans

There was an article in the Sunday LA Times by Ben Steverman of Bloomberg News with some very clear advice from some divorce professionals that have been doing this for a long time.

His article was written before the fires started devastating the lives of thousands of our fellow Californians. PeaceTalks and every other mediation group I know of will help with emergency paperwork in concert with any attorneys to get something in place by December 31St. Everyone will do their bit. Good luck.

When a rich couple splits, divorce attorney Lowell Sucherman gets blunt:

“Look, I’ve been doing this for 50 years,” he says early in the negotiations. “I know how this case is going to come out within a few dollars.” Find a fair way to settle quickly, he says, and you can save enough in legal fees to send your kid to college. Or you can fight tooth and nail, he adds, “and I’ll send my grandchildren to college.” His warnings work only some of the time.

 Michael Stutman, a partner at Stutman, Stutman & Lichtenstein in Manhattan, said he’s seeing more feuding couples open to negotiation as the alimony deduction deadline looms.

“When you’ve got people pretty close to an agreement, the specter of losing that benefit is pushing people together.”

Stutman is handling a divorce for a real estate mogul, and it’s taking a long time for two skilled forensic accountants to untangle the family’s holdings. The couple is “beside themselves” with how long it’s taking, he said.

Peter Walzer of Walzer Melcher, a law firm in Los Angeles. said:

“Still, there may be a workaround. If a settlement agreement, which often includes alimony terms, is reached by the end of this year, many divorce lawyers said, that would probably be sufficient to still get the alimony tax break. But that isn’t airtight, and there could be issues if the agreement is altered in the future.”

Chris Chen of Insight Financial Strategists, a firm specializing in post-divorce financial planning said:

“The difference between getting a divorce finalized this year and waiting until later is significant, especially among people with high incomes.

A chief executive living in New York City who is divorcing a stay-at-home mom would pay about $35,000 in child support for their two young kids. If he makes $1 million a year and agrees to pay her $360,000 in alimony, the 2019 rule change could cost them about $23,000 annually in higher taxes, according to an analysis by Chris Chen of Insight Financial Strategists, a firm specializing in post-divorce financial planning.”

The alimony change puts even more year-end pressure on divorce lawyers, judges and clerks. It’s not clear whether courthouses will be able to handle the extra crush of paperwork.

“They’re going to have a hard time processing all these judgments” said Peter Walzer.

Just to be safe, lawyers are getting paperwork in as soon as possible.

Link to full article here

What to Ask the Mediator

For people screening referrals they have received to mediation services some questions are best dealt with at the very beginning of the process. Even couples that may have already made a choice often benefit from getting some issues settled before the start of actual preparation and negotiation.

Is the first consultation free?
PeaceTalks does not charge for an initial session. We think of it as an opportunity for the clients to feel sure they will be comfortable with us as the mediator and for PeaceTalks to make sure that the case is appropriate for the mediation services we offer.

How Long Will The Whole Thing Take?
Most mediation cases are finalized within six months. There are different schedules reflecting the number of issues involved, mainly custody and support especially when there are children involved. After sitting and talking for about forty-five minutes we can usually project a likely outside completion date.

How much will it cost? Is a retainer involved or installments?
We will be able to narrow down a cost for you at our initial meeting and PeaceTalks has found that a lot of potential clients are struggling financially.  Many clients come to us already in debt and now having two households is an additional burden. We find that having clients pay as they go helps to keep them in control of the cost.

When you’re ready to talk give us a call and we’ll find a convenient time for the rest of your questions.

Divorce Last Minute Loophole

For anyone that is still facing the December 31 deadline for filing here’s some possible relief from some of that anxiety.

A lot of people have come to Peace Talks worried, in part, about the alimony change in the new tax laws and what they have to do by December 31 to maximize their benefits going into 2019. There may be a way to avoid spoiling your holidays by having to deal with a mountain of paperwork. It’s not for everybody but it may work for you and Peace Talks can help you determine if it’s the right option for you.

These are some highlights from an article by John Fiske a veteran with 30 years of mediation experience. You’ll need to consult someone to verify that this strategy could work for you and at Peace Talks this is part of what we do every day.

“We can only imagine the conversations we will be having in December with clients who call us looking for a divorce and learn they have less than a month to write a separation agreement if they want to preserve the ability of the payer of alimony to exclude the payments from his or her taxable income.  

What if we could write a simple “placeholder” Separation Agreement to be executed before the end of this December, wherein one or both spouses agree to pay a defined amount a month to the other as alimony subject to an agreement of modification which defines all the terms of their divorce, including the alimony agreement, in a Separation Agreement to be filed in court in 2019 for approval?”

“Section 11051 of the TCAJA reads as follows: The amendments made by this section shall apply to any divorce or separation instrument executed on or before such date and modified after such date if the modification expressly provides that the amendments made by this section apply to such modification.”

“Since Section 11051 states that any divorce or separation instrument executed before December 31, 2018 is not affected by TCAJA and such an Agreement may be modified after that date, all that is needed is the signed Separation Agreement.”

“So the clear language of TCAJA does not require court approval or a divorce filing in court before December 31, 2018 if you have a written separation agreement that preserves the alimony exclusion. This step appears to satisfy the federal statute and gives people time to work out a sensible Separation Agreement without ruining their holidays.

Based on this analysis I will be suggesting to my mediating clients that if they want to have taxable and excludable alimony in their Agreement they consider writing a simple divorce or separation”

“You should sleep better knowing that you need not take away any remaining holiday spirit and activities in order to rush to sign more than a Separation Agreement before the end of 2018.”

Read the entire article here

Divorce TV Style

Sarah Jessica Parker in “Divorce.” Photo courtesy of HBO

I get a kick out of how many people come to Peace Talks and talk about their divorce concerns and situations referencing plot lines from television shows. Being in Los Angeles that makes sense even though it may have nothing to do with the reality outside the studio walls.

The messages we get from television about families and relationships actually do hit a nerve when it gets realand familiar.

One show recently portrayed the wife of the main character leaving him and taking the kids. This is not an unheard of scenario even in mediation, but it does send the message that some things need to be addressed in marriage sooner rather than later.

How to address the underlying problems that caused the divorce is dealt with in another T.V. Show “Divorce” with Sarah Jessica Parker.

As Carrie Bradshaw on Sex And The City, she helped change the perception of single women on television. Her comedy series in which she plays a woman going through a messy break-up, hopes to do the same for divorced women as well as men. The message here seems to be an echo of many divorce specialists’ words of wisdom about identifying and accepting responsibility for adjustable negative behavior. Her character, Frances, has finalized her divorce and is now contemplating the next chapter of her life, including dating again and launching her own business, but it dawns on her that simply being rid of a broken marriage will not solve everything.

If you think you might need to talk please contact us and we’ll find some time and make some suggestions about additional resources.

Divorce Lawyer Secrets

Peace Talks, by definition, gives people the opportunity to talk about everything that is relevant to reaching an amicable agreement. This applies, as well, to all the legal advisors that come to our mediation table. We get to listen to the perspective of the lawyer in many different types of divorce situations representing a wide range of individual styles. Many of these lawyers have shared personal “secrets” about advice they offer, and techniques they employ, that help ensure the best results for a client. If anything you see provokes a question about your situation please contact the office to find a time to talk that is mutually convenient.

“Don’t think assets in your name can’t be claimed by your spouse in a divorce. “Almost all assets are divisible, including airline miles.”

“It’s going to cost more money”. More often than not, the costs will often be higher than your lawyer’s original estimate.

Contested divorces cost anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000, which is the primary reason for the suggestion of mediation.

“Solo practitioners may not be able to give you the level of attention you need from your lawyer and costs may compel you to live very frugally, necessitating some dramatic cuts in expenditures”

While it is dispiriting, to “downsize” it’s better totemporarily cut corners in your lifestyle than miss opportunities in getting a faster, favorable outcome.

“Lawyer fees may be negotiable.” This doesn’t mean an attorney will always be willing to lower their fees, but for mediation cases there is usually a different fee schedule.

“If your divorce is uncontested, then you may be able to perform several parts of it on your own.” This means that you and your spouse agree on child custody, spousal support, child support, visitation, and division of property. This would be the ideal circumstance for mediation.

“You may still decide to retain an attorney, but their role will be limited to the navigation of court procedures.” The mediation team handles the paperwork to save time and money.

“An initial retainer fee does not equate to the actual cost of handling a divorce matter”. It is only an advance on work undertaken by the attorney and does not represent the thirty thousand dollar threshold reached by most divorce cases.

“That you should meet with multiple attorneys”

One secret your divorce lawyer doesn’t want you to know is that it is extremely beneficial to have multiple consultations. As with all partnerships it has to be a good fit and you have to sit down with someone to decide that for yourself. We have introduced many clients to people they eventually selected for representation.

Divorce – Ready or Not?

Recently, I’ve been encountering a lot of feedback related to people “rushing” to a divorce, before being informed, as to what needs to be done ahead of time. Here are some of the recurring themes that many therapists and advisors caution about when facing this decision. At Peace Talks we offer discernment counseling to help you decide whether to get divorced. We believe the most important agreement is HOW you go through the process and we offer a free orientation to learn all the options.

Most couples starting a divorce are unprepared and this lack of preparedness can cause a marriage to end prematurely or deteriorate into a competition.

Pondering divorce for a long time before acting on it buys into the false belief that they’ve thought about it thoroughly and are ready.

There is a natural tendency for people to want to get the divorce over with as quickly as possible in order to move on with their lives.

 At Peace Talks, as with all mediation specialists, one of our first considerations is finding the proper guide to help deal with the inevitable stress and emotional difficulties to come. The right professional help with the intangibles is at leastas important as the financials. Having someone who’s objective and experienced advising you through these difficulties can be invaluable. It’s all too easy for anger to take control without a co-pilot.

Once you feel after you have sought professional help for a few months and accepted your own responsibility, that a divorce is the right choice, thenmake a plan. Many therapists are suggesting mediation instead of litigation when appropriate to spare the patient money and pain. For people that come to us from a lawyer or financial advisor we have a group of therapists listed on our website.

If you’d like to ask some questions about your situation please contact the office anytime.

Common Questions About Divorce

Here are a few of the questions that come up most often when people are their evaluating their options in relation to the divorce process. If you have some questions about your own situation please contact the office anytime.

How can I avoid going to court?
If you use a mediation service the court will be provided with what is known as a stipulated judgment, and you never have to appear before a judge. At Peace Talks we use a service to hand deliver all court paperwork to the court.

Does Divorce Mean We Have to Sell the House(s) or Can We Still Own Property Together?
In mediation the parties are free to decide between themselves how they wish to dispose of marital assets. Parties who were once married can continue to own property together as single people. Just the same way that people who were never married can own property together as “partners”. In mediation we will discuss how to continue to co-own.

How Much Dpousal Support Do I Get?
Spousal support is not based on a formula. Spousal support is the result of the careful weighing of the factors set forth in family code §4320. What happens in mediation is that the parties negotiate together so that in light of the applicable resources, income/expenses and needs, a workable, mutually agreeable, solution is arrived at. At Peace Talks we use divorce financial planning software to help you optimize your financial situation.

Can We Provide for Shared Custody of Our Pets?
Yes, although courts of law are traditionally reluctant to get involved in “custody battles” involving animals, parties in mediation are free to make any agreements they choose and that agreement will become the order of the court.
(Note that CA Gov. Jerry Brown just signed Assembly Bill 2274 that affects this process in the court system.)


Divorce Does Not Equal Failure

Divorce isn’t a failure, therapists say. In fact, it could mean the marriage was a success.

The overwhelming feeling of failureis almost impossible to avoid when divorce becomes a reality. We see this even in mediation where both parties are in agreement and it is, of course, worse for those in long litigations. The difficulties that accompany this feeling can lead to more uncertainty in making important valuations and decisions during the process.

This interview with Hal Runkel, a marriage and family therapist, makes some excellent points about shaping a positive viewpoint on the situation. What makes mediation different is the choice to “take control” of the process instead of leaving it up to a third party.

Here are a few key ideas from the interview:

“Marriage, he told me, ” is perfectly designed to help you grow up. It challenges your blind spots.”

 Marriage will expose your selfishness.

What sometimes happens is that one or both partners change so drastically that they come to the realization that their marriage isn’t helping them live the life they want.

Making a mature decision in that direction may be the best outcome of all.

Shana Lebowitz Senior Reporter, Strategy (Business Insider)

Link to full article here

Mediation vs. Arbitration

These two terms are being tossed around a lot as people prepare to meet the December 31st deadline for divorce related paperwork and try to avoid going to court. I’ve left a link to an article by Armita Azad from Mediate.com that gives a clear, concise look at the differences between the two from the participants’ point of view.

Here are a few highlights that I think are important and as always, if you need a hand with clarifying something, please give me a call

“MediatioIn and arbitration play a role in resolving disputes outside of the court. These methods of conflict resolution are tailored to the trend of judicial relief and assist parties into resolving disputes according to the party’s needs. They take in account personal or business priorities and interests that no court judgement is able of addressing. 

In arbitration, a judge and jury decides the merits of the case based on the law and facts that may lead to one sided results; and has become more adversarial in the sense that the parties are obliged to proceed with both their lawyers and a third-party decision maker that will impose the judgement. 

The whole idea of mediation is to use a neutral third party to facilitate a deal amongst the parties. It has the advantage of reorienting parties towards each other, not by imposing rules on them. It assists the parties with achieving a new-shared perception of their relationship with an innovative view that will redirect their attitudes towards each other. When parties mediate, their relationships can be restored.”

Link to full article here

Stress Rehearsal

Every now and then even a “general” survey can be of use for a “specific” purpose. Dr. Grande highlights four common stress sources, from the Harris Interactive survey, for couples today and two of them are about sex. The other two are about money, (surprise! surprise!), making it and spending it. There is no delineation made as to whether a divorce was involved, by either partner, but the issues transcend marital history, as stress is a problem before and after separation of any kind.

For example, the issue with what can go wrong when you can’t leave the work-related stress behind before you hit the front door is universal.

The suggestion she makes about de-stressing during the commute is one I’ve heard from professionals echoing the mantra of simply turning off the phone for at least thirty minutes prior to your arrival. Good luck with that.

There are no simple fixes for complicated matters but be assured that noprogress will happen without a dialogue. If meeting with someone is not possible then look into an online consultation so that you can explore all your options.

If you need some help contact my office anytime.

The Top 4 Stressors for Couples Today
A recent survey identifies the most common problems.
by Dianne Grande Ph.D.

1. Work-related stress was identified as a key factor in relationship conflicts by 35 percent of the respondents.
“Depending upon the type of commute you have, you may even be able to de-stress on your way home.”
2. Being too tired for sex was identified as a key factor by 33 percent of those who completed the interview.
“You can plan times when you are least likely to be tired.”
3. Low sex drive was identified by 28 percent of respondents as a key cause of stress in their relationship.
“One common underlying problem may be a negative body image-shift your thoughts and focus on what you like about yourself, rather than the flaws you perceive.”
4. Arguments about money were identified by 27 percent of the respondents as key to their distress as a couple.
“It is far healthier to equalize power than to use money in order to assert control over a partner.”

Read the full article from Psychology Today here

Divorce and the 2018 Tax Law Change Snapshot

I came across this exchange with Jim Tankersley who covers economic and tax policy for The New York Times and Ailsa Chang from NPR. Jim gives a nice summary of the dynamics involved that are driving financial advisors to get a strategy in place for all their clients that are party to a divorce settlement before the end of 2018. He also points out that the men do not have as much to lose with the new deal.

There’s a link at the bottom to the whole conversation but here’s a few examples of how Jim lays it out:

CHANG: So the couples that will be most impacted by this are those wealthiest ones in the top tax bracket.

TANKERSLEY: Absolutely because it means the most for them because they’re getting the biggest break from their taxes ’cause they pay the…

CHANG: Right.

TANKERSLEY: …Highest marginal income tax rates. 

CHANG: And I can imagine most couples that have severely disparate incomes – it’s usually the woman who earns less. So this tax law change will probably have women bearing most of the cost.

TANKERSLEY: That’s what divorce lawyers and tax professionals and financial planners have been telling me – is that, yeah, it’s largely women who receive alimony. And particularly with wealthy couples, it’s largely women who leave the labor force to take care of kids or for whatever reason. And women earn less in the economy for the same work than men do. This is a potentially big loss for women…

CHANG: What was Congress’ rationale for getting rid of the alimony tax break?

TANKERSLEY: This is a way to raise revenue for the government. So by closing this loophole, they’re going to get more money in taxes, and therefore they help offset some of the enormous other costs of the rest of the tax bill.

 It’s also, again, a drop in the bucket of a $1.5 trillion tax cut.

To read the full interview click here

Divorce-A Coach Might Help

At Peace Talks we have been doing a lot of “coaching” with the overwhelming process of divorce, from divorcing parents and premaritals as well as legal and psychological practitioners.

Here’s a description of “Divorce Coaching” from the American Bar Association:

“Divorce coaching is a flexible, goal-oriented process designed to support, motivate, and guide people going through divorce to help them make the best possible decisions for their future, based on their particular interests, needs, and concerns. Divorce coaches have different professional backgrounds and are selected based on the specific needs of the clients.  For example, some divorce coaches are financial planners, mental health professionals, lawyers, or mediators who have experience dealing with divorcing clients.”

Here’s some additional feedback about the potential value of a coach from an attorney:

“I love them, and if I had my way, I’d never work without them,” says Brigitte Bell, a Chicago divorce attorney. “They help manage the clients and support them by bringing a different set of skills to the divorce process than we do.”

If you want to explore the “Divorce Coach” idea to see if it’s something you want to pursue, whether as a potential client or certified practitioner please contact me.


Women: Separate But Not Equal Pay

by Stephanie Maloney

Women: Separate But Not Equal Pay - Divorce Mediation - Los AngelesSince I get reminded on a daily basis of why a lot of moms are finding it harder to celebrate things sometimes this seemed a bright piece of news. If these bills actually make progress I will pass along the word on what we can do to support their passage. Enjoy the hopeful Senator’s wishes and in the meantime let’s hope that next year we’re a little slimmer and the bank account is a little fatter.

NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand says Congress must do more to help working moms and their children so she is sponsoring two bills to address the issues of paid work leave and equal pay for equal work. Here’s how she put it:

In May 1914 Congress created “Mother’s Day” as a celebration but hasn’t done nearly enough with policies to give working mothers the support they need.

“The United States consistently ranks at the bottom among industrialized nations for paid parental leave. Many families spend over 25% of their income on childcare, and that number climbs to over 50% for single parents.

The obvious pay gap between men and women, which is even worse for women with children, means that working moms are getting shortchanged.”  This is important because nearly two-thirds of mothers in the United States are the primary, sole or co-breadwinner.

