What’s The Most Efficient Way to Mediate Your Divorce, and Who is Best Equipped to Handle It?
Collaborative Divorce Professionals are specifically trained to function skillfully on interdisciplinary teams. All Collaborative Professionals are required to also be trained in Mediation, and to be members of a Collaborative Divorce Practice Group. Virtual Divorce California is such a group (VirtualDivorceCA.com). Collaboratively trained Financial Specialists, Licensed Mental Health Professionals, and Family Law Attorneys all specialize in divorce and work “collaboratively,” to get you or your clients to the divorce finish line efficiently and cost-effectively, without going to court. Professionals share information, mindful of the long-term well-being of each family member.
What’s A Typical 3-Step Team Mediation with Collaboratively-Trained Professionals?
Step 1: Your Neutral, Collaboratively-Trained Financial Specialist (FS)
A typical 3-Step Team Mediation begins with the divorcing couple meeting with a neutral Financial Specialist(either a CFP® or CPA with a CDFA®, depending on the specifics of your case). There are at least 4 reasons a neutral Financial Specialist is your best first step in any divorce process:
- Your Financial Specialist (FS) is trained to answer any financial questions, and to gather, organize and analyze all your combined, legally required financial data for your mediating divorce attorney (Step 3).
- Cost-Savings. Usually a neutral FS has a lower hourly fee than a mediating family law attorney. In any divorce process, you are legally required to be transparent about all your assets and debts – the consequences can be harsh if you’re not. When numbers don’t jive for any reason, the financial neutral simply asks for the documents needed to clarify matters, and you can’t move forward without these. In contrast, in litigation you each typically pay your attorney to formally subpoena the information from the other partner’s forensic accountant. Thus, in litigation, you typically pay four professionals instead of just one. Honest litigating attorneys will tell you that while an effective forensic accountant may find some things, if a spouse is good at hiding money, you can pay a fortune to try to find something and come up short. At some point in any divorce process, you will have to decide how much you are willing to spend to try to continue looking for what may or may not be hidden from you.
- Preparation for Making Fully-Informed Financial Decisions, Before You Negotiate. The FS can prepare budgets to ensure you understand the long-term financial impact of different scenarios you’re each hoping might work. You’re prepared in advance, rather than going in blind, to negotiate the sharing of income, assets, and debts with your attorney mediator. Your divorce decisions are therefore far better informed.
- Confidence and Trust increase for both partners as finances are shared transparently and discussed, and also as a less financially savvy spouse is educated by the neutral FS. A more financially savvy spouse is often no longer trusted in the same ways as during the marriage. In this respectful atmosphere, with shared, clear financial data and separate budgets for possible scenarios, each partner is often less anxious and more trusting. Both partners are then significantly better equipped to avoid becoming positional or adversarial when they meet with the neutral attorney mediator to negotiate. Anecdotally, when divorcing couples get in front of a neutral attorney mediator first, they often imagine they need to advocate in positional ways before they even have a clear picture of their shared income, assets, and debts. Interacting first with a neutral FS can circumvent the impulse to become positional.
Step 2: Your Neutral, Collaboratively-Trained Licensed Mental Health Professional (MHP)
At the same time you’re getting financial data into your FS, you can hire a collaboratively-trained, licensed Mental Health Professional to move your divorce forward. There are at least three ways to use an MHP for your divorce:
- Effective Communication & Managing Intense Emotions. An MHP ensures you communicate respectfully and manage intense emotions when conflict impairs you or your partner’s ability to provide data and discuss options effectively with the FS and/or later when you negotiate the sharing of assets and debts with your attorney. If you are a couple with at least one high-conflict partner/spouse, you may need two MHPs – one for each partner – to help you get to the divorce finish line (High-conflict divorcing couples often waste much time trying to get a single MHP to align with his/her/their perspective). A Collaborative MHP also trains up your communication skills, and coaches you regarding the nature and tone of proposals, and emails to each other and to the team, as needed.
- Cost Effectiveness. In any divorce process (Do-It-Yourself, litigation, mediation, or collaborative divorce), your costs increase any time there is increased conflict, adversarial positioning, emotion dysregulation, and/or blame-laden, judgmental communication by you or your professionals. The more conflict there is, the more professional intervention is needed and the higher your divorce costs. In addition to blocking/redirecting conflict and training up skills, an MHP with a divorce specialty also works behind the scenes with the FS and attorney mediator throughout, to ensure understanding for a safe, effective mediation context. For example, the MHP may assess each partner’s concerns and help the FS identify the different kinds of financial data each spouse needs to better understand the other spouse’s perspective and interests. Without a shared understanding (which doesn’t require agreement!), it will be difficult to move forward.
