One of the most pervasive and unfortunate myths about divorce is that it is essentially a legal matter. For most people considering divorce the first step appears to be to find a lawyer to tell you about “your rights.” So the first stop is for a consult with a lawyer typically recommended by some friend who says this is a good and aggressive lawyer. The happenstance of that consult often determines whether you will have a decent or a horrifying divorce.
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I am frequently asked about this and thought I would share my experiences with you.
Cost: Mediated divorces cost less.The average mediated divorce should cost less than $3,500 including the fees for separate lawyers. The average conventional divorce can easily cost about $20,000. Mediation almost always represents a significant economic saving.
Time: Mediated divorces are resolved faster. The average mediated divorce can be settled in two or three months. The average conventional divorce can take one to five years to resolve. Faster resolution means that the family can begin to heal that much sooner rather than stewing in limbo and unable to move on.
Quality of agreement: Mediation results in better agreements. One of the worst features of conventionally resolved divorce is the high rate of failure of settlements. It is estimated that half of all conventional settlements are the subject of litigation within two years of the divorce. This suggests that many people do not feel committed to the contracts they negotiate under the duress of litigation. Because couples who mediate reach real agreement rather than just grudging tradeoffs mediated divorces have a much higher rate of compliance and a much lower rate of “post-judgment” litigation– usually less than five per cent.
Quality of communication: Mediated divorce improves the chances that the couple will be able to cooperate around the children after the divorce is over. Mediation, unlike conventional divorce, not only encourages but requires the couple to learn new ways to communicate about child related issues. In mediation the couple learns to manage such issues with respectful and cordial behavior. It creates a business like partnership to solve problems and help the children adapt to divorce. In conventional divorce the lawyers do the talking andthe partners do not communicate directly. So when the divorce is over and the lawyers disappear the couple is left with a vacuum of communication. It is no surprise that so many end up back in court.
Before he was a divorce mediator, he was a divorce attorney. Sam Margulies, Ph.D., J.D., is one of the most experienced mediators in the United States. Since 1980, he has mediated hundreds of civil disputes and approximately four thousand divorces including many complex multi-million dollar matters.
Author of several books on divorce, Sam Margulies is an empathetic and knowledgeable guide through the difficult journey of divorce. Contact Sam with your questions and to talk about your divorce.
For most people divorce is a scary and confusing process. Law, lawyers and courts seem intimidating. You worry if you and your children will be alright. You hear the horror stories as well-meaning but ill-advised friends and relatives vie to give you advice. But most of this advice is destructive as it eggs you on to fight. You’re encouraged to find an “aggressive lawyer” who will protect your “rights.” So if you are like most people you eventually hire a lawyer about whom you know very little. You pay a large retainer and become a client. Then you wait. The process crawls along with one adjournment and delay after another and you wait some more. Calls to your lawyer are often unanswered or returned days later. You begin to feel helpless and out of control.
This rather extreme picture doesn’t happen to everybody but it happens to many.
If you are caught up in this you wonder how it happened. What would you have had to do to obtain a better outcome? What would you have to do to grab control of your divorce now? If only you had a better understanding of how it all works. If only you had someone who understood the system who could advise you and help you feel more in control. So where to turn?
The dissolution of a business partnership can easily become rancorous. The dissolution of a marriage can also become rancorous. Put them together and you find problems that are unique for both partnership and marital dissolution. I do not know how common the situation is but I suspect it is more common than we think. Eighty to ninety percent of all businesses in the USA are family owned and more than a few of these involve husband/wife teams running the business. When the spouses decide to divorce the economic issues of the divorce are complicated by the issues of the business. Generally, the problems arise because the business is the livelihood of both partners. This presents some difficult choices. Assuming that this is not a wealthy couple, in which either or both has sufficient wealth to retire, both will continue to need the income generated by the business. There is a limited universe of choice.
Readers of this blog who are interested in using mediation in their own divorces are cautioned that discussions with divorce attorneys may prove completely misleading. That is because the North Carolina courts and bar association have created a version of “mediation” that bears little resemblance to the real thing. I have met many clients who went for a consult with an attorney, asked about mediation and were told, “Don’t worry, we do mediation as part of the litigation process.” So I though it time to explain the difference between what I shall call “real mediation” and “phony mediation.”
Divorce is one of life’s most stressful experiences. In bad divorces acute stress can last for years and follow long the official divorce is over. It has serious implications for both mental health and all stress related illnesses and the stress can extend beyond the divorcing couple to injure their children as well. So it is reasonable to ask whether all this stress is necessary and whether there are steps that divorcing people can take that can reduce the stress associated with their divorces. The answer is an unqualified YES. Divorcing people can dramatically reduce divorce related stress by choosing the way they divorce with care and forethought.
People often feel concerned when close friends or relatives announce that they are getting divorced. What do I say? How do I help? What can I do? We all want to offer support when loved ones are going through a crisis. But divorce seems to be one of those difficult issues in which well-intentioned people are not sure how to help. In this column I want to talk about what you can do and what you shouldn’t do. Continue reading
Over the years, I have written several books on divorce and achieving a healthy, fair divorce for you and your spouse. My latest book is titled Negotiating the Good Divorce, How to Divorce with Grace, a Little Class, and a Lot of Common Sense, and I have decided to offer as a free download for you here on my website. For now, individual chapters are available in PDF format. Kindle and eBook versions are in the works. Continue reading
Co-parenting in divorce has become an increasingly attractive and sought after arrangement. In contrast to the conventional sole custody in which the mother typically has all the responsibility for the children and has the children with her most of the time, co-parenting emphasizes an equal or nearly equal role for fathers. Co-parenting fathers have the children with them for more overnights and play a larger role in the many tasks associated with parenting, tasks such as clothes shopping, extra curricular activities and homework. Today, the majority of mothers are employed full time and the simple logistics of two career couples require co-parenting. It is too exhausting to have a full time job as well as all the responsibility for raising the children. So divorcing couples are moving to co-parenting out of simple necessity and the need to survive.
From the perspective of a mediator, extra marital affairs often generate challenges that make it more difficult to help couples achieve fair and amicable settlements. I thought it would be interesting to discuss why that is and to look at some of the problems raised by affairs when negotiating marital settlements. Continue reading