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:

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Sincerely (and I do mean that),

Diana Mercer

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.

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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.

 

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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

What Causes Divorce?

Causes of Divorce

 “Seriously?  You want to end this?  You want a divorce?  I mean, I know we’ve had problems.  I’ve tried to change.  I’ll be better.  Is this really what you want to do?”

 If you’ve said those words or heard those words, it can be crushing either way you look at it.  Divorce happens for all sort of reasons.  And in that moment when you realize your spouse doesn’t want what you want, you search furiously for the one reason, the one thought, the one argument that will change your spouse’s mind.  But it’s not one moment.  It’s not even the past month.  We call it turning.  Turning away from your spouse is what causes divorce.

cause of divorce

 If divorce is your decision, your situation may have finally crystallized to the point where what you had to do became clear.  If divorce is not your decision, you feel compelled to look at your marriage to find the clues you may have missed, the things that at the time, escaped you.  It’s not an easy place for either of you.  Even now, you have that in common.

 In most of the cases we’ve seen in our practice, it’s difficult to find the precise moment when things changed in any particular relationship.  You may be tempted to look back over the course of this turning, this unraveling to find the exact moment when it all started.  But there’s no Big Bang theory available here.  No single moment in time.  Turning doesn’t happen overnight.  It’s been a process.  But it can feel like an avalanche of questions and emotions for both of you.

 “Could I have worked less?  Made more money?  Been more attentive? Spent more time at home? Was it the last fight we had?  The likely answer to most everything is yes. 

 You both have responsibility.  Finding fault is not like setting pieces on a checker board.  Things don’t necessarily fit into boxes.   It’s far more nuanced.  The easy thing at this point is to be black and white.  It’s far harder to be willing to examine the complexities.   What happened, where communication broke down.  The places that each of you didn’t go to reach the other, the things you didn’t say.

 Marriages ultimately end because [at least] one spouse sought passion or comfort or fulfillment outside the relationship with his or her spouse. These outside interests may start innocently enough, and don’t always take the form of another person or another substance.  But when interest and attention is freely given elsewhere outside the marriage, it’s hard to keep up appearances on the home front. More things break down.  More fights.  More misunderstandings. 

 Your relationship didn’t just break like a plate in the sink.  It took time.  The feelings of disconnection evolved.  Too often when we hear words like, “You didn’t” or  “You never”  we don’t hear the “I need” or “I’d like” that’s not said.  We miss the sub-text.  Maybe your situation would be different if you or your spouse had been that clear, that direct.  It would be great to know that every time we spoke we said what we exactly felt.  But we’re human.  And all too often, we figure out the right thing to say well after the moment to say it came and went. 

 Getting your heart and brain around what happened in your marriage, asking those hard questions and dealing with the sometimes harder answers takes courage.  You may be well past the point of fixing things.  But if you approach the end of your marriage with clarity, it can have a positive effect on how you deal with changes in your life that are part of divorce. 

These resources can help you sort things out–and they’re free:

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 Things are what they are.  And what has happened, has happened.  As you examine the arc of your marriage, you may begin to see the where changes started to happen, where turning was slightly more obvious.  Not easy lessons to learn.  As you turn from your spouse now, remember you are also turning into the next stage of your life.  Chapters end.  Chapters begin.  Pages turn.

Arguments are like tennis.  They sometimes start out like a friendly game.  Not counting points or balls outside the service area.  But as it goes on, it’s tough not to want to beat the person you’re playing.  And losing a point only increases your desire to win.  Before you know it, all you want to do is win.  To beat your opponent. 

Is that how you really want your divorce to go?  Remember, this started out as a relationship.  Heck, it still is. You still have a choice:  divorce mediation, instead of litigation.  If you approach this particular moment from the same side of the net, as it were, there’s a good chance you can come out of this with dignity and respect and and a lot less anger.  Calling it a Win Win might seem like a bit too much work by the silver lining crew.  The value here is how you are, long term.

