Monday, April 7, 2008

Divorce Mediation Counseling

A divorce is undoubtedly a life changing experience that's usually not the easiest of times for most people, particularly when there are many important issues to agree upon, such as co-parenting or deciding what to do with the family home. Stress levels are running high and all too often, emotions dictate how the marriage will come to an end, either as amicably as possible, keeping both spouses best interests in mind, or as an adversarial and lengthy power struggle.

Some of the key points of divorce mediation include:

- The division of marital property and shared assets.
- Resolving matters of spousal support.
- Making decisions regarding child support.
- Deciding on shared parenting arrangements and schedules.

Making each and every phase of the entire divorce mediation counseling process work for you is entirely possible, regardless of your situation or how complex you think the issues may be. Once couples realize and accept that the whole purpose of mediating is so they will both be able to come to mutual resolutions about their divorce, the expertise of the mediator will then keep each phase progressing smoothly.

To fully take advantage of the divorce mediation process, keep the following important points in mind:

The first session of mediation will be extremely crucial as all of the ground rules will be set, with the mediator outlining what you should expect from the process, and also, what will be expected of you.

Mediation will help to minimize the likelihood of any problems after the divorce is final, although future disagreements may also be resolved with a mediator rather than a court dispute. While mediators do not work for free, the rates are substantially lower than paying for two lawyers to handle the divorce.

For couples with children, entering into mediation is an excellent way to figure out workable co-parenting arrangements, utilizing the knowledge and experience of the mediator who doesn't have a vested interest in the children, other than ensuring that their best interests are met first. Even parents who want to do the right thing often have a hard time communicating with one another through litigation, whereas mediating allows both spouses to be heard while also having the advice of a neutral party.

The average divorce mediation takes anywhere from two to 10 sessions from start to finish, while the average litigated divorce is generally a year in length, and in some cases, two or three years, or longer, of emotionally draining court proceedings.

Any issues that absolutely cannot be agreed upon during mediation can be left to the court to decide, or for the couple's attorneys to negotiate. Also, either party always has the option of ending the mediation at any time, and instead, opting to litigate their disputes in the courtroom.

The positive setting that mediation provides, along with the unbiased counseling and suggestions given are largely the reason an estimated 90% of all couples are able to reach an agreement without litigating the terms of their divorce in court. That, coupled with the fact that mediation is designed to focus solely on the future rather than on past wrongs, or placing blame for the demise of the marriage, are what makes the process so highly successful.

Photo: djcodrin

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Divorce Mediation in Arizona

As in any state, the court system is the only entity legally able to end a marriage in Arizona, although divorcing spouses are encouraged and free to decide the terms of their divorce, if they are able to do so without litigating. Divorce mediation in Arizona is gaining in popularity as more and more couples discover the numerous benefits to avoiding litigation and settling their divorce with the guidance of a trained mediator.

In Arizona, the court in each separate county hold its own set of individual requirements for mediators as there are no statewide guidelines to follow for one to practice mediation. However, all of the courts throughout the state do require that at least 40 hours of basic mediation training must be completed, in addition to extra training that focuses on family matters for those who plan on mediating divorce cases.

The process of mediation encourages collaboration using the mediator as a neutral "buffer" to couples who wish to end their marriage without a heated courtroom battle, or simply without the need for two attorneys litigating their case. Divorce mediation in Arizona is designed to help couples make decisions about issues such as parenting time, which until recently has been referred to as "visitation," child support, spousal support or alimony, the division of property, assets, and other financial matters.

Here is a list of courts by county in the state of Arizona:

- Apache
- Cochise
- Coconino
- Gila
- Graham
- Greenlee
- La Paz
- Maricopa
- Mohave
- Navajo
- Pima
- Pinal
- Santa Cruz
- Yavapai
- Yuma

Arizona Divorce Laws

The law in Arizona states that only the Supreme Court may grant a divorce, which is actually referred to a "dissolution of marriage," with the initial divorce proceedings being filed in the person's county of residence by either spouse. Rather than the divorce being "awarded" to one spouse or another, a divorce decree in Arizona ends and legally changes the status of the marriage.

