Divorce and Family Mediation
 
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Frequently Asked Questions

 

What is the role of the divorce mediator?
Is there anything that the divorce mediator does not do?
How important is the divorce mediator's professional background?
Should I have my own attorney?
Should I see a therapist?
What is the role of each party in the divorce mediation process?
Can I have someone with me at the divorce mediation sessions?
Will the divorce mediator meet separately (caucus) with each of us?
Is divorce mediation confidential?
Is divorce mediation binding?
What happens if we cannot reach an agreement in divorce mediation?
How long does divorce mediation take?
How much does divorce mediation cost?
How does choosing divorce mediation over litigation help the children?
Are there any situations where litigation is preferred over divorce mediation?
Who prepares the final Separation Agreement?
Who is responsible for beginning the legal divorce process?

What is the role of the divorce mediator?
As the mediator, I facilitate the discussions between you and your spouse. In this capacity, I provide a safe environment, encourage each of you to actively participate in making decisions, and help you to focus on goals for the future (and not on blame for the past.) I make sure that both of you have the same complete and accurate information. I also help both of you to develop options and to consider the consequences of those options so that you can make informed decisions. Perhaps most important of all, I encourage each of you to become self-sufficient and to take responsibility for making your own decisions.

Is there anything the divorce mediator does not do?
As the divorce mediator, I remain impartial as to the agreements reached by you and your spouse. I do not take sides with or represent either of you; I do not act as a judge or make decisions for you; I do not determine what is "fair" or acceptable. I am trained as both an attorney and a therapist, but do not represent either of you in these professional roles. I do not try to save marriages, although I do make sure that the parties have reached a firm decision to get divorced before they proceed with the divorce mediation.

How important is the divorce mediator's professional background?
Divorce is a legal, financial and emotional process. Attorneys are very fact and goal oriented, so they are trained to help parties clarify goals, identify options, consider consequences, and create a final agreement. Accountants answer financial and tax questions. Therapists help the parties address emotional issues and keep those issues from undermining the mediation process. Therapists also help the parties learn to cooperate as parents after the divorce is finalized. Therefore, as an attorney, an accountant and a marriage and family therapist, I am ideally prepared to help both of you make the journey from anger to acceptance, argument to agreement.

Should I have my own attorney?
Because I am an attorney, most legal questions can be answered during our sessions. I also help you prepare and file all the forms required for court. However, each of you may retain a separate attorney to answer specific legal questions, as well as to review the final agreement before you sign it and submit it to the court for approval, although most of my clients feel that this is not necessary.

Should I see a therapist?
Divorce often exposes painful and challenging feelings. A therapist can help you understand and cope with these feelings, as well as help you identify the ways your behavior and personality contributed to the failure of your marriage so that you may learn from your divorce experience. Therapy can also help your children deal with the many challenges that divorce brings.

What is the role of each party in the divorce mediation process?
In divorce mediation, the responsibility (and the opportunity) for both reaching an agreement and addressing personal issues belong to you and your spouse; I simply facilitate the process. Therefore, each of you must be willing to: (1) clearly state your needs, interests and feelings; (2) listen with an open mind to your spouse; and (3) discuss difficult issues in a respectful and constructive manner. While this may sound impossible, most couples discover that divorce mediation provides a setting that both encourages and facilitates cooperative and honest communication.

Can I have someone with me at the mediation sessions?
Just you, you spouse, and I will participate in the divorce mediation sessions. Some divorce mediators allow attorneys to be present (even though they may not actively participate in the session), but I feel strongly that the presence of attorneys is counterproductive: the mere fact that the attorneys are in the room suggests that divorce mediation is a contest, and that the attorneys stand ready to "fight" for you.  One of the primary advantages of divorce mediation is that it allows you and your spouse to make the decisions and to be in control of your own divorce--when attorneys are present in the session, it is easy to give up your decision-making power and rely on the attorneys. Sometimes, however, it is appropriate to consult an outside professional--such as a pension expert or an appraiser—but they do not attend the divorce mediation sessions.

Will the divorce mediator meet separately (caucus) with each of us?
One of the fundamental characteristics of divorce mediation is that I must remain impartial as to the decisions reached by you and your spouse. Therefore, I must also remain impartial with respect to you and your spouse as individuals, and not "take sides." Normally I would not meet with either of you alone. However, under particularly difficult circumstances, it may be necessary for one of you to leave a divorce mediation session for a few minutes so that I can meet with the other spouse alone. If I do caucus with one of you, everything that is said in that separate meeting will be shared with the other spouse because secrets undermine the trust and impartiality essential to divorce mediation.

Is divorce mediation confidential?
Divorce mediation is completely confidential; only you, your spouse, your consulting attorneys, and I know what is done or said in divorce mediation. Even when the final agreement is submitted to the Court, the divorce mediation proceedings remain confidential. No conversations, documents, or other communications that directly relate to the divorce mediation can be introduced into evidence, nor can anyone ask me to testify--or produce documents--relating to the divorce mediation, without the consent of all the parties.