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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

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.

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 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:

free-stuff

 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.

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Is Divorce Failure?

Family Mediation and Failure

Many clients have told me that they viewed getting divorced as a their greatest failure as an adult.  Even their body language told me they weren’t so proud to be in my office speaking with me about it.

When you do take that oath and enter into those sacred bonds of marriage, you believe it will last forever.  You never plan on getting divorced; it’s dictated by circumstances that feel out of your control.  However, you can take that control back in determining how to handle divorce when it happens to you.

Of course, there’s always the famous “going out in a blaze” approach, which may or may not include intense gossiping, rounds of “he-said she-said” and creating a bonfire out of your spouses belongings (not an unpopular route from my experience).

divorce mediation

Fortunately for the rest of us, there is a way that allows you to part in a respectful way that is fair to both parties, and doesn’t drudge up any unecessary drama.  It’s called Family Mediation.   It’s truly divorce made easy.  Or at least easier. Signing up for Family Mediation services is a way to avoid expensive trips to your swanky Los Angeles divorce lawyer.

Even if you feel you have failed as a partner in a marriage, it is still your call whether to fail at being a responsible adult.  Divorce is tricky, so you want to come out of it feeling good about yourself and your history together.  If you care about your relationship, give Mediation Services a shot, it could give you results that you’re looking for.

A spoiled relationship is one of those things that we just can’t control, at least not once it’s happened and it’s beyond repair.  It could start with a small incident and gradually build up to a separation.  It happens all the time.  To call that a failure would be an injustice.  What you can control is how you react to it.  Working things out peacefully through Family Mediation is a way to help eliminate the burden of a drawn out divorce and still keep on good terms with your spouse.

Even the best of us get unlucky.  My mother, the most kind and gentle person I ever knew, succumbed to cancer in 2010.  My friend from here in Los Angeles, adopted a drug-addicted boy who is now stricken with a life threatening illness.  The world is full of happenings beyond our control.

Somebody once said, “it’s not success that makes us great, but how we deal with failure.”  If divorce comes your way, you can greet it with strife and aggression or you can welcome it in and deal with it in a calm way that ensures you will get through it without unnecessary fallout.

Ask yourself these questions:

Low Cost Divorce

In response to the recession, Peace Talks now offers a couple of new services.
I hope you’ll keep us in mind if you come across couples needing either of the following:
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 my paralegal who will do the intake and all the paperwork. She is also a trained mediator and is able to handle minor things that come up, but Plan A is that people already have an agreement.
As a practical matter, an attorney drafts the “important parts” of the Judgment. I also supervise and proofread.
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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

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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:

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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.

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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.  

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 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:

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 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

Family Law Mediation Success

Eleven years ago, I traded in my fancy shmancy car for a used Honda Accord.  It wasn’t just a symbolic act; I knew I was going to need the money I would save on car payments.  You see, I had just made the biggest decision of my professional life.  I had decided to become a full-time mediator and give up my high-paying divorce lawyer gig at an established law firm.  No more swanky office with views of the city, I was on the ground floor, starting from scratch.  After years of arguing for one side, I decided I valued helping families rather than splitting them apart.  (Green Acres? Rollin’ on the River? funny, but true!)

divorce mediation

 Being a divorce attorney for over 20 years, I knew this would be a shock to the system.  Going through countless litigated divorces as a lawyer lets you see the good and the bad.  I also went through my own divorce.  That was a lesson in itself.  I was fortunate that the lesson was on the “what works” side of things, and not the other.

My experience showed me that divorce could be unduly difficult to deal with–the stress and the physical toll.  Seemingly nice people are put into bad situations where they are forced to fight for their property, and sometimes their children.  It’s not a nice thing to see.  I wanted to bring people together to talk things out, in a civilized way, with open lines of communication.