Her paid leave bill is called the FAMILY Act. The FAMILY Act would guarantee up to 12 weeks of paid leave, with two-thirds of your paycheck.

Her other bill, the Paycheck Fairness Act, would help end wage discrimination. Right now, on average, for every dollar a man makes, a woman makes only 80 cents, and if you’re a woman of color, it’s even worse.

Studies have also shown that there is a “motherhood penalty” in our economy, where having children hurts women’s earnings while working fathers get an increase in pay for every child they have.

It’s that simple.

Temporary “Phonelessness” Is OK

by Stephanie Maloney

Co-parenting is tough enough without having to wonder if you’re one text away from that phone call from the Highway Patrol. Nobody wants to be the cop in the family even when it makes sense to everybody else.

We all abuse the privilege of using the phone while driving so it’s tough being tough on the kids without hearing “you both do it and you’re the only one that gives me grief about it”. Just what you don’t need-playing mom & dad off each other.

With 400,000 “distracted driving” related injuries recorded in 2015 the (growing) numbers are too much for parents or teens to ignore and teens are four times more likely to be unlucky.

There are no easy answers but I keep reading about families that set their own guidelines and act on the “honor system” when driving alone-parents included.

The Good The Bad and The Women

by Stephanie Maloney

Women are going to play at Augusta National the home of the “Masters”. Even if golf is just another four-letter word to many of us this is the gender politics version of Jackie Robinson’s first game for the Dodgers. In another “Tear Down That Wall” moment an obsolete fixture tumbled because of social pressure from the “common sense” movement. Who knows next might be pay equivalency-be still my foolish heart.

Unfortunately, the first female shooter appeared thinking YouTube executives were blocking her broadcasts. While not involving a school it is still a very disturbing image for our daughters to process and I’ll pass on any helpful advice that pops up from my reading. Please feel free to do the same.

According to the statistics, most of us know of someone that needed help from a Planned Parenthood Clinic having nothing to do with the concept of termination.There are millions of examples showing that economic factors are preventing women from receiving very necessary assistance with serious health problems that they should be entitled to without question. This is a gender issue that should never have to be countered with pointing out that VIAGRA, for example, is often covered even though it’s not exactly a serious health medication.

With any luck and the necessary will perhaps it won’t be that long until we stop having to explain to our girls why the boys seem to be getting the better of the deal.

The Small Outdoors

by Stephanie Maloney

Here it is again that time to start getting out and planning out some “away from the house” time. It seems to get tougher each year so we have to get more creative.

Actual vacations involving travel are kind of a special event category and require detailed coordination never mind extraordinary cooperation.

It’s no small accomplishment to find ways on a daily and weekly basis to get some fresh air with the kids without wasting hours of time in traffic. So we’re seeing stories about people taking turns hosting “yard parties” that are geographically user-friendly and BYO “whatever” toys for the group.

I know of parents that are taking walks and bike rides in the neighborhood instead of driving to a park. In a real switch there are stories about some single parents renting a local Air B&B with a backyard just for a few hours on an afternoon for fun & games.

This is a reach but if you have teenagers-ask them about a baseball game-funny things can happen in the spring.

Unplugging To Connect

by Stephanie Maloney

Every family that I interact with has difficulty creating and managing their time together. By definition, Divorce creates two entities from one source. With our technology, it sounds crazy to admit that we have trouble connecting with each other but that is the reality for a lot of people. This is all about spending time together not time spent typing together.

There was a nice piece in the LA Times a few weeks ago by Catherine Price who writes about “Breaking Up With Your Phone” and avoiding screens not people.

It made me think about how easy it is to mistake texting with talking when someone asks about the kids and we say we just spoke and we mean text messages were exchanged.

Actual “Face Time” not the video application is sort of the Holy Grail of raising kids and excruciatingly so when divorced. It’s tough to compete with all the available options for kids out there but some people are getting creative in efforts to bring new spins on things to the table.

One family that caught my attention is using the bowling alley and the miniature golf course with their phones turned off until they are all finished. They all take turns keeping score and making reservations as well as handling the gear. Some people are applying that technique to the dinner hour or other shared activities in order to really connect with each other instead of their equipment.

Whatever it is I’d like to think that there’s something we can do together that doesn’t involve screens-unless it’s the screen on the back door of a cabin on a lake.

March Against Madness-Madness Actually Responds

by Stephanie Maloney

Imagine Frances McDormand outside your house of white with 500,000 walking, breathing, two-legged billboards demanding action about the killing of her child.

Apparently, if all politics are local, then all school shootings are now personal. Isn’t it about time we all find some unifying spirit through these kids for actually doing something and isn’t a pity that what’s holding us back is people with a “philosophy” like that of Rick Santorum:

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said Sunday that students would be better off “taking CPR classes” than marching for “phony gun laws.

“How about kids, instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem, do something about maybe taking CPR classes…so that when there is a violent shooter that you can actually respond to that,” Santorum said on CNN’s ‘State of the Union.’

The onetime presidential hopeful, said participants in Saturday’s nationwide March for Our Lives events were “passing the buck to their representatives when they should be preparing to respond to the next mass shooting”.

This must be precisely what is enraging these “kids,” when they hear the words “…the next mass shooting…” with the same echo of acceptance as if there is nothing that can be done. They are indeed “passing the buck” but it’s going back to people that are supposed to paying the tab for safety not to the people hiding under the desks.

In cities across the globe people marched in support of common sense and as even The Pope had advised they shouted that we’ve had enough of parents burying children and children burying friends. In Denmark, for example, Finnish exchange student Iida Keskinen told CNN the idea that mass shootings have become the norm “…has really shook me…I wanted to make sure I had even a small impact in supporting this cause,” she said.

Maybe if she were Norwegian Mr. Trump would listen.

50 Million People Can be Wronged

by Stephanie Maloney

It’s an old advertising ploy used by promoters for everything from cigarettes to soap; postulating, “If so many other people are doing it how can they all be wrong?” The simple answer is they were sold out – literally.

Mr. Zuckerberg has stepped up in a somewhat delayed timeline to acknowledge that like the captain of a ship he is responsible for whatever happens with his vessel.

He will now face a barrage of questions in D.C. to explain the massive borrowing of personal data by Cambridge Analytica for the purposes of obfuscating information related to the candidates in the 2016 elections.

Facebook gives away its services in return for our data. If you’re not familiar with “Bedazzled” you still might recognize the “made a deal with the Devil” dynamic and what your soul is really worth.

I admit that it never occurred to me that 50% of us rely on Facebook for news about the country and the planet, not just vacation videos. So if we thought that we were getting a free ride with our friends and family “pics & clicks” we were wrong.

There are any number health professionals suggesting that we find, no make, the time to unplug for a while every day. It might not be a bad idea to show the kids what it’s like to get an actual letter in the mail-no the other one-with a stamp and their name on it-and it can’t be hacked.

Spring Cleaning

by Stephanie Maloney

As we finally are getting some much-needed rain I keep thinking about things, besides the social and political black holes, that are ripe for clean up.

With a clearer picture of your finances under the new tax laws it’s probably not a bad idea to get an overview from your advisors about all your options.

I used to talk with my brokerage clients at the end of the first quarter, especially after a turbulent year, so they could position themselves for any changes their tax advisor might suggest.

We already know the landscape has changed but we’re just learning about the effects on our individual situations.

You might very well need to talk about some adjustments with your ex-spouse about your co-parenting parenting plan in light of what is not working so well and any increased levels of stress on the kids. Worries about money have a habit of affecting all family members.

As I have noted please let me know if you think I might be able to be of help even if only for a referral to someone with a very specific area of expertise.

Also let me know if you or a friend might be interested in our Tuesday Support Group.

The Ides of Marches

­by Stephanie Maloney

Things did not go well for Julius Caesar when he ignored the soothsayer and his advice about being wary of the “Ides” (15Th) of March and was struck down on the steps of the Senate. The kids in Florida never made the steps but the survivors and thousands of their contemporaries across the US are taking what they feel are the necessary steps to put an end to this madness.

When you listen and watch what is happening the obvious questions stick out about why it has taken children speaking out and marching to get the adults motivated to action. The Florida legislation will not be enough for these young men and women; apparently you grow up fast post-gunfire.

I know parents are having difficulty with trying to explain the scenes of “17 Minutes of Silence” and with split families that kind of time is not always available.

On March 24th there will another demonstration “March for Our Lives” and here is a link for information and an opportunity to make a donation: marchforourlives.com

I am going to encourage my family to participate in any way possible as well as anyone in my circle of friends.

Hopefully we’re not the only ones listening.


Crypto-Scams, or, Old Wolf New Online Sheepskin

by Stephanie Maloney

Every year around “Tax Time” consumers, across the board, get hit with opportunities to “turn that refund into a lot of money” and this year some of it is coming a “Bit Coin” at a time.

Scams that have historically targeted retirees, widows and widowers are now bleeding out to include the newly single. The promise of fantastic returns on even small investments involving “Crypto Currencies” and “Block Chains” is a familiar tale echoing the old hustles of Oil & Gas and Gold & Silver back in the eighties. These scams always prey upon the “fear of missing out” and for a certain percentage of people it always works.

If you, like many of us at a certain age, are engaged in parental care you’ve already heard about some “incredible” offers being made online to “make those retirement funds really pay off”. It’s a relative new development for people to say ‘I know Dad ever since the divorce those things started showing up every day”. Since it’s all online one bad decision might open a “Pandora’s Box” of connected problems.

One of the insidious aspects of this “currency investment” is that it has become all too easy to use the pitch “no traditional broker can make money from it so they steer you away from it”.

That strategy plays deeper into the “missing out” fear and makes it a lot easier to push those buttons and “get in” on something they think is a deal “too good to miss”.

You’re going to see more about this so “be careful out there” as the “Woodsman” said to “Little Red Riding Hood.”

Academy Women Rise to the Occasion

by Stephanie Maloney

When Frances McDormand stood asking the “women with projects” in the Academy Awards audience to stand and be seen, with an assist from Meryl Streep, it began the largest “let’s take a meeting” conversation in Hollywood history.

Imagine “women who tell the stories about women” getting an equal opportunity to at least pitch those ideas to the real decision-makers. The fact that those people are mostly men is another conversation.

The #MeToo phenomenon has actually put some cracks in the invisible walls and ceilings of our entertainment institutions-and that’s a good thing-a really good thing.

Go do what you can to show your support for what you believe in and by all means, if you haven’t already; go see Three Billboards and Shape of Water.

Divorce Resource

by Stephanie Maloney

The more I read about how little time people have for things they’d like to do the question remains about how to make time for things they need to do. That always brings me around to creating opportunities for a friendly exchange of information in a relaxed setting.

What we’re talking about is a “Divorce Support Group” designed to give people a chance to compare notes and share “strategies”. Managing the divorce process means being prepared to meet the constant challenges that an ever-changing landscape often presents.

Instead of just an exchange amongst peers I’m thinking about inviting people from different disciplines such as the Real Estate and the Investment sectors. It seems that as our time gets harder to control it might help to “double up” and combine opportunities to exchange and discover new resources for securing a better future.

The Kids Are Alright

by Stephanie Maloney

“Divorce is always toughest on the children” has been a very old mantra for very demonstrable reasons. As much as we try to shield them from the negativity that comes with the divorce process the after-effects are felt for years. It’s how we deal with co-parenting issues on a daily basis that sets the tone and the example for the family to help guide them in the direction of good decisions.

How incredible is it that the kids in Florida are now turning around to show us the path to a smarter decision.

How does a child process a parent not being able to explain why students, like them, are being shot and why the grown ups don’t make it stop. Apparently one way these Florida kids discovered was to get on a bus, go to the Capitol(s) and “Call BS”. BRAVO!

This is one that both parents can reinforce with the family and offer support if anyone wants to get involved. It’s one of those times to “reach across the family aisle” towards a common goal because it just makes sense.

Congratulations on the Gold to the USA Women’s Hockey Team-the goaltender, Rooney, is from Minnesota.

Winter Olympics – Teaming Up

by Stephanie Maloney

Even if you don’t have “Olympic Fever” there are always some great moments worth watching.  Because I skated competitively growing up in Minnesota I’m reminded how important teamwork is to even the individualevents.  The research and planning that are part of the preparation process involve many people and have a lot to do with the final results.

Relying on a team is something that starts before every divorce and continues afterwards as you reshape your life. You are still going to need advice from professionals after the settlement to protect your assets as well as your own peace of mind. There are also going to be people in your social circles with whom you’ll network and exchange resources. Those same people will be grateful for the perspective and suggestions that you bring to the table.

Working in Divorce Mediation I get a good look at how willing people are to share when they believe it will be of help. If you have gone through the mediation process you can be very comfortable with telling people it may not be right for them if they are NOT in mutual agreement with their spouse. If, however, they are on the same page then they can “go for the gold” and take home a “medal worthy ” settlement.

Make Some Time-Take Some Time

by Stephanie Maloney

The pictures from the Florida School shooting will be tough to digest and tougher to forget. Without getting maudlin-hug the kids a little tighter, a little longer and get some pizza and ice cream-or just a smoothie and some sushi. Whatever it is do something ordinary that you don’t ordinarily do even if it means taking some time from your workday.

If the kids are not an option go do something that you enjoy.  Valentine’s Day is always a tough one because memories uncontrollably come rolling over us; and it’s tough to block out just the bad ones.

If nothing else go do something physical that will have its own rewards. There are a couple of months left before the warm weather starts and you will feel better if you look better and just walking can help put color in your cheeks.

If you’d like to talk with some other people dealing with Divorce we’re starting a support group on Tuesday nights. Send an email to:


and we’ll let you know all the details as they are finalized

Abu Dhabi Lets Expats Bypass Sharia Law For Mediation

Recently Abu Dhabi broke from centuries of tradition and decided to allow non-Muslim expatriates to pursue a divorce through faith-based mediation. Though not a mirror image to western secular mediation, as we know it, it’s another testimonial to the need for a short, less costly path to a mutually satisfying agreement.

The protection of the children was one of main reasons given for the major change in official policy along with a long-standing need to bring some international sense of fairness to a very multi-cultural society.

It’s interesting that the children’s welfare and the wasted time and money are universal elements of concern oblivious to country or faith and agreeing to talk about things is the smartest choice available on the planet.

Mediation in the News: The Williams Divorce

Back in June there was a news story about Richard Williams, the father of Venus & Serena, seeking to evict his estranged wife from their Florida home.

A few days ago the lawyer, Sandy Becher, for the wife spoke about the upcoming divorce in terms of new approach.

“What’s next is we’ll take depositions of the parties and witnesses and have hearings. After we fully exchange financial information, hopefully we can settle the matter at mediation. If not, then litigate any open and unresolved issues there still are.”

We’ll follow this story and see how it plays out. It’s interesting that even people with very substantial assets may need to call in a third-party to help them come to a mutually satisfying agreement.

Mediation is a relatively new component in the array of tools available to build a successful settlement. This sort of high profile case may bring this strategy to the forefront of possibilities much sooner in lieu of litigation.

Healing Trauma

by Alison Marcelino and Stephanie Maloney

As part of the Conscious Uncoupling training, we attended a lecture given by Judy Waters, MFT, discussing “Healing Breakup Trauma.” In her talk, Ms. Waters explains how a break up can “live” in our body. If we have had childhood abandonment issues, a breakup will stimulate those early wounds. A client may show up in the divorce process as an angry, scared five-year-old child dressed in adult clothing.

Ms. Waters told us that the key to understanding trauma is to realize that it refers to an extreme stress that affects a person’s ability to cope with life. Psychologically, it is an overwhelming emotion and a feeling of utter helplessness.

The experience of trauma is subjective. Trauma, “big T” and trauma, “little t” are two different things. It is important to know the difference because experiencing death, divorce, or a move is a huge change of identity and context. Conversely, opening the refrigerator and finding your ex’s favorite mustard may not seem traumatizing, but often it is the small “t’s” that cause us to revert to that place of despondency. This is the re-experience of our previous abandonment wound or sustained trauma that is flooding our brains with stress hormones making clarity impossible.

When we are partnering with other professionals and working with our clients, we must keep the reality of their physiological emotional landscape at the forefront of our minds.

What I have noticed is everyone who has experienced trauma ends up expressing it differently. The most common responses include: abusing drugs, alcohol, or other self-destructive behaviors. However, there are also covert expressions to notice, such as an overwhelming investment into the details of the process, or conversely a lack of presence or ownership in the process.
As divorce professionals, we need to identify the trauma experience both for our clients and ourselves. Trauma is unavoidable. Acknowledging and allowing the trauma to be present gives an opportunity for healing.

Judy Waters is a Licensed Psychotherapist, a Spiritual Counselor, a Calling in “The One” Coach and a Feminine Power Coach. She has a private practice where she specializes in helping her clients overcome trauma, domestic violence, sexual abuse, eating disorders, relationship, family and career challenges. For more information please go to www.judyawaters.com

Collaborative Divorce The Best Way To Divorce In California

Collaborative Divorce The Best Way To Divorce In CaliforniaYou have decided your marriage is not working out. You want to divorce, but your friends have told you horror stories about dragging your divorce through the court system. You remember reading an article about Gwyneth Paltrow’s “conscious uncoupling” and her decision to use mediation instead of litigation. Where do you turn?? To collaborative divorce mediation at Peace Talks!

At Peace Talks, we do collaborative divorce: a non-adversarial approach to dissolution. We avoid the litigation over property, parental rights, and pride that destroy families. Peace Talks’ collaborative divorce is the preferable way to dissolve your marriage because it is 90% less expensive than litigation. It is confidential and private. Your discussions, disagreements and decisions are never public knowledge. Peace Talks makes divorce mediation a sane, sensible, and affordable alternative.

Practically speaking, collaborative divorce mediation involves a series of meetings between your partner and yourself, tailored to help you reach agreements in as amicable a manner as possible. A team of interdisciplinary specialists, an attorney, a therapist, a financial expert, and potentially other experts provide you with information to help you make excellent decisions that are in the best interests of your children and your family.

Collaborative divorce also demands another important factor: complete honest and full disclosure by both sides. A collaborative mediated divorce cannot be successful if facts are hidden from the other person. Thus, one of the first steps at Peace Talks is to voluntarily exchange all financial information. This enables our financial specialist to analyze your economic situation and present you and your partner with an accurate analysis of your financial situation. This information becomes the starting point for discussing the division of your household. An advantage of collaborative divorce is that you do not have to comply with mandated court rules. The two of you can come up with a solution that respects your shared goals.