The grounds for "divorce" in the state of Arizona are in most cases that neither spouse has to prove blame or state that the other is responsible for the end of the marriage, unlike in some other states. What must be proven, however, is that the marriage is irretrievably broken with no chance of a resolution between the spouses.

If your marriage is considered to be a "covenant marriage," under the state law in Arizona blame must be established, such as proving the existence of adultery, physical, mental, or substance abuse, or abandonment. A knowledgeable mediator will be familiar with this optional type of marriage, which as of now, is only available in two other states besides Arizona - Louisiana and Arkansas. A covenant marriage carries stricter requirements from the usually type of marital union such as premarital counseling and giving up the option for a no-fault divorce.

Finding an Experienced Divorce Mediator in Arizona

The State Bar Association of Arizona will have many resources and be able to guide one toward finding an experienced mediator, the majority of which will be attorneys by profession, although many are counselors, therapists, social workers, and financial experts. There are also several organizations in place to give residents of Arizona free or low cost legal assistance for those who need it, and the internet is a wealth of information regarding the process of mediation and finding one in your particular area.

The Truth About Divorce Mediation

Mediation is a beneficial process in which a third, neutral party helps couples settle the issues and terms of their divorce without the need for lengthy and expensive litigation in court. Mediators are often attorneys by profession, although social workers, counselors, and even accountants may serve as a mediator provided they have the required training and knowledge.

A divorce mediator typically wears many hats and is able to deftly tackle a multitude of tasks, such as explaining the various divorce and custody laws, facilitating discussions, and redirecting disagreements to focus on reaching an acceptable agreement. Mediators also gather and prepare important documents, filing them with the court when applicable.

The 6 Steps to Divorce Mediation

The Introductory Remarks: The divorce mediation process begins with the mediator making opening remarks which outline the expected roles of both parties, defines the protocol to be followed, and gives an estimated time frame for the mediation. If each party has their attorney present, the mediator will usually set forth guidelines such as that the lawyers are free to confer, but each spouse must speak for themselves. The mediator will also speak briefly about the process of mediation and any applicable laws in the area.

Statements by Both Parties: Both parties now have the opportunity to speak uninterrupted to make their side of the story known, and in most cases, the spouse who initiated the mediation will proceed first. If the attorneys make opening statements, the mediator will request that the clients each also make one as well. During this step of the process, the couple isn't necessarily expected to give a laundry list of facts, but rather is used as a way of gauging both of their emotional states and frames of mind.

The Gathering of Information: This next step of mediation is used to expand on the opening statements and allows the mediator to ask open-ended questions that are designed to facilitate the process. Mediators often use this time to summarize, repeating back the main points in order to ensure both clients are in agreeance thus far.

Identifying Problem Areas: This next portion of mediation may actually already have been accomplished during the previous steps, also, the mediator will also use this time to decide which issues should be settled first, and which are better left for last.

Bargaining and Exploring Options: Different mediators may have varying styles of conducting this extremely integral step of the divorce mediation process. Some of the methods used may include developing plausible options, exploring hypothetical situations and proposals, and allowing the couple to each take turns being heard.

Reaching an Agreement: After the key aspects of the divorce are resolved, or nearing that point, a final "brainstorming" session is conducted to iron out any extraneous details, ideally leading to reaching the final agreements on every single issue.

According to the American Arbitration Association, over 85% of all divorces handled using mediation were able to reach a settlement, even when previous attempts through litigation had been unsuccessful. With such high success rates and the ability to save substantial amounts of money for both parties, it makes perfect sense for all couples facing divorce, regardless of the complexity of the issues at hand, to thoroughly explore their options with mediation.

Choosing a Divorce Mediation Service

Well trained, professional mediators are in high demand as divorce rates continue to soar. Thankfully, choosing a divorce mediation service is a relatively simple task during a rather difficult and emotional time, as even in the very best of circumstances, divorce is still an uncomfortable process at best.