Mediation was the only way.  I had to make the change.  Whenever you are faced with divorce or any other aspect of family law, including child custody, child support, cohabitiation, domestic partnerships, etc, your best option is mediation.

Even though it may look self-interested, I don’t just say that because I am now a full-time mediator, I say that from the heart. Ask any mediator: we all love what we do. And we can all tell you a compelling story of why we gave up big bucks litigation to help people resolve their conflicts.

If you’re unclear on how it works, here’s a quick look:

During a typical mediation session, you and your spouse will meet with a neutral professional to settle your case.  This professional is often a lawyer or a therapist trained in family mediation.  They could even be both.  It’s their job to get both sides to come to an agreement.  When I say a “typical mediation session” it’s actually a misnomer, because there are no typical sessions–you are in control.  If you want to talk about dividing up your coin collections or about the weather, the mediator is there for you, not the other way around.

Mediators will often give a free mediation consultation or equivalent information session.  You should always be confident that your mediator will meet your needs and expectations.  Divorce is intimate and so is the settlement process.  You need to be able to feel comfortable talking about sensitive topics with your mediator.  Make sure you feel you can have a good rapport with them.  Shop around.

Though most divorce mediators’ goal is to facilitate communication, styles can vary.  Will they make appropriate suggestions when necessary?  Tell you about the law?  Give examples?  Create worksheets or checklists?  Give notes?  Write down agreements?  Handle court paperwork for you?  Make sure you stay on task?  Time your sessions?  Help you brainstorm different ways of handling a problem?  Are they open to doing anything you ask?

These are important stylistic choices to consider.  Before you choose your mediator, ask them how they handle any or all of these examples and more.

At Peace Talks Mediation, we make sure that we’re all on the same page from the get-go.  An agenda outlines what we need to accomplish, what decisions must be made by the end of our sessions.  The important thing is that we all contribute to this outline.  The client gets to decide what they want to focus on, what issues are most pressing for them.  After all, they know each other better than we do.

We get some unusual requests, ranging from dividing DVD collections to brainstorming different ways to break the news to in-laws.  Nothing is off-limits, too big or too small.

As a working Family Mediation firm located in Los Angeles, we certainly have best practices that we know we have to live up to, but as for how each session goes, that is completely up to the client.

If you’re unsure about whether you want to mediate your divorce, you should also keep in mind that Mediation is over 90% cheaper than going to court and hiring attorneys.  It’s true.  Mediation, with it’s open communication, lacks the contentiousness and “he said/she said” theatrics of the courtroom.  It alleviates that burden and creates an atmosphere of “we’re in this together.”

That’s not to say Mediation isn’t difficult.  Talking about these very delicate and intimate subjects is hard.  Especially with a mediator you may have only met a couple of times prior.  We understand and are here to work with you to make it easier.  From my experience, Mediation is the best way to minimize the destructive toll a divorce can have on a family.

If you live in Los Angeles, call Peace Talks for a free appointment. If you don’t live in LA, you can search Mediate.com for a mediator in your area.

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Divorce Strategy and Divorce Mediation

 

Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”

That’s a quote attributed to Alexander Graham Bell and couldn’t be more true today.  As a divorce attorney, you’re preparation is a lot different than it is as a Mediator.  I would know, I am currently a Mediator dedicated exclusively to family law, divorce settlements and child custody and I was also a divorce litigation attorney for many years.  Back when I worked at firms like Noyes & Mercer in New Haven, Connecticut, I had a much different preparation strategy than I do now.

 As a divorce attorney, you better believe you need to be prepared.  That includes drafting a strategy for the best possible outcome for your client.  It’s a game with a lot at stake.  As a litigator your job is to win.

divorce attorney

 Boy, am I glad those days are over.  Today I am concerned with strategy and “winning” in a whole different way.