During divorce, your life can seem chaotic, overwhelming and spinning out of control. At Peace Talks, together we develop a clear and systematic plan to keep the level of emotional strain to a minimum. While the process can be shorter than litigation, approximately 4 to 6 months, we work at your pace.
An additional benefit is that meetings at the Peace Talks’ offices are arranged to fit your time schedule, not an outside party like the civil court’s.

Another significant asset is that our mediators give you an opportunity to develop communication, self-management and negotiation skills that will help you during the divorce mediation process and beyond. The skills you achieve at Peace Talks allow you to be involved in the decision making process each step of the way. It also enables you to create a mediated settlement that attains the goals you mutually designed at your first meeting.

In our opinion, the most important reason to choose Peace Talks is that the well being of your children is protected. At Peace Talks, our team of mediation specialists ensures your children’s needs are paramount. With your input, we work to create a parenting plan that is in the best interests of your children. Not only do we consider your present situation, we discuss the developmental stages of your children and devise a plan that looks to the future while remaining flexible.

As you can see, at Peace Talks, the cooperative nature of collaborative divorce mediation can reduce the emotional stress caused by a break-up of the family and lead to a settlement that works for you and everyone involved. We believe by selecting this process you are ensuring the success of your future co- parenting and providing a safe family environment for your children to flourish.

Give Peace Talk a call today and schedule your complimentary consultation. See how collaborative divorce mediation can bring peace to your world. Call us at (310) 301-2100.

How does Team Mediation Work & Why is It So Effective?

Congratulations! You are considering mediation as the process for resolving your divorce. In contrast to litigation, mediation is the sane, efficient and cost effective way to work through your potentially difficult issues and preserve your family relationships. At Peace Talks, we use the “Team Mediation” approach and we want to share with you why this is so effective.

First, you are entering a process where you and your partner will be in control of the outcome. In other words, you will determine the terms of your property division, the planning for your children, and any child or spousal support. This freedom allows you to design an agreement that works for you and your family’s needs, not one dictated by the court system.

Next, a team will be assembled to facilitate your mediation sessions. Who are the team members and why is each one important to the process? As you are aware, part of the divorce procedure is to divide your community property – that is the property and assets acquired during your marriage. To assist with the financial matters, Peace Talks offers a financial neutral to help you organize, evaluate, budget and divide your property. The financial works with both parties to provide an objective view of your finances. This person is a Certified Financial Planner® (CFP®) and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFATM) who has had advanced training in the specialization of divorce. By having a financial expert involved, you will have an accurate assessment of your financial picture and be able to make informed choices.

Another valuable team member is the mental health coach. From our experiences at Peace Talks, we have witnessed the traumatic and volatile nature of the divorce process. During mediation, you and your partner may have feelings of anger, hurt, humiliation, loss, abandonment or perhaps powerlessness. All these emotions are normal within the context of this overwhelming event. Our mental health coaches are professionally trained family and child specialists who are present in the room to help you process your emotions and keep the mediation moving as fast or as slowly as you want. If necessary, you may have a separate session with them in their office or request a break to get the mental health support you need.

The final team member is the attorney. This person has background in family law and can answer the “legal” questions that arise in connections with property, parenting or support issues. Having an attorney present also gives you an idea of what potential litigation outcomes could occur if your matter was proceeding in court instead of at Peace Talks. While the attorney is not there to give you specific legal advice, she will provide legal information when it is relevant or requested. You and your partner are always able to seek your own outside legal counsel at any point in the process.

Clearly a team approach ensures that all of your needs, whether financial, emotional or legal, will be met during Peace Talks mediation. Our goal is to make the process as cost effective, efficient and healthful as possible. We know when you have children their best interests are your focus and we want to achieve a successful outcome so that you can continue to interact with each other and your children for a lifetime. Call us so that our team can help make this happen for you!

Uncontested Divorce California

Uncontested Divorce in California is becoming more and more common.  As more people embrace the idea of mediation, collaborative divorce, and even settling things themselves without going to court, more and more divorces are uncontested.

uncontested divorce california












It makes sense when you think about it:  

  • Courts are over-crowded and each judge is expected to hear 30 cases a day. Pros and cons of mediation.
  • Lawyer fees are higher than ever. The average cost for a litigated divorce in Los Angeles is about $50,000 per person.
  • More and more people value the idea of being cooperative co-parents once their divorce is over
  • In the long run it’s easier to be cordial than enemies, even if you don’t have kids

I also think it’s a shift in values. More and more people are committed to working things out.  We’ve started to appreciate that it’s easier to get along than it is to fight, and that fighting takes up so much negative energy. When you’re caught up in the fight, you can’t live your life, raise your children, or thrive at work.  And I think people have finally caught onto that notion.

Consider child custody and how it’s evolved over the years:

Nowadays, parents are more and more likely to share custody and appreciate what each parent contributes to the upbringing of children.  In California, the legal presumption is that parents will have joint physical custody and joint legal custody of children–a truly shared arrangement–unless one parent proves that this wouldn’t be good for the children.

To share custody, it’s much, much easier if you get along, at least  as cooperative co-parents. You don’t have to be best friends.  By committing to settle out of court, you have a much better chance of preserving the good parts of your relationship for the sake of the kids.

 So how do you make your divorce uncontested?

 There are several elements:

  • Paperwork and court filing
  • Negotiation
  • Financial disclosures
  • Dealing with the emotional divorce
  • Coming to an agreement

Paperwork:  Most people get help with filing the paperwork, whether they hire a paralegal, use a mediator or lawyer, get the forms online, or use a kit from Nolo Press.  The same paperwork is required for all divorces:  Petition, Response, and Stipulated Judgment.

Negotiation:  Reaching the deal doesn’t have to be complicated.  Make an agenda of everything you need to talk about and then start with the easiest things and work your way up.  Schedule a time when you can be alone together, even if it’s at a public place like IHOP in a quiet booth.  Don’t try and do everything at once. Take it slow and give each person a chance to explain how they feel about each issue. Quit before you get tired. You can always meet again. Resources to get started.

Financial Disclosures:  The law requires you to fill out financial disclosures.  Be honest, accurate, an thorough. You can get in a lot of trouble fast if the court finds out you lied.  No goofing around.  No holding back. Your spouse is entitled to see all your financial records, and vice versa, so it’s easiest to cooperate and simply make copies and exchange them. Worksheets to prepare for divorce

Dealing with the Emotional Divorce:  I’m convinced this is 80% of the process.  While the legal stuff is important, and you want it done right, the emotional divorce is key to moving on in a healthy way.  The court expects you to get divorced as a business deal, but you didn’t get married as a business deal.  The court isn’t going to help you with the emotional divorce, so your support system is really important. Friends, family, spirituality and professionals like therapists are there to help, so reach out. You can return the favor later.

Coming to an Agreement:  Your divorce will get resolved one way or the other

The Truth is Irrelevant (all the time, not just in ADR Services)


All the time. Not just for mediators, and not just for ADR Services.

Headlock resized 600

 When we think of disputes, most people think that ascertaining the truth is the key to the resolution of a disagreement.  Find the truth, and you have the resolution to the conflict. Yet how many of us see “the truth” in the same way?

Truth is seen to be the foundation of the American justice system Yet how many litigants are satisfied with the outcome of the case once the judge makes a ruling?  By its very nature, litigation results in at least half of the litigants being disappointed.

“I Promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”

            This oath required of every witness in an American court is designed to bring out the truth. Unfortunately, as we saw when former President Clinton took this same oath, truth is not always forthcoming, even from the highest office in the land.

            Honesty and veracity are important virtues—whether in the courtroom or around the mediation table. A witness who is perceived to be lying on one point—even a small one—may be disbelieved in other parts of his story. Just look at how Judge Jackson and the American public viewed Bill Gates and the Microsoft position after Gates was cross-examined effectively in the antitrust trial. Once he’d been discredited on one fact, suddenly his whole story seemed suspicious.

            Having credibility and being believed is no less important in mediation—since settlement requires voluntary agreement, you have to gain the trust of your adversary in order to make a deal. Truth is not irrelevant when you’re talking about credibility and trust.

            But The Truth is.

            Does it really matter how many times former President Clinton was alone with Monica Lewinsky? Does it matter whether Monica’s dress had been dry-cleaned or not?

            Interesting? Yes. But whichever way this testimony came out or was perceived, what truly was important went beyond the truth of this evidence. Could the President regain the trust of Congress, the Cabinet, the American people, and his wife and daughter? Could Monica Lewinsky move on with her life? What happened was that the country’s focus disintegrated into partisan bitterness, when its energy and resources would have been better spent in improving the economy or protecting our citizens from terrorist danger.  That’s what happens when you focus on the wrong part of the conflict.  The country focused on “the truth” and the past, rather than the bigger picture, and more important goals.

            Looking at it a different way, the truth, though important, would remain different for each individual and probably never be reconciled. What really happened in the White House bathroom was less important than what President Clinton did at the infamous press conference when he pointed his finger and defiantly (and credibly) stated: “I never had sex with that woman.”  His mealy-mouthed attempt to shade the facts did irreparable damage to his credibility.  The truth mattered much less than the country’s trust in his credibility.  By losing focus on the goals

Mediate! Don’t Litigate.

There are huge advantages when you mediate your divorce, family law, custody, child support, alimony, spousal support or modification.  If you’ve spent any time at all on our web site, you already know how passionate we are about mediation and its benefits.

We saw a new couple this week for mediation.  They’d already spent about $100,000 on lawyers’ fees and going to court and had gotten basically nowhere.  I know that sounds like I’m exaggerating, but that’s not unusual for Los Angeles in terms of legal fees.  It looks like we’ll settle the case at Peace Talks for about $5000. We’ve accomplished in a few hours what the lawyers didn’t do in 4 years. Amazing. 

Of course, as much as I’d like to claim all the credit, it’s because the clients are ready to settle and want to settle (although there is still a ton of conflict) that makes this possible. But still. $100,000? 

And we’ve recently implemented a sliding fee scale, too. We want to help people who want to get through their divorces as peacefully as possible, so please don’t let fees be the barrier.  If you’re struggling financially, let us know and if you qualify for the sliding fee, including some free services, we’re happy to help you.

Peace Talks is a business, but it’s also a vision.

So mediate, don’t litigate. In case we haven’t convinced you, we’ve listed the benefits below.

Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Less expensive—generally 90% less expensive–than going to court.
  • Faster—mediation is on your schedule, as fast or as slow as you want. You’re not at the mercy of the court’s schedule.
  • Helps preserve what’s left of your relationship. Do you really want to duck and cover every time you bump into a former in-law or mutual friend?  And if you have kids, you’re going to be co-grandparents. You’ve got to figure this out! and mediation can help.
  • Unique to your situation:  the mediation process is designed around your agenda and your needs, not the court’s and not the mediator’s.  You’ll negotiate an agreement that’s tailored to your family and unique situation, not just what a judge you’ve never met before thinks should work for you.

And when you’ve got children, mediation is even more important and effective.  Preserving or creating a good co-parenting relationship is really crucial to your child’s wellbeing.  Mediation can help.

Would you really want your divorce to hurt your child?  We didn’t think so. Our best tips:

Custody Mediation

1. The best predictor of how children do after a divorce is the amount of conflict between parents.  Mediation teaches you how to parent with less conflict.

    2. Mediation lets you create child-focused parenting plans that are tailor-made to suit your schedule as well as your kids’ needs. Mediation puts kids first but doesn’t leave parents behind, either.

        3. A good parenting plan let’s you avoid “He Said/She Said” arguments. The details are already in the plan. No more fighting.

          So mediate! don’t litigate!

          If you’re in the Los Angeles area, we’d be happy to help you through the process.  If you’re not near LA, you can find a mediator near you at Mediate.com.


          And visit our video mediation blog!

          8 Peace Practices for Uncontested Divorce California

          There are 8 peace practices which are free and easy to practice every day. They’ll help you stay sane no matter what, and we all know that sanity is at a premium at the moment.

          An excerpt from the 8 Peace Practices chapter of Making Divorce Work, our latest book, was published by Mediate.com. Click here for the 8 Peace Practices.

          screaming doesn't work

          Sure, we’ve all felt this way at times.  But we also know what it does to our blood pressure and ability to think creatively and problem solve.

          Using the 8 peace practices will help you get some peace even in the most difficult of times.  Sure, they help during your divorce, but they also help when you’re stuck in traffic or in a meeting with co-workers.

          Divorce mediation helps keep the peace in your family–after all, you are still a family even if you’re divorced.  You have the opportunity to have an uncontested divorce, California or elsewhere, when you mediate instead of litigating.  Mediators help you talk to each other and say what you really mean without getting shut down. Most will give you legal information and help you make a solid decision that works for you, your spouse, and your children. 

          And yes, the settlement needs to work for your spouse or he or she won’t sign it. And for YOU to get a settlement, your spouse has to sign.

          Sometimes people think mediation is all about peace and love and that mediators spend all their time talking about people’s feelings. That’s only partially true. 

          Of course feelings are important. After all, you’re talking about everything you care anything about when you’re mediating:  your future, your past, your financial security, how you’ll raise your children.  There’s no getting around it. Divorce includes feelings.

          It also includes the legal part, and that needs to be informed, thoughtful, and thorough. 

          You need both:  a successful legal divorce, and a successful emotional divorce.

          The 8 Peace Practices will help you get there.


          Prenuptial Agreement Sample?

          As a family law mediator who mediates premarital agreements and prenuptial agreements, I’m often asked:

          • What does a prenup look like?
          • Do you have a sample?

          I’d love to be able to give out a generic sample prenup, but there really is no such thing. 

          Prenups are as individual as the couples themselves (isn’t this blended family photo great?).

          prenuptial agreement benefits everyone



          Depending on your priorities, some prenups deal with just one issue, like pre-marital property, family money, or a small business.  Others take on every issue, including support and rights to the house if the couple was to separate.

          And those are just the legal issues—often couples come to mediate their premarital agreement at Peace Talks and one spouse is upset and against the whole idea.  They feel like their fiance does not trust them, or that prenups aren’t romantic.

          Well, there’s nothing romantic about getting divorced, either.  Or, if you have children from prior relationships, there’s nothing romantic about fighting with your deceased spouse’s children after a premature death.

          The way I see it, if we don’t leave our estate planning up to the government (most people do Wills and Trusts), and we don’t let the government’s foster care system raise our children, why would we let the government decide what happens to all of our assets and the way our children will be raised in the event we decide to divorce or separate?

          There are a few big advantages to premarital agreements that you may not have thought of:

          • Doing a prenup forces you to talk about big issues, like money management styles and how you’ll share expenses (you’d be surprised, but many couples gloss over money differences as they plan for the Big Day!)
          • You’ll talk about credit and how you manage credit as part of the process
          • You’ll talk about your expectations about career and work, and working once children arrive. How would you feel if your spouse switched careers 10 years into a marriage?  You’ll discuss all of this as part of your premarital mediation
          • You’ll also talk about what happens if one of you dies or becomes disabled, or if you have to support elderly parents.  I know it’s no fun to talk about that sort of thing, but better to be on the same page than to leave it up to chance.

          And even if you don’t end up putting it in writing, I think there’s a huge value in having these discussions.

          To start the discussion on your own, use the Peace Talks Premarial Checklist to get the discussion started.


          Diana Mercer is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Perigee 2010). Join the conversation and community on our video blog and check out Diana’s divorce blog on the Huffington Post

          Uncontested Divorce California Style, Part 2

          The path to uncontested divorce in California, or anywhere else, is not always an easy one.

          Let’s face it, the thought of divorce can be pretty upsetting, scary, sad and everything in between.  So sometimes divorces start with a bang–intimidating court paperwork which is sometimes served on the other party (who may be unsuspecting) in a pretty abrupt way.

          So how can this situation be saved?  Is it possible to have an uncontested divorce California style? Or in any other state?  What helps people make the transition from legal battle to a peaceful settlement?

          Here’s an interesting statistic:

          While over 95% of all divorce cases settle before trial, no matter how contested they start out to be, getting to an uncontested divorce can be a challenge. Some divorces start out peacefully, with everyone ready and willing to settle.  Others, not so much.

          contested divorce (don’t let this be you!)

          As painful as divorce is, we always encourage clients to hang in, and to participate with the process.  The way we describe it is:  The plane ride (of your divorce) is turbulent at the moment–it’s uncomfortable, and you’re nervous–but that doesn’t mean the plane is going to crash.

          You’re getting divorced. Not everything is going to go perfectly, and it may take awhile to get resolved. As much as divorce is a “product” (the divorce decree and court papers), it’s a “process” too, as you dissolve the emotional part of your marriage and redefined your relationship with each other, and, if you have kids, your co-parenting relationship.  You are, after all, still a family.

          So what’s the best way to go about having an uncontested divorce in California, or in any of the 50 states?

          You have some choices:

          • Kitchen Table
          • Mediation
          • Collaborative Divorce
          • Litigation

          Kitchen Table: Some people can settle their divorce on their own using the divorce preparation worksheets and divorce mission statement.  Out of 41,000 divorces in Los Angeles County every year, 70% of them don’t have attorneys involved.  It can be done.

          Mediation:  When you mediate your divorce, you use a neutral person (usually a lawyer or therapist, or both) to help you figure out how to settle things.  The mediator is there to give you suggestions, point you in the right direction, help you get organized, talk without fighting, and reach an agreement.  Mediation is significantly less expensive than Collaborative Divorce or going to court.  We’ve found over our 11 years of mediation practice that there are 2 things that dictate whether mediation is successful or not:

          (1) Are you ready to reach an agreement? Or do you want to be ready?

          (2)  Do you want to reach an agreement?  (or do you prefer to keep fighting?)

          Collaborative Divorce:  When you use Collaborative Divorce to resolve your case, you each have your own attorneys and therapist-coaches, but you promise not to go to court.  You commit to working out the terms of your settlement out of court.  It’s more expensive than mediation, since you both have attorneys representing you, but less stressful than going to court, so it’s a great way to resolve things in a confidential manner.

          Litigation:  As courts get more and more over-booked, and lawyers get to be more and more expensive, more couples are choosing either mediation or collaborative divorce to settle their family law cases.  But litigation is always an option, of course.  When you litigate, you go to court, with or without attorneys.  The judge makes a decision for you (or you decide in the hallway while you wait for your case to be called).  It’s stressful, time-consuming, and if you have attorneys, it’s expensive.  Even if you don’t have an attorney, you could make an expensive mistake by not knowing all your rights.

          Remember, just because the ride gets bumpy doesn’t mean you’re going to crash!  You have choices.  Ask for help from sensible family and friends to help you through this process, and consider contacting a therapist or support group.  It’s possible to have an uncontested divorce in California, and anywhere else.  It’s up to you.