The Role of the Divorce Mediator

The main role of a divorce mediator is to help a divorcing couple come to mutually agreed upon decisions regarding the dissolution of their marriage without the need for litigating in court with two separate attorneys and a judge making the ultimate ruling. Any mediator you choose should be well versed in the laws in your state as well as in the various legal documents that are required for the divorce process, and also have ample related experience.

What to Look For

Although it isn't a requirement that a divorce mediator first be an attorney by profession, many people feel that since divorce is undoubtedly a legal issue, a lawyer possesses the vast knowledge and experience needed to handle a myriad of cases as opposed to a counselor or other similar professional. Likewise, choosing a divorce mediation service is something that's also a matter of personal opinion. It's important for both parties to feel at ease during the mediation process, therefore a certain degree of chemistry and comfort should be present for the best results.

In addition to attorneys, social workers, counselors, psychologists, and marriage and family therapists may all be trained in mediation and duly qualified to successfully handle matters of divorce.

Questions to Ask

Divorce mediators actually expect to be asked several questions from potential clients, so don't ever be hesitant about finding out the answers to all of your concerns when choosing a divorce mediation service. Not only does it simply make sense to thoroughly research prospective mediators, just as you would with any other important service or company that you do business with, but it's also more than worth the time it takes due to the substantial savings from avoiding a lengthy court litigation.

Remember the following six questions if you need to utilize the services of a professional divorce mediator:

1. For how many years has the service been in business, and more specifically, how long has the prospective mediator in your case been mediating divorces? - Obviously, the longer a mediator has been handling divorce cases, the more experience they will have.

2. What is the mediator's level of training? - A mediator should have at least 40 hours of formal training at the minimum.

3. Are there references available? - Mediation is completely confidential, so speaking with past clients may not be possible, however, most mediators have references in the form of colleagues and other professionals who are able to vouch for them.

4. What is the mediator's general style? - Although mediation styles do vary, there is no one right or wrong method, but rather a matter of personal preference that generally depends on the situation.

5. What are the fees, and how will they expected to be paid? - Fees vary widely from one region to the next, some mediators charge a flat fee while others will expect payment for each separation session. Be sure to find out this important information in advance.

6. Does the service offer any informational materials? - Brochures, articles, and guidelines outlining relevant legal issues are helpful and also show that the mediators are well trained, well prepared, and interesting in informing and empowering their clients to get through their divorce as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Mediation and Litigation - Understanding the Financial Differences between the Two

In case you didn’t know, it is extremely important to know the specific laws in your area and the various documents that will be required if you are preparing for divorce. In addition, you may find that it is not economically feasible for you to choose a divorce attorney to dissolve a marriage. In fact, you may find that hiring a divorce attorney to represent you would be the absolute worst ideas for you. Here’s why:

All too often, divorce attorneys will use the term “dispute resolution” differently than most of us do. A perfect case in point, I recently spoke with a well-known and high-priced divorce attorney and asked her, “How do you decide which cases to accept?”

She replied, “It all depends on the assets involved in the case.” When I probed further and asked what she meant by that, she said, “I don’t ever take a case unless there’s a half-million dollars in assets involved. Then, I can tell you exactly who’s going to get those assets.”

I wondered aloud how she could possibly tell in advance who was going to get the assets in such a case, and she told me, “If there’s $500,000 in assets, I’ll get $125,000, the other attorney will get $125,000, and the parties will split the remaining $250,000.”

So of course I asked how could she predict that so completely when she answered, “Don’t you understand? All I have to do is get the fight going, and that’s how it will end up.”

As you can clearly see, using an attorney isn't always the best choice for every situation, especially in situations where there aren’t a lot of assets.

In fact, the financial differences between handling your own divorce, hiring an attorney, or hiring a divorce mediator can be substantial. In most every single instance, a mediator will be able to guide the couple toward a favorable agreement with the lowest total cost for both parties.

