By Melissa Adkins
Typically, if someone wants out of a marriage, you hire lawyers, dig up dirt, try to get all you can out of the estate and battle it out. The lawyer’s role is to advocate for the spouse that hired them, with the goal of achieving the most favorable outcome for their client. Divorce attorneys are the best people in the world when you need someone to fight for you!! We work with many and we love them.
But what if you don’t need to go to war? What if you just need sound guidance through the process of dividing the estate and determining how to live in separate homes with your shared children? What if you want to think through the issues instead of battling them out? What if you and your spouse are divorcing but you are still levelheaded and talking to each other? If this describes you, mediation for marriage dissolution may be an alternative to dueling it out in court for you.
Mediation as a venue for divorce is different. A mediator is a neutral third-party who can interview each party, review relevant documents, and help both parties understand what is fair and realistic in their situation. The goal of mediation is to help couples efficiently resolve issues that may be in conflict and eventually come to an agreement satisfactory to both parties. The divorce mediator actively facilitates the negotiations, but the spouses have full control and authority over the decisions affecting their lives. This can save time, money and emotional turmoil.
In our mediation process, couples have two choices: they may work with the mediator and hire one attorney for guidance and filings; or each party works with the one mediator and each party hires their own attorney.
In my own case, I hired an attorney as I wanted and needed legal guidance. My former spouse and I worked together with the mediator to help divide our assets and determine what we do with our children. My attorney reviewed everything before I signed it. I had my own legal advocate under the structure of the mediation process which provided me with a level of comfort, safety and security. My former spouse also chose to have an attorney review the documents prior to signing them.
Planning Your End Game – The Kids
Far and away, this was first on the list of the many benefits of divorce mediation for me. As a parent, I knew divorce was going to be tough. It could have been even tougher on my kids. However, we discussed our issues as parents, instead of litigants, which enabled us to outline the terms of our settlement, including time sharing and child support, so that we both stayed focused on what’s truly best for our children.
Let’s face it, like it or not, I still must have a parenting relationship with my children’s father. There were times when I had to remind myself that I love my children more than I love my pride and chose not to use them as a weapon to hurt their Dad. This can be a bitter pill to swallow, especially if you’ve been deeply wounded in the relationship.
I was very concerned that my kids would think they caused the rift, that my son would think he had to take the role of dad to his younger sibling, or that either child couldn’t talk about their feelings with me. The biggest gift for my children during the divorce process was being open to their questions, acknowledging their pain, and even when it was hard, have a civil parenting relationship with their dad. They didn’t choose my divorce and neither did I. Their father chose to leave so I have made the best out of a poor choice he made. A large part of my ability to do this daily is because we chose to mediate our parenting schedules. I would not fight over my children, make them suffer, or have a judge decide when I could and could not see my kids. Mediation gave me the option of staying in control over my kids and their lives.
Planning Your End Game – Time
When you look at the choice of a divorce mediation versus traditional divorce, mediated divorces typically take significantly less time. Typically, the traditional divorce process will take 6-12 months while the mediation process for divorce takes 2-3 months.
In mediation we had a set process and schedule. We filed for divorce so the standing orders as my lawyer explained were in effect. For me, this meant my bills were paid and life was ‘status quo’ for that time frame. He lived in the guest bedroom and I kept the master bedroom in the same home during the process. We shared our information with the one mediator, and she created a division plan. We each met with her individually, so she knew what each of us wanted and needed, during and after the divorce. We then met together with the mediator for our negotiation session where agreements were highlighted, and disagreements mediated. We chose to include attorney’s in this session which meant at the end we had a binding, legal document. Boom! We were done with the uncertainty and the negotiations. My former spouse then had a plan to move out, we divided our accounts, child support began, and my new life started.
In my case, I couldn’t get divorced fast enough. Once my ex-husband told me he wanted to leave, he couldn’t have left soon enough. The thought of waiting almost a year to get a divorce seemed unthinkable. That meant a year in limbo with an uncertain future and no way to plan a new path for myself. The state of Texas mandates a 60-day waiting period from filing for divorce until you can be divorced. It was in those 60 days that we worked through the process. By day 65, my mediation agreement had been signed, divorce papers were submitted into the court system, and I had started an entirely new chapter in my life.
Planning Your End Game – The Cost
Divorce attorney retainers typically range from $3,500 to $10,000 per person. So, if you work with lawyers in traditional litigation, you’re looking at spending a minimum of $7,000 to $20,000 of the family’s estate for your divorce case initially and that’s just the beginning. The cost of divorce only goes up from there, especially if disagreements and court encounters ensue.
If you use mediation, you can potentially save thousands on your divorce. The typical cost of a mediated divorce in our office, for a family can range from $7,000 to $14,000 including attorney’s fees. For my family, mediation cost us money, but it was a fraction of what we could have spent in the traditional litigation process. The typical traditional, litigated divorces we see in our office today cost the families anywhere from $15,000 to over $100,000. The price of this battle can be staggering. I didn’t want that for my family.
I had been a stay at home mother for 12 years, whereas my ex-husband was a 6-figure earner. I was fortunate enough during our marriage to stay home with my kids and support him in his growing career. The problem was when we separated, I had no college degree, no formal training and a 12-year gap on my resume. Even with a full-time job, I could not afford to stay in my home, pay for after school childcare, or even afford my car payment. I was terrified of spending all of our savings in litigation, being awarded half of whatever was left over, and still having to uproot my kids to live somewhere more cost-effective. This was a very large contributing factor to why I chose mediation.
Planning Your End Game – Your Future
The process of mediation allowed both of us to be fully empowered by educating us on how to handle child rearing, separation or dissolution of assets, future expenses, and other issues. During emotional upheaval, there is the temptation for me to just let someone else handle it. Fortunately, I knew I could not do this with my future and with my children. As we worked together with our mediator, we both felt heard, understood, and responsible for every aspect of our divorce.
As my lawyer explained Texas divorce, I was distraught to learn the laws in Texas really didn’t protect a stay at home parent. I had spent 12 years as a stay at home mom, built a family, and helped build my ex-husband’s career. What was the judge going to give me for it? Pretty much nothing, in my opinion. I soon realized that there was no way that I could have maintained our current lifestyle or household for more than a few months with 50% of our assets. I would have had to sell our home, sell my car, and go into debt to support my children on what I would be earning at a full-time job that didn’t require a degree. My ex-husband, conversely, would be able to maintain his current lifestyle, earn six figures and continue to advance his career. The tables were very much tipped in his favor and I felt that it was completely unjust. My mediator helped me make a plan that me build my future. This changed everything for me.
Planning Your End Game – Reaching Your Goal
Now that you know a little more about mediation and how it works, you have more information to help you decide what the best choice is for your family. Divorce is common but you’ll soon learn that each divorce is unique. If your goal is to divorce amicably, maintain a good parenting relationship with your soon to be former spouse, and not spend a small fortune, mediation may be for you!
At Divorce Strategies Group we offer a variety of services and options in a range of prices for you and your needs. Continue to visit us at www.DivorceStrategiesGroup.com for helpful articles and bits of information on divorce finance and mediation. We also offer one free 30-minute consultations to anyone facing or considering divorce. Click the “Contact Us” tab on the menu bar to schedule your complimentary consultation today!