          Diana Mercer is an attorney-mediator and the co-author of Making Divorce Work and Your Divorce Advisor. She’s a divorce blogger for the Huffington Post.


          Mediate for Success

          I’ve been a divorce lawyer for 22 years (youthful appearance notwithstanding!) and I’ve learned a lot about what works and what does not work when you’re getting divorced.

          I also got divorced myself. That was a big lesson, too.  Thankfully it was on the “what works” list as opposed to the “what doesn’t work” list.

          When you’re faced with a divorce or other family law case (custody, support, domestic partnership, cohabitation), you have the best chance for success in resolving everything at stake if you mediate.

          I know, that sounds a little self-interested, since I’m a full time mediator….but I became a mediator by giving up a very high paying divorce lawyer job because I knew it was time to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem.  I traded my fancy car for a 2002 Honda Accord and 11 years later I still value helping families through this difficult life transition (divorce).

          Diana Mercer, Mediator (that’s me!)

          Here’s how it works:

          In mediation, you and your spouse or partner will work with a neutral professional, often a lawyer or a therapist trained in mediation, or both (but non-attorneys make good mediators, too).  Their job is to help you settle your case, from cars and pots and pans to parenting plans for children, support, and retirement accounts. 

          Shop around, as mediators’ styles vary greatly.  Ask if there’s a free orientation or initial consultation.  Decide what kind of mediator might work for your situation. This is a very personal process so you want to be able to make a connection with your mediator.

          Mediators’ styles might include:

          • Making suggestions
          • Informing you about the law
          • Telling you what others have done in your situation
          • Outlining your options
          • Helping you think of different ways to resolve a problem
          • Facilitating communication
          • Making sure the discussion is balanced, productive, and respectful
          • Writing down agreements
          • Helping you with court paperwork (or doing it for you)
          • Helping you to stay on task and finishing discussions, because when discussions become difficult, it’s tempting to just change the subject
          • Whatever else you ask them to do

          Not all mediators do all these things, so ask.

          In our practice, we design the mediation to fit the clients’ needs, while following some proven steps we know help mediations be successful.

          For example, we insist that we make an agenda (all together, all ideas count) of everything that needs to be decided. We do this very early in the process. This helps everyone stay organized.

          We insist on making the agenda list—but that list will include whatever the clients want to include, even if it isn’t on our checklist.  And we get some unusual topics sometimes:  pet visitation, dividing Beanie Baby collections, creating a shared story that both parents can tell the children about the divorce, you name it.

          So the agenda is part of the office’s “best practices” but what the agenda includes is completely up to the clients.  We find that this kind of structure makes more mediations successful than if we didn’t follow these procedures (and the agenda is just one of several)…but the topics, timing, discussion, format and priorities belong to the clients.

          Mediation is about 90% less expensive than hiring 2 lawyers and litigating in court. I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s true.  And even if your case is very difficult and complicated, it’s still a better process and it results in long term success because the people who are living with the outcome (the couple) have so much input into the final agreement.

          Mediation typically attracts some very nice people who are having an extremely bad day.  Divorce is really stressful and a very sad experience (generally) and we never forget how hard it is to sit in our office and talk about everything you care about in this world:  your children, how they’re raised, your home, your financial security, and the dreams you had for this relationship.  Mediation is the best way to go about dealing with this unfortunate situation.

          If you want to find a mediator near you, Mediate.com will help you find a mediator if you’re not in the Los Angeles area.

          Or, if you’re in the Los Angeles area, call for a free appointment today:


          Divorce Strategy?

          An accountant is helping one of our clients with some of the required financial documents for the divorce.  “I don’t want to ruin your strategy,” he says, “but I really think the [other party] ought to know about this.”

          Strategy?  How’s this for “strategy?”  How’s about you do whatever is necessary to help people reach an agreement?

          Strategy.  It’s such an interesting concept in divorce.  I told him that my strategy was to tell the truth and share all the financial documentation so that the couple could make good decisions for themselves, and for the two of them as a whole (even if the whole is separating).

          Even when I think back to my days as a divorce litigation attorney at Noyes & Mercer in New Haven, Connecticut, did I really have a strategy? If you consider being prepared and doing your homework a “strategy” then yes, I definitely had a strategy.

          Early on, my mentor and boss, Porto at Parrett Porto Parese, told me, “You will lose very few of these [divorce litigation cases] if you are prepared.”

          He was absolutely right.

          And it rings true today, even if I’m prepared in a different way.

          In the olden days, I’d have a trial notebook, pre-marked exhibits and copies, a draft of my direct examination questions and a bunch of ideas about what I’d do on cross-examination. I’d script out my offers of proof for evidence objections. And much to Carl’s, and my, delight, I didn’t lose any of my litigation cases.  Just once I got a Judgment that wasn’t as good as I thought I’d get.  Once in 12 years.

          These days, my preparation is both different and the same.  We take detailed notes using worksheets and checklists that we’ve developed over time.  We review client files after the mediation sessions and write short memos to the clients about what’s next even though we’ve already given them copies of our notes. 

          Each mediation team de-briefs after each session and anticipates what might happen at the next session and what we will do to help clients get through it.

          We even work on analogies, like “just because the plane flight (mediation) has gotten a little turbulent and bumpy (the mediation is tense) doesn’t mean we’re going to crash (and you’ll get through this).”


          Such an interesting concept.


          Court Field Trip: Mediation

          to kill a mockingbird resized 600We see a lot of grandstanding in mediation.

          I think a lot of clients think they’re going to get To Kill a Mockingbird Atticus Finch style attention in court.  The sad truth is, however, that if you get 10 minutes you’re lucky.

          I know you don’t believe me. Nobody does until they actually spend the $ and time necessary to get their 10 minutes (squeezed in before the lunch break, so you already paid your lawyer for 4 hours plus travel time).

          So go ahead, and think I’m some self-interested mediator who just wants to drum up business.

          Don’t believe me when I tell you that California has closed entire courthouses since the recession began. Or that in Los Angeles county there’s a monthly mandatory furlough day when there’s no court staff and the courthouse is closed. Shuttered.

          Judges getting pink slips? You better believe it.

          And this is AFTER you were already probably going to get 2 sentences and a stack of paperwork to hand the judge and then your hearing was over.

          Over 41,000 couples get divorced in Los Angeles County each year.

          But no, don’t believe me….why should you? You can see for yourself!

          Here’s what we put in our summaries and reports:

          Court Field Trip: At different points during the mediation session, you each indicated that you might feel like court would be a good option for resolving some of your impasse issues.  Before you make a final decision as to whether court would be a good option for you, we’d suggest that you make a trip down to the Superior Court at 111 N. Hill Street, 2nd floor, Los Angeles,CA 90012 and see what happens in the family courtrooms.  We think it makes sense for you to have all of the information before you make final choices about going to court or not going to court.  Without seeing how the court operates, you won’t know if it’s the best choice for you.

          As you know, we’ve painted a fairly bleak picture of the litigation process and pros and cons of using the court to resolve your dispute.  But you don’t need to rely on our version of the situation:  you can go to court and see for yourself.  All court files and proceedings are public record, which means you can look up anyone’s file in the filing room (room 112) or sit in on anyone’s divorce case in any of the family court rooms (most are on the 2nd floor).

          By going to court, you can observe the litigants, lawyers, bailiffs and judges. You can see and feel what the court experience might be like for you if you were to choose to go to court on your case.  You can get an idea of how much time a judge has to hear each case as well as the opportunity litigants have to speak to the judge, their lawyers, and the other party.  You can get an idea of how much attention the court proceedings give to individuals’ goals, values, common interests, and creative non-judicial solutions.  We think that you’ll agree with our observations, but it’s important that you see for yourself.  Without seeing how the court operates, you won’t know if it’s the best choice for you.


          Diana Mercer is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Perigee 2010). Join the conversation > and check out Diana’s divorce blog on the Huffington Post. Join the community on our video blog .

          The Tale of 2 Blogs: Mediation

          For those of you who’ve found this blog, but not the Making Divorce Work blog, I actually maintain 2 blogs. This one, the Peace Talks blog, is pretty straightforward. Mostly mediation and legal information and advice, in a sort of op-ed type format. The 2nd blog is much more personal.

          I’ve found that as a mediator, the more personal I get with people the better success rate I have.  I actually do care about clients (contrasted with my feelings about my litigation clients, with few exceptions, 15 years ago). 

          So for the 411, the Peace Talks blog is the place. This is the mediator whose articles you’ll read:

          Diana Mercer













           For insight into what really goes on at the office, and inside my head, check out the Making Divorce Work blog. This is the person whose blogs you’ll read:

          describe the image

          Sincerely (and I do mean that),

          Diana Mercer

          Divorce and the Economy

          At what price sanity?

          I’m no stranger to divorce during bad financial times.  I was admitted to the bar in 1988, during a huge financial downturn. Pretty quickly after that, there was a huge mortgage meltdown, sort of like what’s happening now, and everyone’s house was upside down (they owed more than it was worth).

          This time is different, however.  Back in the day, most of my clients who were broke simply moved back to their parents’ house. Nowadays, that just doesn’t seem to be happening as much. Instead, people continue to try to live together to save money.

          It sounds like such a good idea–let’s just decide how to divide the bills and stay out of each other’s way, and we’ll just stay in the same apartment or house until the economy improves.  And if you weren’t invovled in a love relationship that’s gone south, it probably would be a good idea.

          What people don’t anticipate is that once you’ve decided that the love relationship is over, and separation or divorce is imminent, it gets harder and harder to live together like roommates.  Because you’re not roommates. You’re former partners. And as much as I’ve gotten into fights with roommates (my freshman dorm roommate who addicted to the Oak Ridge Boys comes to mind) they’re nothing like the kinds of fights we can get into with people we’ve been intimate with, and people with whom we started to build dreams.

          There’s a big difference.

          So in the mediation room, we hear, “Oh no, we’ll be fine living together, don’t worry!” and we respond, “That might be true for you, but I’ve got to tell you, our experience is that one day we’re going to get a call from one of you telling us the other person is in jail because you had a fight and someone called the police.”

          divorce fight

          And most of the time, we’re right.

          It’s really sad. “I didn’t mean to have her arrested!” our client protests. “You can thank OJ Simpson for the automatic arrest rule,” we reply.  Let’s face it. If it’s urgent and important enough to call 911, surely someone ought to be arrested or in an ambulance. Right? 

          It makes sense when you think about it.

          So when you’re pinching pennies in your divorce (which is a good idea) be careful to think about the potential fallout from cutting back on that particular item.  Would you rather couch surf, or spend the night in lockup?

          If you pick a bargain lawyer, mediator or therapist, are you really getting the kind of service that will serve your long term goals?

          If you refuse to spend money on accountants or appraisals the professionals helping you with your case tell you you need, you’re saving money now, but will it save you or cost you in the long run?

          And don’t forget the non-direct monetary costs.

          Do you think it’s random bad luck that a huge percentage of our divorcing clients have recently lost their jobs? Of course, we’re in the middle of a terrible economic time, but if these folks had been less embroiled in their divorce fight and more engaged at their jobs, would they have been the ones laid off? 

          Can your credit score rebound from “I’m not paying the credit card this month, YOU are!” type of fights?

          Can your kids rebound from your fight at their soccer game in front of their friends?

          So when you consider the cost of divorce, also consider your short and long term divorce goals.

          Diana Mercer is a mediator with Peace Talks Mediation Services, Inc., and the co-author of Making Divorce Work (Penguin 2010).


          Divorce and Graphotherapy

          graphotherapy divorce recoveryDivorce and Graphotherapy

          Guest blog post by Sheila Lowe, MS www.sheilalowe.com

          Divorce sucks. No point denying it. Whether you’ve grown to hate the person you once loved or the parting is amicable, when it comes to ending it all, you still have to grieve for the hopes and dreams you once shared. It’s stressful, it’s painful, and there are plenty of difficult feelings to deal with. But there is a way to make some of it just a little bit easier.

          In my work as a handwriting analyst, I’ve found that people in stressful situations such as divorce have been helped by doing a few simple exercises called graphotherapy. Some exercises help difficult emotions come to the surface for release. Others help the brain to focus and attend better, so that when you’re filling out all that paperwork and figuring out who gets what, you won’t miss any important details.


          Graphotherapy works because everything you’ve ever done or thought or said remains in your brain, and when you pick up a pen and write, the way you’ve responded to all your life experiences and integrated them into your personality is translated into the trail of ink you leave on the paper.

          Your handwriting is unique to you

          Family Mediation and “Failure”

          A client told me this week, “I think that divorce is one of the great failings of adulthood.” 

          If it was only that simple.

          family mediation

          Let’s face it. We fail a lot of the time. And if we never fail, it means we’re not taking enough chances and not trying enough new things.  People who never fail are failing to challenge themselves.

          Of course, nobody opts into the divorce system on purpose.  When you get married, you think it’s for keeps. Divorce is definitely not Plan A. It’s probably not even Plan B or Plan C.  But when it happens to you, you have a choice of how you handle it. 

          You can scorch the earth, gossip to all your mutual friends, and slash your spouse’s tires.  That’s one way. It’s actually more popular than it should be.

          But as a responsible adult (which this client is) you can choose to deal with divorce and other unfortunate things that happen in a respectful, sane way.  Click to find out how Family Mediation works.  There are so many choices for divorce nowadays that running to a lawyer isn’t necessary.

          As much as he felt he’d failed, or that his spouse had failed, in creating a lasting marriage, ultimately he didn’t fail to be a responsible adult.  

          There are some things in life that we can control and some things we can’t.  What we can control is our reaction, and actions, once these things happen.  And this is where he succeeded.  He could’ve run off to court, but he chose to mediate. And when the discussion was difficult, he didn’t give up. He kept coming back to mediation…and ultimately, this couple figured it out.

          Bad things happen to good people.  They happen all the time.  My mom, the kindest, gentlest person in the world, died of cancer in 2010.  My friend who adopted a drug-addicted baby from foster care has a brain tumor. The bad things that happen are not necessarily because you failed.

          And even if you did fail, the measure of a person’s character is how you deal with that failure, not the fact that you failed.

          • Did you do everything you could to save your marriage? 
          • Did you speak frankly and respectfully to your spouse about your marital problems?
          • Did you seek counseling or outside help?

          And if none of that worked, did you leave your marriage in an honest, honorable, respectful way?

          Family mediation gives you the opportunity to do exactly that.  You can honor the years you spent together and the good things you gave each other when you mediate your divorce.   Sure, the last couple of years probably haven’t been so good, but you got married because you were in love (or at least you thought that you’d be a lasting couple) so surely there were some good times.

          And if you have children, certainly they are part of the gifts you gave each other.



          Divorce in California

          California has its own personality with divorce.  One of only 9 states that follows Community Property law, California seems intent on doing things its own way.

          But a divorce in California doesn’t need to be complicated. At least not the legal part.

          Mediation provides a way for couples to get divorced in a respectful, thoughtful and informed way without “giving away the farm.”

          mediation california

          Because California community property law is so simple:  everything is 50/50 from the date of the marriage until the date of separation (assets, debts, everything), the complex part becomes all about the exceptions to the very simple rule.  And there are plenty of exceptions.

          What I like about mediation, at least mediation with an attorney-mediator, is that you can talk about the rules and the exceptions, and the laws and case law that supports each side in a very open way.  When we have these legal discussions at Peace Talks, if it’s something clear-cut under the law, we can give people a copy of the law, or a handout that explains. 

          If it’s something more complicated, I can say, “If I was husband’s attorney, this is what I would argue, and here’s the law that supports his position,” and then, in the same breath, “If I was wife’s attorney, this is what I would argue, and here’s the law that supports her position.”

          Once everyone has heard both sides, we can then talk about what seems fair. 

          The problem with going to only 1 attorney, individually, is that you’d just hear the argument that favored your side, while your spouse would be in another attorney’s office hearing the argument that favors the other side.  See the issue?

          I’m convinced that when people have the information, time, and support that they need to make a good decision, that they will make a good decision.  And that’s what mediation is all about.

          Sometimes I hear criticism of mediation, like that a participant is feeling like the mediator is taking sides, or that their position isn’t being heard.  Speak up!  Part of a mediator’s job is to make sure you don’t feel that way, but sometimes it’s not clear from the discussion that someone is uncomfortable.  Bring it up!  It’s really important to the process, and your mediator WANTS to hear that you feel like the mediation isn’t working.  It’s much easier to fix that problem in the session, while you’re there with the mediator, than afterwards.

          If you do speak up and your mediator gets defensive, then maybe it’s time to switch mediators.  It’s the mediator’s job to hear everyone’s side and where they’re coming from, even if the mediator doesn’t personally agree. After all, it’s about the clients and participants, not about the mediator.

          Want to learn more about mediation?  Check out these resources, or schedule an appointment with a Peace Talks Mediator:

          About mediation

          FAQ about mediation

          Pros and Cons of Mediation



          Shared Custody Schedules

          Shared Custody Schedules.  When you’ve been married you’ve been parenting together, the idea of seeing your kids on a schedule probably seems pretty foreign.

          It’s a divorce and separation reality, however.

          There are a few things to keep in mind to help you be successful at shared, cooperative co-parenting:

          • It will take some time for everyone to adjust, including you.  Give yourself some time to get used to sharing parenting.
          • Sometimes kids will say different things to each parent. Sometimes they’ll do it to test you, and your reaction.
          • Some of the separation anxiety kids experience is normal and it would happen even if you weren’t divorced. Try and keep some perspective, and don’t be afraid to talk to your kids about what they’re going through.

          Shared custody schedules are as unique as each family. You’ll read about guidelines in books and on web sites, but your parenting plan needs to fit your family, no someone else’s. So don’t be afraid to deviate from what the experts say if you know it will work. And, if it doesn’t work, you can always adjust the schedule.

          joint custody

          Here are some popular shared custody schedules:

          Split Week Plan for parents sharing children on weekdays and weekend. You’ll also hear this called the 2-2-5 plan because kids are with one parent 2 days, the other parent 2 days, and then 5 days with the 1st parent…then vice versa.                      

          Week #








































          What we like about this schedule:

          • Good for children under age 5 who have good attachment to both parents.
          • Works for even-keeled children between ages of 5 to 12.
          • This is a regularly recurring and consistent plan. Nobody goes too long without seeing either kids or parents.

          What we don’t like about this schedule:

          • For kids under age 5, this plan may require the child to be away from one parent for too long.  If you like this schedule, you could break up the 5 day stretch with some time with the other parent.  
          • If the situation is high conflict, there are a lot of transitions between households. High conflict transitions are particularly stressful for  immature and special needs kids.

          Alternating Week PlanYou’ll also hear this called “week on, week off”


          Week #









































          What we like about this plan:

          • Works for children over age 7, since they understand the concept of a “week.”
          • Older kids like teens and pre-teens tend to like this plan because it requires fewer transitions.

