by These days legal separation or divorce has become a common part of life, but common does not mean easy. It is no secret that divorce can quickly become an ugly battle as both parties “lawyer-up” and tensions rise. The process can take many months, leaving an already destroyed relationship further deprecated in a fight over property, finances and—more often than not—child custody.
Are there ways to make divorce less painful?
Though the phrase “peaceful divorce” may sound like an oxymoron, there are ways to make the process easier, less expensive and more amiable for everyone involved.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Jennifer Safian who introduced me to the concept of divorce mediation. Divorce mediation, an alternative to litigated divorce, allows the couple to sit down with a third party and work out the best agreement for themselves and their family.
Why mediation may be better than hiring separate lawyers?
Jennifer Safian, who has her own divorce mediation practice in New York City, told me a story about a couple that recently came to her for help. The two parties had spent 2 years working with lawyers to finalize their divorce and were very angry with each other. Moreover, they had borrowed money from their retirement accounts to pay the lawyers and put themselves in a terrible financial situation, but had not resolved anything.
After the first session, the husband turned to Safian and said, “Jennifer, we got more done in 2 hours with you than we did in 2 years with a lawyer.” After a few weeks working with Safian as their mediator, they had finally finished their divorce.This is one story of many others to speak to the success of mediation. According to Safian, there are several reasons why divorce mediation may be the better way to negotiate a divorce:
Mediation can be more amiable.
The spirit of mediation is not to hurt the other party and damage the relationship even further, but to try to build an agreement that is good for both sides and their family. If a couple decides that they do not want to worsen an already strained relationship, mediation may help them work things out in an amicable, civilized way. The process can help temper an emotionally difficult situation
Mediation may be much faster.
The adversarial process can take many months, sometimes years to get resolved, especially if parties cannot resolve their issues through a lawyer and have to go to court. Mediation can help the couple resolve their issues in a matter of weeks, sometimes less, depending on how many issues there are.
Mediation may be less expensive.
A divorce that involves many lawyers and attorneys can be very expensive. Instead of hiring separate lawyers and embarking on a long battle, mediation allows the couple to sit down with one professional and try to work through the process faster and more efficiently. In the end, choosing mediation over a litigated divorce may save their family money that would otherwise be spent on legal fees.
Mediation allows for legal advice.
The fear is that mediation leaves no room for legal advice, resulting in one party feeling like they’ll lose to the other. In mediation, both sides can consult with a lawyer at any time during the process. In fact, Safian suggests that the couple should consult an outside attorney to review the final agreement before it is signed.
Mediation can open avenues for effective communication.
Divorce may create an atmosphere of tension and aggression, and often severs any effective communication between the couple. A mediation professional will help bring the level of anger down and help the couple discover a new way of communicating with each other, so that going forward they can put aside former anger and work towards a mutual agreement.
There are ways to go through a less painful divorce; ways to better negotiate the financial and emotional repercussions of this difficult time in a couple’s life. It is Safian’s hope that in the years to come mediation becomes the norm for couples going through a divorce, and that a litigated divorce is only used as a last resort.
Is Mediation Only Used in Cases of Divorce?
Mediation does not always take place at the dissolution of a marriage. Jennifer Safian and her associates also conduct marriage mediation in cases where a couple needs help wrestling through difficult questions, be it which religion to raise their children, if the couple comes from different religious backgrounds, or who will work and who will stay home.
Safian’s mediation services also help married couples talk through financial issues. Safian helps with pre-nuptial agreements before a marriage, and also post-nuptial agreements. Post-nuptial mediation occurs in cases where the husband or wife have acquired some assets or an inheritance and—should they ever go through a divorce—would like to make things clear in writing. For example, if the husband has inherited $100,000 from his mother and he wants full claim to that sum in the case of a divorce, Safian helps the couple put the agreement down in writing. Or, if the husband or wife have started a business, Safian can help draft a document that makes clear how the business is divided between them. The beauty of mediation is that the couple can discuss these issues and come to an agreement that both parties want. Mediation is not limited to divorce cases, but can be a great tool to help marriages work through tough decision-making.