- Detailed Parenting Plan (Custody Agreement) That Anticipates Kids’ Future Needs & Future Co-Parenting Decisions That Avoid Later Conflict. If you have children, the MHP helps you mediate your parenting plan with a clear understanding of child development, the impact of divorce on children at different stages (including adult children who are too often disregarded), and important divorce-related family dynamics. You can mediate your parenting plan while you’re getting your financial information into the FS. The collaboratively-trained divorce MHP also trains up parenting as well as co-parenting skills, for your kids’ sakes, while you mediate your parenting plan. Your mediated parenting plan agreement is later included by your attorney-mediator in the final divorce agreement. Effective, collaboratively-trained MHP mediators also help you anticipate and address (in more detail than an attorney can), the co-parenting/child-rearing issues you would otherwise be more likely to argue about going forward.
STEP 3: Your Neutral, Collaboratively-Trained, Family Law Attorney
Finally, a comprehensive understanding of your finances, and effective communication and co-parenting skills equip you and your attorney-mediator to negotiate a more comprehensive and lasting agreement. A collaboratively-trained family law attorney is best equipped to mediate how you’ll share your income, assets and debts in legal ways, to understand the constraints of the law, and to draft the final legal documents submitted to the court. As needed, the FS can attend some of these meetings to clarify finances, or an MHP may be called in to help alleviate tension and move things forward when clients get “stuck” in positions blocking forward movement. Your mediating family law attorney advises you about the law and provides educated guesses about what a Judge would be likely to decide if a given issue were to be resolved in court. Because the mediating attorney is neutral and can’t give you legal advice regarding what is in your individual best interest, attorney mediators routinely want you each to consult with a “mediation-friendly” consulting attorney who provides legal consultation regarding your best interests, as needed during your mediation, and reviews your final agreement before you sign.
Why Divorcing Clients Choose a 3-Step Team Mediation?
- They may not be able to afford the full-team process that a Collaborative Divorce provides, while still wanting the multi-faceted and collaborative professional help. (In litigation, your attorney may require you to have therapists, forensic accountants, etc. but they are not working together mindful of all the different facets of your case.)
- They want the more efficient, cost-effective process offered when divorce professionals with specialized expertise handle the legal, financial, and the relational/co-parenting/custody matters. Hiring an attorney to do all three tasks can be more expensive and less effective.
- One or both partners exhibit the characteristics of high-conflict personalities which are likely to escalate conflict (and far more costs) in an adversarial, court divorce. Such personalities are typically more effectively handled by licensed mental health professionals working on your team, with your collaboratively-trained financial specialist and attorney.
- Rather than wanting a judge to decide their futures, the clients want to make their own decisions about how they will share parenting decisions, and how they will share their income, assets, and debts.
- Clients may need more help to stay out of court than a single, mediating attorney may be able to provide.
- Clients want a confidential process where only the final divorce agreement is filed with the court.
- They want a more respectful, kinder and less adversarial process for divorce than litigation offers, for their sakes as well as their children, as their restructured family moves forward.
- They know that a final divorce agreement in Mediation is every bit as legally enforceable as the final agreement arrived at by litigation. In any divorce, enforceability depends largely on the specificity and clarity of the language used.
- Clients want the flexibility and responsiveness to your family’s unique needs that decision-making in mediation provides. In litigation, attorneys and the judge must make decisions based on existing laws. In litigation, for example, the Court will not make orders about paying for college or your kids’ religious education. In contrast, in a Mediation, Team Mediation or Collaborative Divorce, clients can make any agreements that best suit their family members’ needs, as long as those agreements are legal.
Choosing your Divorce Process is the single most important decision a couple makes! For couples contemplating divorce, and the professionals who guide them, learn the pros and cons of at least 4 Legal Divorce Options® at our monthly, no-cost, webinars.
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Kimberly is a skilled and compassionate mediation/collaboratively-trained professional. As her blog indicates, she’s able to break down the complexities of divorce financial matters in simple terms anyone can understand, and soothes people through the initial angst of gathering, analyzing and preparing their legally-required financial documents for any divorce process (do-it-yourself, litigation, mediation or collaborative divorce).