          What we don’t like about this plan:

          • 7 days is a long time not to see your kids, or for your kids to see you.  Consider breaking up the 7 day stretch with some time with the other parent.
          • If the situation is higher-conflict, you might try and schedule that “in between time” at school or an activity where both parents won’t be face to face.  

          So these are some guidelines, but we encourage you to think about your own child’s needs, temperment, and your schedule.


          Low Cost Divorce

          In response to the recession, Peace Talks now offers a couple of new services for low cost divorce and uncontested divorce California.
          low cost divorce
          I hope you’ll keep us in mind if you come across couples needing either of the following, or if you need these kinds of services yourself:
          1) $995 paperwork only service: for couples who already have an agreement and who just need the paperwork, we’ll do all of that for $995. This is no mediation time, no contact with an attorney or mediator….just the Peace Talks head paralegal who will do the intake and all the paperwork. Linda Duarte (our head paralegal) is also a trained mediator and is able to handle minor things that come up, but Plan A is that people using this service already have an agreement and don’t need any legal information or dispute resolution.
          As a practical matter, we have an in-house attorney draft the Judgment, or at least the important parts of it. The attorney also supervises and proofreads the work, but is not in contact with the clients.
          2) A sliding fee scale:
          This is for clients who need mediation time and our attorney-mediator + therapist-mediator team, but who legitimately aren’t in a position to pay our full fee:
          Sliding Scale Service Agreement: To qualify for a reduced rate, you and your spouse must have $100,000 or less in combined gross income and less than $200,000 in net assets.
          Sliding Scale Rates:
          Mediation time: $395 per hour (almost a 40% discount)
          Petition and Response flat fee: $250
          Judgment Package flat fee: $995
          For more information, contact Linda Duarte at Peace Talks Mediation Services, (310) 301-2100.
          As always, we offer a free mediation orientation where you and your partner/spouse can meet one of our mediators and decide if the process will work for you.  Click for a 90 second video about mediation orientations.

          Causes of Divorce

          What Causes Divorce?     

             You hear a lot about the reasons marriages end. Usually, fingers point to affairs or money. But marriages don’t end because of events. In 23 years of practice, we have found that divorce occurs when a couple has turned from one another and looked for satisfaction outside of the marriage. We call this turning. Turning is the cause of divorce.

                      If you are the one who asked for your divorce, it may be clear to you why your marriage is ending. If you are the still-loving partner and didn’t want the divorce, looking back for the signs that led up to your spouse wanting the divorce will become clearer to you as you reflect. Marriages fall apart like erosion. The breakdown started slowly with one tiny misstep after another, until the sum of these became so large that the relationship collapsed.

          causes of divorce

                      Looking back at the deterioration of your marriage is takes courage. But understanding what happens to typical couples, and what happened to you, can help normalize the situation for you, and this will allow you to move on  If you initiated the divorce, you’ll have a more clear understanding of why. And if you didn’t, the process will help you appreciate that this isn’t a sudden, single event which could have been prevented. Turning happened before either of you saw the signs or understood their gravity.

                      Though the particulars vary from couple to couple, there is a predictable sequence of events that occur as a marriage breaks down.  While you’re in it, it’s difficult or even impossible to see. As outsiders, we can identify the turns

          Mediation Training: Family Law

          Mediation Training:  Family Law

          Here at Peace Talks we get a lot of questions about how to become a mediator.  For the full story, here’s a link to the “how to become a mediator” blog post.

           We also offer a mediation training program.  It’s a 25 hour program on DVD.  It also comes with a 220 page manual so you will have all of the forms and templates which we reference in the video program.


          This beginning family law mediation training program was edited down from a full week 40 hour training so you get the full experience of a live mediation training without having to leave your home.

          Here’s an exerpt from the DVD set: 5 Sources of Conflict.  Take a look and you can see exactly what the training looks like.


          In fact, there are a lot of samples from the DVD set on our Peace Talks You Tube Channel. Plus lots of other interesting stuff.

          It is approved for California MCLE and I can issue a certificate of completion once you notify me that you’ve completed the entire course.

           California does not certify mediators, so this is not a “certification” course but it will satisfy the minimum requirements to sign up for most mediation panels. Here’s the link to join the Los Angeles Superior Court mediation panel: http://www.lasuperiorcourt.org/adr/forms/LAADR006.pdf For more information on the Los Angeles Superior Court mediation program, click here:  http://www.lasuperiorcourt.org/adr/UI/index.aspx

          Here is a summary of the topics included:

          Why mediation?

              • What we will do in this training
              • Value, benefits and results of mediation for mediators and clients
              • Uses for mediation and mediation skills
              • Who is a mediator?
              • Mediation styles and signatures
              • Other types of ADR

          How mediation works from first contact to agreement

              • Mediation process overview
              • Convening
              • Mediation orientations (link is a video!)
              • Session structure (joint sessions, caucuses, preliminary appointments)
              • When the clients arrive
              • Ground rules and the agreement to mediate: the first agreements
              • Therapeutic intake
              • Setting the agenda


          Role Play:  your first mediation session (intake through agenda)

          What is conflict?

              • Our values surrounding conflict
              • Moore’s 5 sources of conflict
              • The nature of family conflict
              • Conflict resolution strategies

          Negotiation techniques and demonstrations

              • Interest based negotiations
              • BATNA and WATNA
              • Reality testing
              • Doubt and dissonance
              • The psycho legal approach
              • Bias and impartiality
              • Neutrality redefined:  invested, but not aligned or biased
              • Getting to Yes
              • Pacing and transitions

          Mediation Planning

          • Setting up success
          • Case conferencing
          • Evaluation and feedback

          Mediation Planning role play:  the first agenda items

          Communication in Mediation

              • Mediator goals when listening
              • Mediator goals when speaking
              • Communication techniques:
                • Active listening
                • Summarizing, reframing and rephrasing
                • Empathy
                • Naming, and making the hidden transparent
                • 10 Tips for asking questions
                • Using neutral language

          Helping clients through the process

              • Mediation readiness
              • Support systems
              • Setting the intention

          The Emotional Divorce and Mediating Solid Parenting Plans

              • Ambivalence
              • Grief
              • Re-capitulation and Re-traumatization
              • Anatomy of a parenting plan

          The Legal Divorce

          • Child support,
          • Spousal support
          • Property division                             
          • Drafting agreements

           The Legal Divorce: domestic violence

           Role play: Parenting Plan Mediation

           Hot topics in mediation:  comparison of ethical standards, reporting requirements, mediation confidentiality, professional development, practice development, future trends, career opportunities

          Final Role Play:  from therapeutic intake to agreement



          Divorce Threats: I’ll See You in Court!

          There’s often a lot of grandstanding in divorce court proceedings.

          A lot of people say, “I’ll see you in court!” not knowing exactly what that means.  In the moment, they don’t like what they’re hearing, whether it’s in mediation or around the kitchen table, so they say, I’m done with this!” not realizing that saying “no” to whatever settlement process you’re engaged in means you’re saying “yes” to something else.

          And so before you choose litigation, here are some things we thought you might like to know.

          In California divorce courts, many clients think they’re going to get the Atticus Finch style representation in To Kill a Mockingbird in court.  The truth is, however, that if you get 10 minutes to state your case in a divorce court proceeding, you’re lucky.

          divorce mediation

          Mediation is not just a less expensive and time-consuming divorce alternative; it also lets your whole story be expressed. So don’t think of me as some self-interested Southern California divorce mediator who wants to drum up business (which I am, I suppose, but I’m also interested in helping people get divorced without losing their shirt or their sanity). Think of mediators like me as the moderators in a reasoned debate that will produce the fairest result in your own divorce situation.

          California has closed entire courthouses since the recession began. In Los Angeles County, there’s a monthly furlough day that’s mandatory where there’s no court staff and the courthouse is closed.

          And these built-in delays are BEFORE you are likely to get two sentences plus a pile of paperwork to hand the judge, and then your “hearing” is over. Over 41,000 couples  go through this divorce process in Los Angeles County every year. Don’t believe these divorce court facts? See for yourself!

          Take a court field trip! It’s free and open to the public.

          Court Field Trip: At different points during the mediation session, many couples can feel like court would be a good option for resolving some of your divorce or impasse issues.  Before you make a final decision as to whether court would be a good option for you, we suggest that you visit the Superior Court at 111 N. Hill Street, 2nd floor, Los Angeles,CA 90012 (or your local courthouse if you’re not in Los Angeles) and see for yourself what goes on in the family courtrooms.  We think it makes sense for you to have all the information before you make final choices about going to court or choosing mediation as the vehicle to navigate your divorce, and which presents the best choice for you.

          Peace-Talks paints a fairly bleak picture of the litigation process, and the pros and cons of using divorce court to resolve your dispute.  It’s based on considerable family law experiences, but you don’t need to rely on our version:  you can go the courthouse and see for yourself.  All court files and divorce proceedings are public record, which means you can look up anyone’s file in the filing room (room 112), or sit in on anyone’s divorce case in any of the family court rooms (most are on the 2nd floor in the downtown Los Angeles courthouse.

          By going to court, you can observe the litigants, lawyers, bailiffs and judges. You can see and feel what the court experience might be like for your divorce process, divorce settlement, and pos-divorce issues if you were to choose to go to court for your case.  You can get an idea of how much time a judge has to hear each case, as well as the opportunity litigants have to speak to the judge, their lawyers, and the other party.  You can see how much attention the court proceedings give to individuals’ goals, values, common interests, and creative non-judicial solutions regarding child support, visitation and parenting plan mediation and administration.  We think that you’ll agree with Peace-Talk’s divorce mediation service, but it’s important that you witness Los Angeles divorce court for yourself.

          If you’re seeking divorce information in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, or the SouthBay, visit https://www.peace-talks.com or call 310-301-2100.  If you’re not near Los Angeles or Orange County, you can find a mediator near you at mediate.com. For more information, visit http://www.makingdivorcework.com.


          Diana Mercer is an Attorney-Mediator, and the founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services, https://www.peace-talks.com. She is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Penguin/Perigee 2010) http://www.makingdivorcework.com and Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001) http://www.yourdivorceadvisor.com and writes for the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diana-mercer as well as her own blog Making Divorce Work http://makingdivorceworkblog.com.


          Cost of Divorce: Cost of Staying Together

          Putting a price on sanity?

          There have been so many articles on people who aren’t getting divorced because they “can’t afford it” that it’s making me a little alarmed.

          The monetary cost of divorce is one thing. Certainly, divorce mediation is a less costly alternative to fighting it out in court, especially when finances are tight and savings are dwindling.

          What people don’t see, and what I do see as a divorce professional, is the toll that staying together when you really should be living separately is taking on couples.  Mediation cases are getting harder to settle because couples are really burning bridges by trying to stay in the same house, so by the time they get to mediation they’ve really used up all the good will that they had for each other. 

          And, of course, there’s always the couple that says, “Oh, living together will be fine,” and then I get a call for a criminal lawyer because someone called the police and one or both spouses is in jail.

          But this didn’t start with this recession. It’s pretty much always been the case….

          It was a crisis, alright.  I didn’t think we would ever make it out.  Mortgages were becoming more expensive than the houses they were paying for and being in debt was the rule, not the exception.  Does this story sound familiar?  It’s a familiar plot, but the setting here is Los Angeles, California, 1988.  There I was, a fresh-faced divorce lawyer, newly admitted to the bar in the midst of a looming recession.  There was no end in sight.  Of course, things did eventually turn around, that is until the economic bubble burst again in the early 2000s, and then again in 2008 leading to the situation we are challenged with today.

          Only today is different.  It used to be that couples on the brink of divorce would separate and move into their parents’ homes until the dust settled.  Not anymore.  Now it’s all about staying together and trying to “make do” with changing your living situation being a last resort.

          Sure, it sounds like a decent plan

          California Divorce

          Divorce in California

          Divorce law varies state-to-state, and California has the distinction of being one of 9 states that have enacted a Community Property law.

          As a divorce lawyer in Los Angeles, this actually simplifies things (at least initially) because California follows the 50/50 rule.

          Partners each get 50% of their collective property from the time they tie the knot to the day their separation is official.  This includes all property (cars, houses, pets, even debts).  Doesn’t matter what it is, if it happens the marriage is added to the Community Property (sometimes called “marital property”) and then split equally upon divorce.

           uncontested divorce california

          So for that Los Angeles Divorce attorney, now that the percentage has already been decided, all she or he now has to do is to figure out who gets what.  But wait–it doesn’t stop there, they still have to sift through the scores of exceptions to this 50/50 rule.  Not only that, they have to deal with contentious meetings with their client (let’s face it, nobody who’s getting divorce is having a good day) or spouse’s divorce attorney.  So much for being simple.  With each spouse hiding behind their attorney it creates unecessary issues.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a client say “if only we could just talk things out.”

          Here’s how you can, with Family Mediation Services.  What is Mediation?  Mediation with an attorney-mediator is like “divorce made easy.”  The advantage to Mediation is you can talk things through.  In a mediation session, we answer all of your questions about the laws applying to your case.  We define it from both sides, what each law and exception means to each spouse.  Then we talk about the facts that may sway a case one way or the other.  All this is very open, with all sides participating in the dialogue.  At Peace Talks we make sure nobody is left out of the conversation.


          Being an Attorney-Mediator, I am allowed to facilitate the discussion without taking sides or representing just one spouse. I can talk to you about legal information without giving advice.  Everyone can be in the same room and hear both sides of the story.

          From there we can get to the bottom of what’s fair for both sides.  And you, as the participants, decide what “fair” means.

          In California and Los Angeles, where these Community Property rules are in effect, divorce mediation is popular because it allows couples to divide their property by talking it out.  Not only that, it ensures that each party has the same information and everyone knows the laws that apply.

          The most common knock I hear against other mediationfirms is that “so-and-so mediator is being partial to one side” or “x participant didn’t get to talk.”  The advantage of mediation is open communication.  If someone feels uncomfortable they need to speak up! It’s also part of the mediator’s job to make sure everyone is getting a chance to talk.  It’s important to get everything out in the open.  The mediator does their best to get everyone involved, but sometimes it can be hard to judge whether one participant is uncomfortable.  Most importantly, if you have a question or an issue bring it up in session.  These sessions are for you!  Plus you’ll make our job a lot easier.  We want to help YOU!

          Do you live in California or need the help of an experienced divorce mediator?  Try Peace Talks, and check out the resources on this site for more information and helpful links.


          Setting Clear Boundaries in Divorce

          Setting Clear Boundaries

          Often, your marital or domestic situation does not meet the level of serious violence where you have to flee, but you are subject to consistent intimidation or abuse.

          These actions are also a form of violence or battering, and also an indication of the deterioration in your relationship. Understand that when you are being victimized or attacked in some way, your children risk being hurt, too. Furthermore, you are showing them a dangerous model for their own future relationships, a type of behavior they may carry with them throughout their life and repeat as adults when they become involved in intimate relationships.

          domestic violence

          Establish standards now for how you allow yourself and your children to be treated. Click here for an informative article on boundary setting.

          Some indications that your spouse, partner, husband or wife has gone too far include: getting angry at you when you disagree; punching holes in walls; throwing objects (aimed at nothing or at you); destroying belongings; threatening to hurt you or leave you for the purpose of intimidating you; physically preventing you from leaving home; putting pressure on you not to work when you want to; insulting or ridiculing you; becoming jealous of your friends, activities, or hobbies; making you account for your whereabouts at all times; using promises and lies to manipulate you or to get you to forgive their angry or threatening behavior; isolating you from friends or family; making you ask permission to go out or make a career move; and threatening to harm your possessions, pets, or children.

          Do not allow behaviors that feel uncomfortable, frightening, or intimidating to become acceptable to you or your children in your home or anywhere. These behaviors are forms of abuse even if you do not fear for your safety.

          Make it clear to your spouse that s/he can no longer try to control your life or your actions. If you do fear for your safety, you will need to take additional steps to guarantee your safety. Click here for information regarding protection orders and the protection order process, and here to familiarize yourself with Peace-Talks’ mediation services. Finally, click here to download the PDF version of Peace-Talks brochure that provides a quick visual means to our family law and mediation services.

          When Your Children Are Involved and Affected Children can be affected by parental violence in several ways. They can be physically injured during an incident between their parents; they can be traumatized by fear for their mother and their own sense of helplessness in protecting her; they can blame themselves for not preventing the violence or see themselves as causing it; they can be directly abused; and they can be neglected by parents who aren’t caring for their kids properly due to the violence present in the parental relationship.

          Studies show that parents fail to understand how often and to what extent children who witnesses parental violence or abuse are affected by it. Both mothers and fathers report that children are aware of abusive behavior less than the children report themselves when given the opportunity to respond.

          You can also take advantage of a book I wrote in 2001 that offers a comprehensive outline of the divorce process, Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001).

          There are free browsing and top 10 tips sections to help you at : http://www.yourdivorceadvisor.com . If you’re seeking divorce or other marital information in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, or the South Bay, visit https://www.peace-talks.com  or call 310-301-2100.


          If you’re not near Los Angeles or Orange County, you can find a mediator near you at http://mediate.com.

          For more information, visit http://www.makingdivorcework.com.  Diana Mercer is an Attorney-Mediator, and the founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services, https://www.peace-talks.com.  She is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Penguin/Perigee 2010) http://www.makingdivorcework.com  and Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001) http://www.yourdivorceadvisor.com  and writes for the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diana-mercer  as well as her own blog Making Divorce Work http://makingdivorceworkblog.com .

          Mediation is the New and Improved Litigation

          Well, there’s really no improvements on divorce and custody litigation.

          But mediation is definitely a better way to go.  Less costly, faster, confidential, on your schedule, tailored to your needs….the benefits of mediation are pretty clear.

          When you mediate your divorce, family law, custody, child support, alimony, spousal support or modification issue you don’t have to go to court and waste time and money.  If you’ve spent any time on our mediation website, you already know how passionate we are about mediation and its benefits.

          divorce mediation

          A new couple came in for mediation recently.  They’d already spent about $100,000 on lawyers’ fees and going to court, and had gotten basically nowhere. That’s not unusual forLos Angelesin terms of divorce lawyers and legal fees in court. It looks like they’ll settle their case with Peace Talks for about $5,000. We’ve accomplished in a few hours what the lawyers didn’t do in four years. That’s the difference Peace Talks can make. 

          Of course, as much as I’d like to claim the credit for this breakthrough, it’s because the clients are ready to settle and want to settle (although there is still a ton of conflict) that makes this possible. But still

          Creating a Good Divorce

          I know it’s an oxymoron:  nobody wants a divorce, so how could one be good? But when you’re faced with divorce, you have lots of opportunties to make it less bad (if not actually good, at least in the long run, in hindsight).