Is divorce mediation binding?
Divorce mediation is not binding until the final agreement has been signed by both parties. Therefore, either of you can terminate the divorce mediation process at any time, for any reason. However, most couples appreciate the benefits of divorce mediation over litigation, and therefore they are willing, with my guidance, to work out any problems that might otherwise sabotage the divorce mediation process.

What happens if we cannot reach an agreement in divorce mediation?
If you and your spouse get stuck on a particular issue, I can put that issue aside for the time being, and go on to another issue. Often, this procedure makes it possible for us to return to the difficult issue at a later date and reach a satisfactory agreement. Most couples find that the divorce mediation process helps them develop self-confidence and communication skills that enable them to work more effectively with each other, to consider all the options, and to reach a satisfactory agreement. However, in the unlikely event that you cannot reach a final agreement in divorce mediation, either of you could then proceed to litigation. In over ten years of mediating divorces, I have had only three couples terminate mediation and resort to litigation.

How long does divorce mediation take?
This varies from case to case. If you and your spouse are in substantial agreement on most issues, mediation may require only three or four sessions. However, if either of you is very angry and uncooperative, or if there are substantial or complex issues involved, additional sessions may be needed. You and your spouse are in charge of developing your own agreement, so the extent to which both of you can be open, honest, cooperative and respectful are important factors in determining how long mediation will take. Regardless of how quickly you may complete the divorce mediation process, Connecticut imposes a 90-day “cooling off” period before you can have your final court hearing. See Getting Divorced in Connecticut.

How much does divorce mediation cost?
There are three major variables that determine the cost of divorce mediation:
(1) the number of hours required to complete the process;
(2) the divorce mediator's hourly rate; and
(3) the services provided by the divorce mediator.
Therefore:
(1) as an experienced and skilled attorney/therapist mediator, I can help you and your spouse to effectively resolve the difficult legal, financial and emotional issues you are facing. This greatly reduces the number of hours required to complete your divorce.
(2) my hourly fee for both of you together is lower than most divorce attorneys charge per hour for each individual client; therefore my hourly rate is usually less than half what you would pay for two separate attorneys.
(3) I charge you for preparing the final agreement for the Court. This fee is significantly less than if an outside attorney prepared the agreement.

Given these variables, divorce mediation costs do vary considerably, but one thing is almost always certain: divorce mediation is significantly less expensive than litigation. First of all, the parties are paying one divorce mediator instead of two attorneys; fees paid for "consulting attorneys" are usually minimal. Secondly, divorce mediation requires only a fraction of the time (and related hourly fees) incurred in most litigated cases. In fact, many of my clients have completed mediation, including preparation of the final agreement, for $4,000 or less. Finally, keep in mind the old adage: "you get what you pay for." Don't be fooled by divorce mediators who charge significantly less than most other divorce mediators; chances are, the low fee reflects a lack of professional training and experience, which will cost you more money in the long run.


How does choosing divorce mediation over litigation help the children?
First, divorce mediation is a cooperative process: parents work together to develop their final agreement, which includes provisions for parenting the children. This cooperative approach usually continues after the divorce is finalized. On the other hand, in litigated divorces, the parents are adversaries, and therefore often assume adversarial parenting roles--thus putting the children "in the middle" of their parents' disagreements. The second way that divorce mediation is preferable for children is that divorce mediation encourages you to be creative and flexible, so that you can devise parenting plans that meet your family's unique needs and circumstances. In contrast, litigation discourages cooperation and creativity, and gives the decision-making power to the attorneys and the courts.

Are there any situations where litigation is preferred over divorce mediation?
Some divorce mediators feel that divorce mediation is not appropriate in cases involving a high level of anger and conflict. This opinion is based on the mistaken assumption that litigation offers "protection" that is unavailable in divorce mediation. In fact, just the opposite is true. Litigation is an adversarial process that intensifies anger, blaming, and defensiveness, thus making the problems worse. Divorce mediation, on the other hand, provides a safe environment where the spouses can express feelings, clarify issues, and focus on the future, rather than on blame for the past. Divorce mediation thus helps to ease tensions and make it possible for the couple to work towards the common goal of getting on with their own lives.

Who prepares the final Separation Agreement?
I prepare the final agreement for the court for two reasons: first, I am the person present during all of your sessions, so I know the details of your agreement better than any "outside" professional. By preparing the final agreement, I save you time (and thus, money), and avoid the need for the attorneys to pass the agreement back and forth for revisions. The second reason that I prepare the final agreement has to do with a fundamental quality of divorce mediation: trust. If one of you had your own attorney prepare the final agreement, it would be normal for the other spouse to be suspicious of the agreement prepared by that attorney. During our divorce mediation sessions together, you have come to trust both each other and me; it is counterproductive to challenge that trust just as we are completing the divorce mediation process. Therefore, because I am an attorney duly licensed to practice in Connecticut (I have been practicing for over 25 years), it makes both economic and practical sense for me to prepare the final agreement.

Who is responsible for beginning the legal divorce process?
Even though I prepare the final agreement, I do not represent either of you in court. If I were to do so, I would be violating my impartiality--and your trust. However, since the paperwork to both begin and complete the legal process is purely administrative, I prepare the necessary divorce paperwork so that the two of you can represent yourselves “pro se,” and file the divorce paperwork in court without the need for hiring an attorney.

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