 I’m concerned with helping couples, as a whole, not one side, to reach an agreement that they can both live with equally.  It’s a relief after years of thinking on a one way street.  My job is to make sure both parties have all the information–no trial notebooks, pre-marked exhibits and cross-examinations.  When a couple comes into our office at Peace Talks Mediation Services, I get to greet both sides knowing that when our sessions together are over, they will have the tools and the knowledge to craft a brighter future for themselves, post-divorce.

In the old days, I’d wear out notebooks with notes and scripts for evidence objections and questioning.  I learned from the best, my mentor Carl Porto of Parrett Porto Parese was always the most prepared guy in the room.  He always used to teach us that winning was about preparation, being more prepared than the folks at the other end of the table.

 My record: in twelve years as divorce litigator I “lost” just once, and by “lose” I mean the judgement wasn’t up to my standards.  Not bad.

 I miss those days in some ways, but now as a divorce mediator in Los Angeles, it’s a whole different ballgame, one that can be it’s own reward.

 My preparation these days consists of notes, worksheets and checklists as well, but now everything is more open.  We share our notes and checklists with the clients–both sides.  All financial documents are explained and gone through in detail during our sessions to make certain that everyone is up to speed.  We debrief after sessions, going over bullet points and drawing out a plan going forward.  It’s a more intimate process, with the client in the driver’s seat.

Take advantage of some of the tools we use for free:

free-stuff

 Sure, divorce mediation can have it’s fair share of pitfalls, but we all work to pick each other up and attack the problem, like players on a team.  We’re in it together.

 In fact, the only strategy we need in Mediation is this: Do whatever is necessary to help people to reach an agreement.  What a pleasant thought!

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Negotiate Your Divorce Settlement

This is an excerpt from Making Divorce Work.  I’m really proud of this chapter….it was difficult to explain in a few pages how to successfully negotiate a divorce settlement.  But I think I did it!  How to Negotiate Your Divorce Settlement is the excerpt published by Mediate.com.  

Mediate.com, by the way, is a great place to find a mediator. You can search by telephone area code as well as topic. They don’t check credentials, so you’ll have to do your own interviewing researching mediators, but it’s a great way to find qualified professionals in your area.

Pretty much every mediator in the country is listed there.

More free resources:

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 Making Divorce Work

Choose How Confrontational Your Divorce Will Be

Divorce Resolution Continuum

By Diana Mercer, Attorney-Mediator, copyright 2013

 

The decision to divorce is followed by a number of choices for how a case might be filed and later resolved.  Some of the steps are a loop, and others may be mixed and matched, but the general continuum, from least confrontational to most confrontational, is:

 

  • Decision to Divorce
  • No response:  spouse ignores petition, or is missing = proceed by Default
  • Kitchen Table discussion on how to resolve case, do-it-yourself divorce paperwork
  • See a lawyer, get an idea of rights, then resolve around the Kitchen Table and DIY

choose how confrontational your divorce will be

  • Use a paralegal or one lawyer to draft the papers, no individual representation
  • Unbundled legal services:  one or both parties hire an attorney by the hour to do just the tasks the client needs done
  • Individual representation with lawyer for one party only who helps parties settle informally, without court
  • Mediation
  • Mediation with lawyers involved, to a more or lesser degree  *
  • Collaborative Divorce
  • Start litigation
  • Litigation at first but ultimately settle
  • Litigation at first, but use Private Judge or Arbitrator for final decision
  • Litigation and Trial

 

*  Referring to collaborative lawyers for independent consultations and representation for individual clients in mediated cases may be a bridge between mediation and collaborative law. There’s also less of a chance that a collaborative lawyer will derail the mediation process.  The collaborative lawyer acting as independent counsel in a mediation might also have a retainer agreement and independent counsel agreement that follows the collaborative law model in that the mediation won’t be derailed in favor of litigation, and that the client will be expected to remain in mediation until settlement is reached.

 

The Very Real Danger of Divorce

http://huffingtonpost.com/diana-mercer

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.

divorce stress

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.

 

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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.