          I’ve been a divorce lawyer for 24 years, and expert on what works best for both parties when you’re getting divorced. As a divorcee myself, I perfected a personal “what works” that helps people navigate the often rough waters of divorce.

           When you’re faced with a divorce or other family law case (custody, support, domestic partnership, cohabitation), you have the maximum opportunity for success in resolving everything to the best benefits through mediation.


           This might sound somewhat self-interested, since I’m a full time family law mediator….but I became a mediator after giving up a very high paying divorce lawyer job because I felt it was more important to be part of the solution, and not encourage the fighting that often characterizes divorce.  I traded my fancy car for a 2002 Honda Accord, and 11 years later it’s still fulfilling helping families through this difficult life transition of divorce.

           Diana Mercer, Mediator

          You can work through a lot of the issues you’ll face with our free tools:


           Here’s how it works:

           In mediation, you and your spouse or partner work with a neutral, unbiased professional or team of mediators. This is more often a lawyer, a therapist trained in mediation, or someone with both legal and counseling expertise. The job of the mediator in your family law case is to help you settle your differences,  from cars and furniture to parenting plans for children, financial support and sharing of retirement accounts.

           When considering a family law or divorce mediator,  look around.  Mediator styles vary.  Ask your prospective mediator if a free orientation or initial consultation is available.  Take time to decide what type of mediator might work best for your personal circumstances. This is an intensely personal process,  so you should seek a personal connection with your chosen mediator.

           A mediator’s style might include:

              * Making suggestions

              * Informing you about legal provisions

              * Relating what others have done in your situation

              * Defining your options

              * Helping you consider alternative ways to resolve your problem

              * Facilitating communication

              * Ensuring the divorce discussion is balanced, productive, and respectful

              * Writing down agreements in a cogent, easy-to-follow way

              * Guiding you through court paperwork (or doing it for you)

              * Mentoring your staying on task and finishing discussions, because when discussions grow difficult, it’s tempting to just change the subject.

           Not all mediators do all these things, so use this list as your own list of questions when considering a mediator in a divorce proceeding.


          In Divorce, The Truth Is Not Relevant


          I know that sounds like crazy talk.

          But think about it this way:

          When we think of disputes, most of us think that the truth is the key to the resolution of any disagreement. Get to the truth, and you have the resolution to the conflict. Yet, despite the words of P.D.Q Bach, “Truth is just truth. You can’t have opinions about truth,” how many of us see “the truth” the same way?

          Truth is said to be the foundation of the American justice system, yet how many litigants are satisfied with the outcome of the case once the judge makes a ruling? By its very nature, litigation results in at least half of the litigants being disappointed, and disagreeing with the mandated “truth”.

          “I Promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”

          divorce mediation

          This oath that’s stated by every witness in an American court is designed to bring out the truth.

          Honesty and veracity are important virtues— in the courtroom and around the mediation table. A witness who is perceived to be lying on one point—even a small one—may be disbelieved in other parts of his story.

          Having credibility and being believed is no less important in mediation—since mediation settlement requires voluntary agreement, you have to gain the trust of your adversary to conclude a deal. Truth is never irrelevant when you’re talking about credibility and trust.

          And the truth is….

          Does it really matter who downloaded the virus onto the computer system? Does it really matter how many times President Clinton was with Monica Lewinsky?

          Interesting? Yes. But whichever way this testimony came out or was perceived, what truly was important went beyond the truth of this evidence. Could the President regain the trust of Congress, the Cabinet, the American people, and his wife and daughter? Could Monica Lewinsky move on with her life? What happened was that the country’s focus disintegrated into partisan bitterness, when its energy and resources would have been better spent in improving the economy or protecting our citizens from terrorist danger. That’s what happens when when the focus shifts to the wrong part of the conflict. The country focused on “the truth” and the past, rather than the bigger picture, and more important goals.

          Looking at it a different way, the truth, though important, remains different for each individual and probably can’t be reconciled. What really happened in the White House bathroom was less important than what President Clinton did at the infamous press conference when he pointed his finger and defiantly (and credibly) stated: “I never had sex with that woman.” His mealy-mouthed attempt to shade the facts did irreparable damage to his credibility. The truth mattered much less than the country’s trust in his credibility. By losing focus on the goals

          Divorce: Kids and Custody

          Kids and Custody

          Do you remember being a kid?  At my age it’s a little blurry, but I can tell you that adults often misunderstand how kids behave and think.  Children are often smarter and more creative than we give them credit for. 

          As a toddler I distinctly remember being able to understand that my Dad lost his job before my parents told me.  Kids can often pick up the signs of divorce better than adults can.  Being honest about it can work wonders for the whole family, but it’s important to follow some guidelines when dealing with such a sensitive subject.

          divorce custody

          Don’t get into the gory details about the custody dispute.  Just tell them that it has begun, that you are ready to answer any questions they have.  Always assure them that they can count on both parents unconditional love, however the divorce dispute turns out.

          Do not involve your kids in the dispute, meaning don’t use them to spy on your spouse, to act as a messenger or otherwise.  You have to get your information from another source, not your kids.  If no other source is available, perhaps you are blowing up a non-issue.

          Never let your child’s feelings stray from your mind.  You want to lower the stress that the custody dispute causes them and be mindful of what they are telling you.  Even with non-verbal cues, your kids can tell you a lot.  They may get upset easily and express their anger to you directly.  If they complain about your spouse, and your spouse reports the opposite, they could be indirectly letting you know that they are caught in a loyalty conflict.

          Monitor their progress carefully.  It’s possible that the separation will cause developmental regression.  Mood swings and acting out may result in discipline problems at school or at home.  Sometimes these changes can result after one spouse moves away, or after another significant separation event.  You could also see a slow deterioration into this behavior as the custody battle wears on.

          If you do notice negative changes in behavior, it’s important to talk to them openly (assuming they are able to) rather than point fingers.  Get everyone on the same page, whether it be your spouse, your child, divorce lawyers, therapists, etc, to make sure you have a plan to facilitate your child’s positive growth.

          If you decide that your child is not giving you all the information you need to adequately care for their well-being, hiring a professional, such as a therapist, for individual or family sessions can be a huge help.  Counseling is not a dirty word.  Health is the number one priority.  That includes the health of your relationships.  Family comes first.

          In my experience, parents can be hesitant to involve even more people in their dispute, especially if they are hiring attorneys, accountants and other professionals.  With all these bills to pay, money can be an issue.  It’s vital to not forget your child and make sure they are getting the help they need.  Even getting a neighbor or friend to talk it out can help in a big way.  Having a confidential sounding board can help them let to go of pent-up emotions and enable them to cope.

          As a divorce attorney and family law mediator in Los Angeles, and having seen my fair share of custody disputes, I can tell you that they can be heart-rending.  A parent’s love for their child is unmatched.  It’s this love, however, that should allow us to protect them from a long drawn out situation.  The battle doesn’t have to be bloody.  Talking it out in Mediation is a perfect solution.  Divorce Mediation Services and Family Mediation Attorneys are here to help you.  Peace Talks is based in Los Angeles and is ready to help you out through this most difficult period in your family’s life.  Search the site for more details on custody disputes and child protection.




          Cause of Divorce

          What Causes Divorce?

          When thinking about how marriages end, people often look towards distinct events like affairs or money-related problems.  What we’ve found in our 20+ years of experience is that typically this is not the case.  Divorces follow a more basic form of separation: when partners turn away from one another to seek gratification outside of the relationsip.  In our experience, this “Turning” is the primary cause of divorce.

          The partner who files for divorce may have a clear view of the reasons behind their decision.  If you are the other half and disapprove of the split, the picture can be a bit more fuzzy.  Often with reflection one can see a course of events leading up to it.  What at first appears to be an abrupt decision starts to look more like a long-term deterioration.  One tiny misstep or argument may have started a chain reaction that became too much for the relationship to bear.

          cause of divorce

          Even though there may be a natural resistance to revisiting the past, it is important to make peace with what has happened.  By analyzing the path that brought you here, you gain the peace of mind that is necessary in order to move on.  The partner who intiated the divorce will get a better understanding for why they made the decision.  The partner who didn’t will come to realize that what they may have initially thought was preventable was actually inevitable.  Turning is powerful and can happen long before anyone realizes it.

          Participants in a marriage often get a myopic point of view of what is really going on.  They can convince themselves that nothing is wrong when in fact the wheels are already turning against the relationship.  People outside of the marriage looking in are able to see the turns–he started staying late at work, while she endlessly cleaned the house, or he played golf all weekend with his buddies while she took day trips to visit her college roommates.  The turns themselves don’t have to be for salacious reasons like extra-marital affairs and alcoholism.  It’s often something you wouldn’t expect, even something positive, like vying for a promotion or taking care of the kids.

          Turning is something that happens over a period of time, not something that comes from out of nowhere.  You may have identified it early on, but didn’t know what it would lead to.  When turning occurs in a marriage–as it often does–neither partner can be held accountable.

          This is not to say that arguing and disagreements are something to be avoided in a healthy marriage.  In fact, it can be just the opposite.  Plenty of healthy couples fight.  It can be a way of bringing out issues that otherwise stay under the surface and fester.  Discord on its own is not a warning sign of a looming divorce.  Fleshing out arguments and coming to compromises are important exercises in any marriage.

          Some helpful free resources:


          It is a misconception that fighting is a real reason for a divorce.  Fights happen when one partner can’t meet the needs of the other.  In a fight, there can be a lot of blame and shame being thrown around.  Here is an example: “You never want to have sex with me during the week,” he exclaims. “Well, you leave me alone with the kids all day and by night I am exhausted,” is her retort.  The argument and the words used are just symbolic of larger issues.

          Let’s break it down for a moment.  His complaint that she doesn’t want to have sex really just means that he is not getting the emotional and physical attention he needs.  Her counter is that she is chasing around the kids all day, but she really means that his career demands have made it impossible for her to pursue her interests.  They are both screaming for attention, but since they don’t realize the impasse they have reached, instead of compromise, they only try to guilt  and shame one another into seeing it their way.  What if he had just said, “I wish I didn’t have to work so much, that way we could regain the spark that has been missing,” to which she would reply “The kids and I miss you during the day, how about taking a day off next week?”  Now there is a helpful dialogue that can lead to compromise and both of their needs being met.

          Effective communication is paramount in a healthy marriage.  While it is easy to make mistakes the first time around, by analyzing where the turns happened in your marriage, you can put yourself in a position to move on and prevent them from happening in the future.


          Divorce Sanity: The 8 Peace Practices

          There are eight peace practices which are free and easy to stick to every day. They’ll help you stay sane no matter what, and we all know that sanity is at a premium at the moment of any divorce. An excerpt from the 8 Peace Practices chapter of Making Divorce Work, our comprehensive book on cooperative divorce, was published by Mediate.com

          Sure, we’ve all felt like screaming at the top of our lungs at times.  But we also know what it does to our blood pressure and ability to think creatively and problem solve.

          Using the eight peace practices contained in the 8 Peace Practices chapter will help provide some peace-of-mind even in the most difficult of times.  Sure, they help during your divorce, but they also help when you’re stuck in traffic or in a meeting with co-workers.

          divorce sanity

          Divorce mediation rather than a divorce lawyer helps maintain the peace in your family–after all, you remain a family even if you’re divorced.  The opportunity to have an uncontested divorce increses, in California or elsewhere, when you mediate instead of litigating.  Mediators in family law help you talk to each other and say what you really mean without getting shut down or intimidated. Most trained mediators will give you sound legal information, and help you make a solid decision that works for you, your spouse, and your children. Just remember, the settlement needs to work for your spouse also, or he or she won’t sign it. And for YOU to get a settlement, your spouse has to sign.

          Everyone, divorcing couples and people on the street, sometimes think mediation is all about peace, love and warm feelings, and that mediators spend all their time talking about people’s feelings. That’s only partially true. Feelings between the divorcing couple are important. After all, you’re talking about everything you care anything about when you’re mediating:  your future, your past, your financial security, how you’ll raise your children.  There’s no avoiding it. Divorce includes feelings.

          It also includes the legal requirements as mandated by divorce courts, and that needs to be informed, thoughtful, and thorough. 

          For you as an individual, you need both:  a successful legal divorce, and a successful emotional divorce.

          The 8 Peace Practices will help you get there.


          Creating a Good Divorce

          I know. It’s an oxymoron–nobody wants a divorce to begin with, so how could a divorce be good?  There are a lot of ways to make the best of the situation when you’re faced with a divorce.

          I’ve been a divorce lawyer for 22 years, and expert on what works best for both parties when you’re getting divorced. As a divorcee myself, I perfected a personal “what works” that helps people navigate the often rough waters of divorce.


           When you’re faced with a divorce or other family law case (custody, support, domestic partnership, cohabitation), you have the maximum opportunity for success in resolving everything to the best benefits through mediation.

           This might sound somewhat self-interested, since I’m a full time family law mediator….but I became a mediator after giving up a very high paying divorce lawyer job because I felt it was more important to be part of the solution, and not encourage the fighting that often characterizes divorce.  I traded my fancy car for a 2002 Honda Accord, and 11 years later it’s still fulfilling helping families through this difficult life transition of divorce.

           Diana Mercer, Mediator

           Here’s how it works:

           In mediation, you and your spouse or partner work with a neutral, unbiased professional. This is more often a lawyer, a therapist trained in mediation, or someone with both legal and counseling expertise. The job of the mediator in your family law case is to help you settle your differences,  from cars and furniture to parenting plans for children, financial support and sharing of retirement accounts.

           When considering a family law or divorce mediator,  look around.  Mediator styles vary.  Ask your prospective mediator if a free orientation or initial consultation is available.  Take time to decide what type of mediator might work best for your personal circumstances. This is an intensely personal process,  so you should seek a personal connection with your chosen mediator.  Find a mediator anywhere in the United States on www.mediate.com (search by area code).

           A mediator’s style might include:

              * Making suggestions

              * Informing you about legal provisions

              * Relating what others have done in your situation

              * Defining your options

              * Helping you consider alternative ways to resolve your problem

              * Facilitating communication

              * Ensuring the divorce discussion is balanced, productive, and respectful

              * Writing down agreements in a cogent, easy-to-follow way

              * Guiding you through court paperwork (or doing it for you)

              * Mentoring your staying on task and finishing discussions, because when discussions grow difficult, it’s tempting to just change the subject.

           Not all mediators do all these things, so use this list as your own list of questions when considering a mediator in a divorce proceeding.


          Insider Divorce Advice

          Divorce Advice I Give My Friends

          I’ve been a divorce attorney for 24 years (youthful appearance notwithstanding).  As yo might guess, every single one of my friends (including Facebook friends) ask me for my advice when getting divorced.

          I’ve written a couple of books about divorce, and that’s where the official advice is.  This is the unofficial advice.

          Jedi Warrier, Use This Advice Wisely to Stay Trouble:

          Wile E. Coyote Schemes: Your spouse may be plotting and being strategic like some sort of Divorce James Bond. But at the end of the day, it’s a business deal and a parenting plan.  It is what it is. Don’t let your imagination run away with you.

          You can keep costs (and suspicion, and plotting) down by:

           1. Be organized. Make a notebook or set of folders with labeled dividers with all your financial records (recent ones, at the very least) and all tax returns you can find.  Get  a comparative market analysis for free from any realtor to estimate the value of your house and include that in your notebook.  Also include a recent pay stub or two.  Make your spouse a notebook, too.

          Yes, you heard me right.  Make a 2nd notebook for your spouse.  No playing games. If you don’t organize and copy the financial documents, your spouse’s lawyer will, billing by the hour.  Either you can make the notebook or your marital property will pay for having the notebook made (the attorney’s fee comes from somewhere, and most likely that’s your savings account).  Yes, it sounds crazy. But removing the mystery from the finances will prevent a lot of arguments and legal wrangling.  


           2. Don’t get paralyzed by your emotions. It’s natural to be upset during your divorce. If you find yourself too upset to make good decisions, ask for help, whether it’s your therapist, best friend, clergy or family member.  And even if you’re feeling numb, it’s easy enough to get a hole punch and a notebook and sit at your kitchen table and get this information together.  You don’t need all your faculties to do that, so it’s a good activity for when you’re feeling lost.  Some really great free resources for keeping your sanity:


           3. Don’t take the bait: Your spouse will say things just to get you upset. Ignore it. “We aren’t getting anywhere with this fight, so I’m not going to fight about it anymore. I hope we can work all of this out, though, eventually.”  Change the subject. Say that sentence as many times as you have to.

          Eventually, your spouse will get bored when it’s clear you aren’t going to fight back. It’s going to be very hard to do, but you must refuse to fight.  When you behave differently than you have in the past, your spouse will wonder what’s up and watching that might be amusing, so enjoy that moment and watch as your spouse adjusts to the fact that the old tricks don’t work anymore.

           4. Stay Sane. Take care of yourself. Exercise. Eat right. Make appointments with your therapist, make extra time for your kids (this is bonding time so don’t talk about your spouse), play soccer or checkers (ideally with your kids), make hang out time with friends.

          5. Finding that Special Someone: If you decide you want to meet someone, date or get laid, keep that plan to yourself. Seriously. It’s actually better to wait to get involved in a relationship, but so many people start to date as soon as they can so I’m telling you that your spouse will not take this news lightly. Your spouse will go nuts if you’re with someone else.  I know that makes no sense, but it happens all the time. All the time. It doesn’t matter if it’s your spouse who found a new lover first or if he or she moved out and filed for divorce and you wanted to reconcile.  Your spouse will still go bananas when they see you’ve moved on. I’m not saying don’t do it. I’m saying don’t let anyone find out.

           6. My Friend Said: If your spouse talks about other people’s divorces or what the lawyer has planned for you, ask:

          •  How many years did that friend’s divorce take?
          • How much did the divorce cost?
          • How much did your lawyer say that all of this would cost in legal fees?   https://www.peace-talks.com/compare.php
          • Will your lawyer put it in writing their guaranteed result? And that it will be better than what I’m prepared to offer without having to go to court? Net of the legal fees?

           You’re safe with that last question—no sane lawyer will guarantee an outcome or total fee so this will force your spouse and his or her lawyer to have an honest discussion about the pros and cons of pursuing any given legal action.

           7. Legal Advice from Your Spouse:   I love that spouses try and give each other legal advice. Really? Since when did your spouse become a divorce lawyer?  I thought he was a marketing executive

          TopTips for Choosing your Divorce Mediation Attorney

          Choosing the right mediator is important.

          You’re going to be talking with your mediator about everything you care anything about in the entire world:  Your future, your kids, your home, your job…..and so you want to choose someone you feel comfortable with.

          Mediators are all trained in basically the same way, but each person has a different way that they practice.  So ask if they have a free mediation orientation (or if they charge just to meet them) and do a little research. Click on the link above for our mediation orientation outline and information.  

          When you talk with the mediator and the office staff, how are you treated? Are they patient and do they answer your questions? Or is it just an answering service without any information and they are slow getting back to you?

          divorce mediation

          Are they generous with resources and do they encourage self-help?  The “really useful free stuff” below includes an interactive divorce mission statement you can do in just a minute or two, an interactive divorce journal you can download for free, and worksheets and checklists to get you organized and started. They were written by Peace Talks Mediation Services founder, Diana Mercer, as a supplement to her most recent book, Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life.


          Need a mediator but you’re not in Los Angeles?  Mediate.com lets you search for a mediator by your telephone area code.

          My colleague Fern Topas Salka came up with a good interview list:

          Questions to Ask a Mediator

          If you are interviewing a mediator ask these questions:
          1. Why did you become a mediator?
          2. What do you see as your goal for a mediation?
          3. What kind of commitment do you need form us to agree to mediate?
          4. Will you want to meet separately with us? If so, why? And if so, would you hold secrets?
          5. How familiar are you with Family Law?
          6. Will you tell us how you think a court would decide our case?
          7. How important is the law to you in mediation?
          8. How would you deal with stalemates?
          9. How do you feel about our using consultants, including consulting lawyers?
          10. Would you talk directly to our lawyers?
          11. How do you see your role in our communication with each other?
          12. What is the place of our feelings in this process?
          13. How do you feel about our talking to each other about our conflicts outside the mediation office?
          14. What mediation training have you undertaken?
          15. How much mediating experience do you have?
          16.  What is your fee? Can you estimate the total cost for my cases, or give me an average cost for cases like mine?
          17. Do you require a retainer?

          That’s a lot of questions!  But feel free to ask the ones that are important to you. How your mediator answers questions like these will give you a good idea of how he or she will answer your questions during your actual mediation session.


          Uncontested Divorce: California Guide

          You Want an Uncontested Divorce….but how do you get there?

          The concept of divorce mediation is relatively new, but recently it has been getting a lot more attention.  Especially in Los Angeles, more and more people are starting to appreciate the benefits of an uncontested divorce.  Collaborative divorce and other divorce alternatives, once considered fringe, are now coming into the mainstream. 


          Here’s a quick look at some advantages to divorce mediation:

          It saves money.

          Of course it does!  Think of all those expensive attorney fees you’re a saving.  In fact, in Los Angeles alone, the average price tag on a litigated divorce hovers around $50,000 per person!

          It saves time.

          Courts are so over-crowded, that some judges hear more than thirty cases per DAY!  The entire process could take weeks if not months and in some cases, years.

          Cooperative Co-parenting is the trend.

          A very encouraging trend in divorce is cooperative co-parenting.  It happens when both parents see a benefit in sharing custody of their children and being present for their development, even though they have separated.

          Who needs enemies?

          The basic premise here is that it’s much easier to be friends than enemies with your spouse.  Uncontested and collaborative divorce helps to maintain a pleasant discord with your spouse, and alleviates unnecessary stress.

          The trend of collaboration between divorcing parties is certainly a welcome trend.  It signals a shift in values throughout society, not just among divorcing couples.  We are committed to talking things out, and working out our issues rather than letting a third party coldly decide our fate and the fate of our families.  We are starting to see that it’s much harder to fight than it is to get along.  Not only does it sap us of energy, it comes at the expense of our careers, our lives and the health of our children.

          There has been a great change in child custody trends over the years as well.  Sharing custody is the rule not the exception.  Both parents want to be involved in the upbringing of their children.  I see this positive trend in my family mediation sessions: parents want to do right by their kids and make the best of a bad situation.

          Making the decision to share custody is one thing, but what happens if you don’t get along?  The good news is that you don’t have to be best friends to share custody.  If you could use the positive karma of settling out of court in a collaborative divorce, it could be the difference in maintaining that positive relationship when it comes to sharing custody of your children.

          Well, now your saying, of course, I want to settle out of court, but how do I do it?

          It’s not a one step process.  But at Peace Talks Mediation we try and make it as easy as possible.  We’ll guide you through the process so that it is easiest on you and your family.

          Filling out Paperwork is step one.  You’ll find that hiring a mediator, attorney or paralegal will help you immensely.  We are used to it and can help you make the process a breeze.  There are also helpful kits and forms you can find online.  Every divorce needs the same documents: Petition, Response and lastly Stipulated Judgment.

          Next is the Negotiation Phase.  This is where Mediation services can really help.  We foster a cooperative environment where everyone can have their say.  We won’t try and get everything done at once.  In any mediation session it’s important to keep everyone on the same page.  These are delicate issues, but they don’t have to be complicated.  We’ll work with you to get the peace of mind you need.

          Next comes the Disclosure of Financials.  This is mandated by law.  The state demands that you be accurate and thorough.  Any over- or under- reporting can get you in deep water, fast.  If you sign up for divorce mediation, we will provide you with the necessary paperwork to fill out.  Remember, your spouse is entitled to see all of your financial records, and vice versa.  In an uncontested divorce, cooperation, both with your spouse and with the law, is paramount.

          Which brings us to the last phase: The Agreement.  Assuming that you’ve negotiated with your spouse a settlement that you can both agree on, you’re in the home stretch.  If you decided to negotiate on your own, without the help of a mediator or collaborative divorce attorney, you’ll still have to go out and get the divorce.  Hiring a professional mediator will keep you out of court and give you the freedom to separate on your terms, saving you from the burden of unnecessary cost and stress.

          Of course, these guidelines are just here to help you along the way.  Divorce is tough.  No one escapes the emotional toll.  You probably never thought you’d be here.  Especially if you have kids, it was something you never wanted to face.  Having a support system to get you through it is just as important as having a good lawyer or mediator.  Your friends, family, faith and any professional guidance you may seek, all play important roles.  Be honest and forthright, stay confident, and before you know it, it’ll be over.


          Parental Alientation and Divorce Mediation

          I get asked a lot about Child Custody. 

          It’s not surprising, since a parent’s love for their children is bigger than any financial settlement.  Oftentimes, a parent feels that getting more time with the child is worth more than any divorce settlement can buy.  Unfortunately, as a mediator specializing in divorce and child custody here in Los Angeles, I see a lot of clients who try to manipulate their children into choosing sides.

          parental alientation

          As a kid I remember seeing my friend’s parents getting divorced and wondering, “who would I choose?”  It’s a terrible thought, but with all the Law & Order-type shows on TV nowadays and with divorce rates sky-high, it’s one that kids think they might have to make.  Fortunately, entertainment is entertainment, and most often it is not the child’s decision.  The legal system in the United States and here in California have it set up so it doesn’t get to that point.

          Sometimes, however, a child involved in a custody dispute does verbalize or behave in a certain way that makes their wish known.  This can be tricky.  If they favor your side, you may want to encourage the behavior.  This is irresponsible and only creates further damage.  A child is young enough where they sometimes don’t know the affect that a decision will have on them.  This is why they need to be encouraged (and even forced) to visit both parents.  Stress to them that it is both parents’ wish to share time and that they shouldn’t feel that they are dividing loyalties.  If it is necessary, consult professional help from a therapist or counselor.

          In Los Angeles, Major Family Services offers a number of really terrific, high quality programs on how to deal with parental alienation and high conflict parenting.  Co Parenting classes can also be very helpful, and there are many available in most communities.

          As a divorce mediator and attorney, I see these delicate situations firsthand.  In a mediation session I can offer my advice based on your unique situation.  Divorce is not easy.  It is tough on everyone, including, and especially, children.  There is a clinical term for what a child faces when they prefer not to visit a parent.  It’s called Parental Alienation Syndrome, or PAS.  They may disregard the unfavored parent or even express vitriol or hatred towards them.  Even if you may think that you are not expressing it to your child, you may be encouraging it by what you don’t say, or even through small behavioral cues that the child picks up on, for instance when you are answering the phone or when you see your spouse’s car pull up in the driveway.  The behavior of your child often expresses your subconscious desires.

          The important part is open communication with your child and your spouse.  Try to get your child to express truly what they feel to get it out in the open.  Talk with your spouse about it too.  That’s one of the things I love about divorce mediation, the ability to sit in a room and talk it out.


          If you feel you are a victim of Parental Alienation Syndrome, you have a few options.  First, talk with your child about it directly.  If that doesn’t help you can have a loved one, someone who you both trust, like a grandparent, talk to them about it.  Above all else, express your love for your child.  Let them know how much rejection can hurt, and how you really want to work on your relationship.  Ask your child what obstacles are getting in the way.  You’d be surprised how honest children can be when confronted directly.

          You don’t need me to tell you that dealing with children can be tricky.  Sometimes the best way to get a message to them is through the least amount of intervention.  If, after speaking with them, you don’t feel like your relationship has improved, you do have legal options.  There are motions you can file, such as contempt of a visitation agreement, to get the court to intervene.  Detainment and/or financial sanctions could handed out to the offending parent.  These are last resorts and we can talk about all your options when you meet with a mediator.  Search this website for more details on Family Mediation and Child Custody Laws in California or to set up an appointment.


          Mediate Family Law, Don’t Litigate!

          Here at Peace Talks, we love Mediation.  If you’ve spent any time looking through our site and blog posts, you know that already.  It’s an easy sell, because, to us, it’s a no-brainer.

           Just look at a recent example: one couple came into our Los Angeles office looking to get a divorce settlement through mediation.  Divorce in California can be tricky, there are divorce laws and fee schedules that can get complicated, not to mention courts are overcrowded to the point where some Judges are seeing over 30 cases a day!  Their case was particularly bad.  They had been in court for months, to the tune of $100,000 and had made ZERO progress!

           At Peace Talks Mediation Services we want to get your case settled as quick and painless as possible to get you on your way to your new life.  That’s what we care about.


           Sure we’re a business, but we also have a vision.  We realize divorce is something no one wants to go through.  It’s scary and intimate and can bring out the worst in people.  We understand, but we reject the notion that it has to be this way.

           If we can help people get settled for as little money and hoopla as possible, but be fair and leave you with the confidence to go on with your lives, we’ve done our jobs.

           Oh yeah, and that client?  The one who had $100,000 invested in a litigated divorce and had enough?  In and out of Divorce Mediation to the tune of $4,000.  To get an idea of the cost of divorce mediation vs. litigation, check out the chart on our website. There’s also a great list of pros and cons of mediation vs. litigation.

           So whether you are going through divorce, custody, family law, alimony, child or spousal support, come take part in the Divorce Mediation and ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) Revolution.  Here are a few of our favorite reasons why mediation is better than going to court:

           1.  It’s cheaper – Duh.  In real numerical terms, it’s over 90% less expensive, on average, than going through litigation.

          2.  You decide the schedule.  It’ll go as quick or as slow as you want it to go.  It’s your decision, not the court’s.

          3.  It will preserve your relationship.  Eliminate that added stress and negative energy of a contentious divorce.  You don’t want to always be thinking “what if I run into him?” at the store or at the gym.  Especially if you have kids, it’s important to keep that familial bond.

          4.  It’s more child-friendly than any court option.  You care about your kids and so do we.  Mediation will teach them that Mommy and Daddy can work things out with respect and understanding.

           More on kids: I was talking to a child psychologist the other day, and they were telling me how easy it is to avoid behavior problems after divorce.  Her advice: Be An Example.  There is a direct correlation to how kids do after divorce and the amount of conflict between their parents.  Mediation helps you avoid conflict.  Even clients that come into our offices thinking they have it all figured out often have layer upon layer of conflict waiting to rear its head in our sessions.  We help them get through it.  That’s what we’re here for.

           Each session is molded to your specifications and to your unique situation.  We never have a set agenda, it’s what YOU want, not us.  We have even implemented a sliding-fee scale.  Contact us and we will review your case to see if you are eligible.  It’s “Divorce Made Easy.”  We want our services to friendly and affordable, the opposite of what most divorce attorneys in Los Angeles provide.  Remember, don’t litigate…MEDIATE!


          Divorce Lies, Mediation Truths

          Truth is a beloved institution.  It’s the cornerstone of our legal system.

          “The Truth of the Matter.”  “The Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth.”  “I Want the Truth,” says Tom Cruise to a defiant Jack Nicholson.  “You Can’t Handle The Truth,” he snorts back.

           This exchange from the movie A Few Good Men“helps to illustrate an important distinction.  Tom Cruise, like any good lawyer, is looking for the cold, hard facts.  Unfortunately, in the real world, facts are often soft and hot.

           What’s a hot fact?  A hot fact is something that isn’t cut and dry, it’s open to interpretation and it’s multiple interpretations often cause an array of emotional responses from those involved.  Think about the O.J. Simpson case, centered right here in perpetually sunny Los Angeles, California.  The facts involved were too hot to be ignored and suddenly the truth took a backseat.

           In that case, a cold decision had to be made in a hot case, and in its wake came anger from all sides.  That’s what happens when you are forced to funnel an entire history of systematic problems into a simple Yay or Nay.

           In A Few Good Men Jack’s character knew his Truth would be seen as cold, but that, in fact, it touched on a myriad of issues that neither a hot shot lawyer nor our blind legal system would understand.

           Does it really matter that Bill Clinton had an affair with Monica Lewinsky?  It’s interesting, but it’s irrelevant to the bigger picture.  The big picture was whether or not Clinton could regain the trust of Congress, the American people, and even his own family.  Suddenly, in our haste to discover where Monica bought her blue dress, we are distracted from real issues affected our lives, like terrorism and the economy.

           Often we get bogged down with black and white answers when the emotional truth is a shade of grey.  When litigating a divorce, the judgement is cold, and both sides are often disappointed.  That’s why Divorce Mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) exists.  It acknowledges that the truth can be irrelevant.  A resolution should not be exact and immediate, but instead represent the best possible scenario on an on-going basis.

           Think about the last dispute you had with someone.  It could’ve been something as simple as fighting over the remote.  Did you use the situation to set up guidelines for future disputes, or to build a foundation for the future of your relationship with that person?  What was more useful, being able to watch your show or being able to use the heat of the moment to talk to your spouse or loved one about underlying issues?  That may be an exaggeration, but you can apply this technique to any dispute.

           That’s what we do in Divorce Mediation sessions.  Often litigated divorces, in their search for Truth, can get lost in petty “he said/she said” talk, rather than look at the big picture.  Research more about Mediation Services and Divorce Mediation to see if it is right for you.


          Divorce That Works


          If you’re reading this, you’re probably not in such a good place right now.  However it happens, realizing that your marriage doesn’t make you happy and that something has to change is a tough spot.  You might be early on in the process.  Or maybe you’re not looking forward to doing battle with your ex, each of you armed with lawyers. We’re here to tell you that there is an alternative – Divorce Mediation.

          If you’re new to the idea of mediation, or friendly divorce, it may seem like an idea for an improbable family film, but in practice it provides the opportunity for you to and your spouse to come out of your divorce with your dignity and sanity intact.  You have lots of life left.  You want to be able to move on to what’s next. 

          Divorce doesn’t have to leave your family life in tatters and you in a worse place than before you were married.  Divorce mediation offers an avenue to end your marriage and strengthen your own life.  You wouldn’t be looking for divorce options if everything was rosy.  Living in the day-to-day of a bad marriage is no one’s idea of fun and happiness.  You yearn for something better.  You deserve something better.  You’ve likely heard more bad divorce stories than you have good divorce stories.  How is a good divorce even possible?  At Peace Talks Mediation here in Los Angeles, that’s mostly what we see.  Good divorces.  Good divorces for both parties. 

          Your divorce is pedescribe the imagermanent.  The legal process may conclude with signed and witnessed documents.  But your divorce, whether or not you remarry, continues well after the ink is dry.  Marriage changed your life.  Divorce will too.  The details will differ depending on whether you asked for the divorce or if it’s your spouse’s decision, but the impact will affect the both of your lives and most importantly, the lives of your children.

          It is up to you to determine what that impact will be.  In fact, you can have a good deal of control about how your divorce goes.  If you want the divorce, you are looking forward to the day when your next chapter begins.  If divorce is not your decision, you’d like to know more about what went wrong and look forward to better days.  Either way, you’re probably feeling that mix of fear and excitement that accompany most major life decisions.  And divorce certainly fits into the major life decision category.

          If you’re looking for options to the adversarial approach to divorce, an option to fighting it out in the courts, you’re not alone.  Peaceful divorce sounds like an oxymoron but it’s worked for many, many people.  Are you really looking forward to an ongoing, potentially bitter battle with your spouse?  It’s enough that the marriage is over.  You don’t need to suffer the additional emotional bruising that often comes with that approach.  You can come out of all this more prepared for the rest of your life.

          Divorce mediation is truly a learning process. What you’ll learn about you and your spouse, as well as the whys and hows of how you got you here, will affect every aspect of your divorce.  Money and property division.  Your kids.  Your extended family.  And what happens next.  The insight and peacemaking skills you’ll learn from the mediation process will stay with you the rest of your life.

               free-stuff                   book-a-freeappointment-with-a

          Diana Mercer is an Attorney-Mediator and the founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services, peace-talks.com. She is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Penguin/Perigee 2010), Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001) and 8 Simple Keys to Building and Growing Your Mediation or Arbitration Practice (Peace Talks Press 2011). Diana also writes for the Huffington Post as well as her own blog Making Divorce Work.



          8 Keys to Resolving Divorce Conflict

          You never thought it would happen to you, yet here you are faced with divorce. Maybe you asked for the divorce. Maybe you’re the one who is being left. Even if it is something you and your spouse both want equally, you are facing a crisis. You may be wondering why we’re talking about resolving family conflict now, when you’re pretty sure you’re getting a divorce.

          If divorce is your reality, why not make the best of it? This may seem impossible right now, given the state of your relationship. It is not. Even if you are not on speaking terms with your spouse today, you can end the conflict in your relationship and uncover peace. We’ve seen this again and again with many, couple talkingmany couples in our divorce mediation practice.

          You can learn how to bring peace into your marriage, even as it is dissolving. Peacemaking is a skill, just like any other, and it starts with understanding and using eight keys to resolving family conflict. Keep in mind that it is actually harder to remain at odds with someone than it is to make peace. Once you learn these skills, you’re sure to reap the benefits in all the other parts of your life.

          The 8 Keys take only a minute to learn and a lifetime to master. Practice makes perfect.

          The 8 Keys to Resolving Divorce Conflict

          1. Be hard on the problem, not the people
          2. Understand that acknowledging and listening are not the same as obeying
          3. Use I-statements
          4. Give the benefit of the doubt
          5. Have awkward conversations real time
          6. Keep the conversation going. Life is a dialogue
          7. Ask yourself “Would I rather be happy or right?”
          8. Be easy to talk to

          Using these eight simple keys will revolutionize your divorce experience as well as your home life — and even life at work. They’re easy to practice and implement once you get started. The more you use these techniques, the better you’ll get. You don’t need to save them just for your divorce process. There is life after divorce.

          When tensions arise, you’ll be operating from a more peaceful baseline and more apt to remember to use these keys to resolving conflict where ever it occurs in your life.


          Diana Mercer is an Attorney-Mediator and the founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services, peace-talks.com. She is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Penguin/Perigee 2010), Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001) and 8 Simple Keys to Building and Growing Your Mediation or Arbitration Practice (Peace Talks Press 2011). Diana also writes for the Huffington Post as well as her own blog Making Divorce Work.

          Resolving Divorce Conflict – Listening Is Not Obeying

          A Closer Look at Resolving Divorce Conflict 

          Key 2: Understand that Acknowledging and Listening are NOT the same as Obeying


          You may be tempted to issue decrees as you deal with your spouse over your divorce.  It might seem a whole lot easier to lay down the law and have those around you adhere to it.  You may feel you’ve heard enough and all you want is to be heard.  You may really want things to go your way.  The chances of that happening however, go way down if the only way you and your spouse communication is through an argument.

          It may have been a long time since you’ve really listened to one another.  The people who successfully navigate a divorce mediation are those people who’ve learned how to listen.  Even with that seems like the hardest thing to do. When people argue, generally they’re just waiting for their turn to talk

          Resolving Divorce Conflict – Key 3: Use I-Statements

          A Closer Look at Resolving Divorce Conflict

          Key 3: Use I-Statements

          When you’ve spent the better part of your working life mediating and finding peaceful resolutions to conflicts, you begin to see patterns of both conflict and resolution.  In our divorce mediation practice, we’re big fans of  “I” statements.  “I” statements are conflict resolution magic. The best part is that they’re simple to incorporate into your habits.  And, for the recipient, the I-statement request is easier to honor.  “I feel sentimental about keeping my grandmother’s pots and pans” makes a much more peaceful case for kecouple talkingeping them than “You can’t take all our kitchen stuff.”

          I-statements create collaboration and build on personal responsibility rather than blame.

          The opposite of the I-statement is the You-statement. You-statements are inherently judgmental. They feel like an accusation (and usually are). A You-statement is your opinion of the other person.

          Imagine your spouse saying any of the following things to you:

          • You are crazy.
          • You can’t do that.
          • You are so lazy.
          • You are loud.
          • You are wrong.

          An I-statement gives your spouse information about you. It doesn’t put your spouse on the defensive because you are the vulnerable one. Imagine your former spouse saying any of the following to you:

          • I am feeling very insecure about having to support myself after so many years.
          • I am so resentful of how much money we are spending on this divorce.
          • I do not want to feel like I am not a part of my kids’ day to day life.
          • I am so angry that you introduced your girlfriend to the kids without letting me know first.

          There is nothing to get defensive about when your spouse is merely telling you something about herself. You are not responsible for how she feels or to help her feel differently. This type of information sharing helps foster communication. It makes no judgments or demands.           

          To create an I-statement, start your sentence with “I” and then use healthy personal disclosure to tell your spouse what is going on with you. Simply saying, “I’d feel so much more financially secure if you could pay off your student loan,” goes a lot further than, “You racked up that debt, not me.”

          I-statements are an easy way to show your spouse you are comfortable expressing vulnerability as you divorce. Since they are clearly your opinion or your feelings, and not a command for the other person, they are much easier for the other person to hear.  They also verbalize a sense of yourself as separate from the “we” you once were and allow you to take personal responsibility for your thoughts and feelings. Practice using them in all your relationships, not just with your spouse, so you can get used to thinking in terms of I-statements all the time.  It’s a valuable lesson with an impact well beyond your divorce.

          Diana Mercer is an Attorney-Mediator and the founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services, peace-talks.com. She is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Penguin/Perigee 2010), Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001) and 8 Simple Keys to Building and Growing Your Mediation or Arbitration Practice (Peace Talks Press 2011). Diana also writes for the Huffington Post as well as her own blog Making Divorce Work.

          Resolving Divorce Conflict – Giving the Benefit of the Doubt & Having Awkward Conversations

          A Closer Look at Resolving Divorce Conflict

          Key 4: Give the Benefit of the Doubt.

          It’s hard to say which of these keys to resolving conflict we like the most. They have all become repeatedly handy with our clients.

          Before, during and after your divorce, you’re going to have lots of opportunities to test your ability to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt.  So it’s never too early to make this a part of your conflict resolving skill set.      

          Here’s an example: Your spouse is late for a meeting with the bank to see if you can re-finance your house. Your first inclination is to take it personally. “How dare she be late again! She does this just to drive me crazy!” But there are also thousands of other plausible explanations which have nothing to do with you: the line at the grocery store was long, and the checker was new; the hamster got out of the cage and had to be found before leaving the house; an important phone call came from a family member at an inopportune time and she didn’t have the heart to tell the caller to put a lid on it.

          Maybe these explanations are true and maybe they aren’t. If this is not habitual behavior, then find it within yourself to extend the benefit of the doubt. If it’s just once in awhile, it’s ultimately easier on everyone not to take it personally. Your blood pressure will thank you.

          Any time you feel frustrated, annoyed or mildly irritated, remember that your spouse is human and so are you. We all have our bad days. Also, one day you may be the one asking for the benefit of the doubt, and it helps to pay it forward.     

          Offering the benefit of the doubt helps you practice seeing the best in yourcouple talking spouse. Perhaps you haven’t seen that in awhile. Maybe that’s because you’ve been looking for the worst. Your divorce process can make that even more difficult.  You and your spouse are both good people who are going through a very hard time right now. Allow your spouse to save face and when it’s your turn to ask for the same favor it will be an easier request to honor.

          Key 5: Have Awkward Conversations in Real Time.

          If you’re getting a divorce, you’re likely having difficult conversations with your spouse. Unfortunately, it comes with the territory.  Difficult conversations don’t get easier with the passage of time.  They only get harder, and the difficulty is compounded if it looks like you tried to hide something or be dishonest.  Here at Peace Talks, we’ve seen firsthand the positive impact of having those conversations sooner than later.

          When you need to have an awkward conversation, have it as soon as you can.  And if you can have it preemptively, it’s even less awkward.  Imagine your spouse telling you “I missed the mortgage payment that was due two weeks ago” instead of “I missed the mortgage payment that was due today” and better still “I think I am going to miss the mortgage payment that is due in  two weeks. What do you think we should do?”  

          Before you have an awkward conversation you can prepare yourself with the following exercise:

          • Identify why you feel the conversation will be awkward.
          • Is there anything you can do to make the situation better before you have to have the conversation? If so, do it.
          • Have the conversation as soon as you’re sure you need to have it, not at the last minute.
          • Be honest. Sugarcoating the truth is just going to look deceitful at this point.
          • What do you expect your spouse’s reaction to be?  Is there anything you can do or say to make that situation better?
          • Make an appointment to talk to your spouse to talk about the awkward situation, at a time and place where you can have a real conversation, out of earshot of the kids.
          • Frame your conversation and acknowledge that it’s awkward.
          • Listen to your spouse’s reaction and acknowledge that you’re listening.
          • Ask for help to problem solve.

          For Example:  You are going to be late dropping off the children for the second time this week.  You call your spouse 45 minutes before you’re supposed to drop the children off. “I am so sorry, but I can already tell I’m going to be late. I don’t blame you for being upset with me. I am upset with me, too. Given the situation, should I just take them straight to the sitter? Or what would help you most?  And sometime next week, can we talk about adjusting the drop off time so this doesn’t keep happening?”

          Establishing a pattern of having awkward conversations right away, directly and honestly can reduce a lot of unnecessary anxiety. If your husband knows you’re going to give him bad news as soon as you get it, he doesn’t have to torture himself with his imagination. If he knows you want the same thing from him, he doesn’t have to procrastinate having those difficult conversations.  Dealing with your divorce process is difficult.  Learning and using these conflict resolution skills will go a long way to easing some of that difficulty.


          Diana Mercer is an Attorney-Mediator and the founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services, peace-talks.com. She is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Penguin/Perigee 2010), Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001) and 8 Simple Keys to Building and Growing Your Mediation or Arbitration Practice (Peace Talks Press 2011). Diana also writes for the Huffington Post as well as her own blog Making Divorce Work.


          The Best Way to Start Your Divorce – A Divorce Mission Statement

          A Divorce Mission Statement

          Have you thought about how you want your divorce to go?  What’s your ideal resolution?  Do you see a clear winner or loser? 

          Divorce is one of those areas where the questions you have now will almost always lead to even more questions.  One thing you can do to exercise control though is write a mission statement.  A divorce mission statement.

          You read it right.  In divorce mediation, a mission statement for your divorce is your compass guiding you away from controversy and toward peace.

          The first step is to decide what you want at the end of this process and to spell it out.  You’ll need to set goals at the outset so you’ll be able to stay on course when things aren’t going your way.  There will be temptation to behave badly during your divorce.  Your mission statement will keep you focused.

          There is a huge distinction between what’s important and what’s urgent.  We’re often drawn toward the next most urgent thing, but often it’s really not important, at least not to the goals you’ve set for yourself.  There will be many tempting distractions during your divorce.  Your mission statement will keep you on track.

          As you move toward your settlement, life can get chaotic.  You could easily end up spending your days with activities that seem to require your immediate attention but which have nothing to do with your short or long term goals.  When you take the time to think about and craft a mission statement that suits you, it reduces stress and suffering.  It points you in the direction of living in a way that you know will make you proud of yourself. divorce mission statement

          Living your mission statement doesn’t necessarily mean a complete overhaul of your personality.  Don’t get bogged down in thinking you could’ve saved your marriage had you done something like this earlier.  You’re doing it now, and that’s what counts.  The past is the past and it doesn’t matter now how you got here.  If how you got here is of real concern to you, consider addressing the issue with a professional counselor, your doctor, or a support group.  This is about moving forward and making sure your thoughts and behavior are in line with what you deeply care about.  This will make it much easier and much less scary to let go of things which pull you off track.    

          You may want to re-write this mission statement periodically and reassess your goals throughout the process.  That’s not only okay, it’s encouraged.  Life is a work in progress.  You will change a lot during this process, and embracing the change in a positive way will help insure that you emerge happy, healthy, and whole.        

          Your divorce mission statement will serve as a reminder of who you want to be at the end of your divorce. Keep it handy. You will need these reminders when things get tough.  The hard work of staying in touch with your mission, and realigning your behaviors to fit with your mission, will be worth it.

          Most everyone we work with in our divorce mediation practice finds  that creating a divorce mission statement had a significant impact on the course of their divorce.  It’s a big first step, so when you’re done, take the time to congratulate and reward yourself. You actually wrote down your core values and are headed toward them. Rally yourself to forge ahead. You can do this.


          Diana Mercer is an Attorney-Mediator and the founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services, peace-talks.com. She is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Penguin/Perigee 2010), Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001) and 8 Simple Keys to Building and Growing Your Mediation or Arbitration Practice (Peace Talks Press 2011). Diana also writes for the Huffington Post as well as her own blog Making Divorce Work.

          Why This Collaborative Training is Different

          Streamlined Collaborative Practice Protocols Training June 6-8, 2013

          Skirball Center

          Los Angeles, CA

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          The Marina Collaborative Divorce Practice Group along with Co-Sponsor, the Southern California Mediation Association, are excited to announce our upcoming Three-Day Collaborative Practice Training June 6-8, 2013  in Los Angeles, California at the beautiful Skirball Center.    

          Why this training is different: This training is one of a kind designed specifically for OUR GROUP (yes, they are tailoring their materials and presentation specifically for our needs!)

          This is not some canned presentation, or a couple of people you’ve heard speak 1000 times.

          It’s designed for previously trained practitioners to learn the new streamlined protocols, practice team building and for practitioners new to collaborative practice.

          Many other collaborative trainings don’t teach the importance of teams. The Team is the magic of collaborative law, and each professional plays an integral and powerful role as a team member.  The team is greater than the sum of the parts. 

          The power for each professional is not in the individual power and control like in a traditionally litigated case

          The Very Real Danger of Divorce


          If you’ve watched more than one episode of Dateline, you know that almost all one-on-one, non-gang related shootings are family members shooting other family members.

          I know what you’re thinking. You think I’m being dramatic.  I’m not.  We only hurt the ones we love, and sometimes that includes firearms. Particularly during a divorce or separation, or custody battle.

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          On October 12, 2011, a gunman wearing body armor went into a beauty salon in sleepy Dana Point, California, and shot 8 people.   According to Wikipedia, the suspected shooter was involved in a contested custody battle with his former wife, who worked at the salon.

          On October 21, 2011, “a mother in suburban Dallas fatally shot her 7-year-old son and then killed herself… as police waited outside with her estranged husband, who was there to pick up the child after receiving court-ordered custody…. The father had been given sole custody of the boy after an acrimonious and drawn-out divorce.”

          December 24, 2008, a man dressed as Santa Claus went to his former in-laws’ home and killed 9 people, including his former wife (they’d been divorced 6 days before) at a Christmas party. He had no record and no history of violence. [I just Googled “Santa Claus shooting” and multiple entries for multiple cities showed up.]

          A week before his divorce trial was set to begin, on October 18, 2011, “Samuel Friedlander, by appearances a successful lawyer [in Westchester, New York]… killed his wife and children before shooting himself…. As the trial grew closer, acquaintances told investigators, Mr. Friedlander’s behavior became erratic…. Michael Borg, 47, who went to law school with Mr. Friedlander, said his friend had complained that his wife was controlling and emotionally abusive. ‘He was depressed,’ Mr. Borg said. ‘He was beaten, and his big fear was that she was going to take the kids away.'”

          If you don’t get upset about family problems, it seems to me that you don’t get upset.

          It’s not a mystery why most courthouse shootings are in family court, not criminal court.

          When you’re talking about a divorce, you’re talking about everything that means anything at all in the world to you:  your children, your future, your home, your dreams for your marriage, what you thought you believed about love.

          The opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s “I don’t care.”  And the intimate partner violence statistics support that statement very vividly.

          But getting to the “I don’t care” stage in a divorce is often a long time coming.  Some people never move through the 5 stages of grief:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance to a point where they get to “I don’t care.”  For some, the divorce simply consumes their lives and prevents them from moving productively into the future.   For others, it results in tragedy with much higher stakes.

          And the upset and despair that one feels while getting divorced transcends all socio-economic bounds. We suffer alike. No amount of money can soothe the wounds.  The death of a dream of a life together as a happy couple and family hurts us all to the core.

          I became a divorce mediator and quit my litigation practice when I saw the death and destruction that litigated divorces caused. And I’m not exaggerating.  I had a custody battle client who killed herself, and client’s estranged wife who attempted suicide after I got a winning Judgment against her in a divorce matter.  If half of the US married population goes through a divorce, I knew there had to be a better way.

          They don’t give you a mental exam before you get married (although plenty of people wonder what they were thinking after the ceremony).  We can’t predict how people will react when the going gets tough.  <strong>But we can take better care of ourselves</strong> in a divorce situation. 

          We can understand that:

          •  A divorce is not the end of the world
          • A divorce is not a commentary on our character
          • Sometimes marriages just don’t work out, and it’s nobody’s fault
          • You can celebrate the good times in your marriage and remember it was not always a tense battlefield
          • You can focus on your children and their wellbeing
          • You can treat the other person with respect and kindness, even if they don’t deserve it at the moment
          • You can stop blame, shame and guilt, and just move on from here

           And to stay out of legal trouble, you can:

          • Get mental health counseling when you need support
          • Ask for help from sensible friends, family members, and professionals
          • Take a co-parenting class or see a co-parenting counselor or coach if you’re struggling with the adjustment from between being co-parents and marital partners
          • Use a Divorce Mission Statement to stay on the right path
          • Mediate your divorce instead of litigate
          • Work with a collaborative divorce team to resolve issues if mediation doesn’t world
          • Ask for help when you need it

          Although the mass murder example is extreme, it’s all too common.  We don’t need to suffer like this, and we don’t need to do this to each other.



          Diana Mercer is an Attorney-Mediator and the founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services, . She is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Penguin/Perigee 2010), Your Divorce Advisor:  A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001) and 8 Simple Keys to Building and Growing Your Mediation or Arbitration Practice (Peace Talks Press 2011).  Diana also writes for the Huffington Post as well as her own blog Making Divorce Work.

          End of Life Decisions

          My mother is dying of cancer.

          Yes, this is Diana Mercer, founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services, Inc., talking.

          She’s had cancer for 10 years but has been mercifully symptom-free. But now it’s in her liver and in her lungs.

          I got lucky. My parents updated their estate plan 6 months ago, before we understood how soon she’d be leaving us. But we had an interesting issue—my dad wanted to appoint their accountant as the adminstrator of their trust.

          I had to use every mediation technique in my mediator’s tool box to self-facilitate that discussion. Our family had a problem with a 3rd party trustee in my grandparents’ estate. It was nothing short of a nightmare.

          So why would my dad [essentially] repeat the same mistake?

          I gave it a lot of thought. I don’t think it’s easy to save your money all your life for the day you need it for cancer treatments, macular degeneration, and, at some point Assisted Living….and then suddenly it’s time to start spending that money.

          There’s no way that was easy. So I decided I had to give him the benefit of the doubt. We’re talking about the decisions he’s making about end of life issues, and considering that he’s just about to lose his wife of 55 years, the last thing he needs is a nagging adult child (and if I enlist my brother, he’d have 2 nagging children).

          I did a couple of things that took every mediation and self-control skill in my body to accomplish. First I asked him if I could tell him how I felt. Getting permission is really important. Once he gave me permission, there’s a very good chance he was listening. Permission is key. Then I tried to give him a balanced view. As much as I was hurt that he didn’t want me to be trustee again (I was trustee in the first version), being trustee is also a lot of work. So I explained that while part of me was relieved that I wasn’t going to be trustee, another part of me was hurt that it felt like he didn’t trust me.

          “But I do trust you,” he said.

          Another mediation technique–giving permission for him to listen without having to do things my way—I responded “When I hear that you want for someone else to be trustee it feels to me like you don’t trust me. I believe you when you say you trust me, but please understand that it doesn’t feel that way.”

          More on mediation techniques you can use at home in the next post.

          If you’d like to schedule a free consultation with our estate planning expert and mediator, Peter Ballas, please give our office a call at (310) 301-2100.