Plus, the rates and fees of all legal professionals may vary, often the retainer alone for two attorneys is comparable to a few sessions with a mediator, and depending on the complexity of your case, may be all that's really necessary.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Divorce Mediation Overview

Simply put, divorce mediation is an alternative to litigating the terms of a divorce in court. Through meetings referred to as caucuses, the couple and the mediator, as well as the couple's attorneys if they so choose, each aspect of the divorce is thoroughly discussed in order to reach an agreement both parties are satisfied with.

Currently, there is no one governing body or entity that rules mediators, however, there are requirements set forth by each state or court that one must meet in order to be legally able to mediate a divorce and be listed in their respective court system.

Mediators are skilled professionals such as attorneys, counselors, social workers, therapists, and accountants or financial advisors. Here are just some of the subjects and issues that divorce mediators are typically trained in:

- Custody and child support issues
- Domestic abuse
- Effective mediating techniques
- Financial concerns, including taxes, pensions, and the division of property and assets
- Other parenting concerns
- Spousal support

The 7 Key Components to Every Successful Divorce Mediation

Choices: One of the primary benefits of divorce mediation is that it offers the chance for exploring different choices, including many that haven't been thought of by either client.

Collaboration: Another benefit of mediation is the fact that it gives both parties the ability to work together to reach a mutual agreement, as opposed to giving the ultimate power to a judge, who would normally make a ruling on the various aspects of the divorce settlement, such as child custody and support issues.

Comfort: Both parties should be comfortable with the mediator and the process of mediation itself, which is completely voluntary in all circumstances. If at any time during the mediation either party wants to stop and instead litigate in court, they always have the option to do so.

Confidentiality: The extent of confidentiality of the mediation should be outlined in detail at the start of the process. Anything discussed in mediation or any written materials related to the process are not admissible in any contested or subsequent court hearings, except for the final signed mediation agreement, unless otherwise agreed to prior to starting the process.

Impartiality: Mediators have a duty and an ethical obligation to be impartial to both parties and are trained at maintaining neutrality and conveying that very fact to their clients. A mediator does not favor one spouse over another, nor do they have any vested interest in the outcome of the divorce other than that the terms are acceptable by both clients. The role of the mediator also extends to ensuring that divorcing couples voluntarily reach an agreement without any coercion from the other party or their respective attorneys.

Information: The sheer value of mediation in terms of the legal advice and information that's gained is often worth the process, even without all of the other benefits. And, while this expert advice is invaluable, it isn't intended to replace the control over the end terms of the divorce, which remains firmly in the hands of both clients, and further counsel by attorneys is always encouraged if necessary.

Satisfaction: Client satisfaction through a viable and mutually agreed upon settlement is the ultimate goal of the divorce mediation process.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Guide to Divorce Mediation Training

Divorce Mediation Legal Guidelines

In the United States, there is currently no one nationwide licensing agency or organization that governs the actual certification of mediators, although, the Academy of Family Mediators does have a set standard for the profession, which is 60 hours of basic training in order to be considered a "mediator."

Across the country, each individual state has their own set of training requirements, generally 40 to 60 hours of training, that must be met in order for one to mediate in a court of law and be listed on the court's rosters. Additionally, the qualifications to serve as a domestic relations mediator will also vary depending upon your state of residence. In the state of Michigan, for example, in order to legally serve as a divorce mediator, applicants must either be a licensed:

- Attorney
- Psychologist
- Counselor
- Marriage and family therapist

Or, hold a master's degree in:

- Social work
- Counseling
- Marriage and family therapy

Or, hold a graduate's degree in behavioral science, or have five years experience in matters of family counseling. Also in this state, mediators must also then obtain eight additional hours of advanced training during every two year period in order to stay abreast of the current laws.

The Different Types of Divorce Mediation Training

- Advanced Courses: Advanced workshops and seminars are designed for the mediator who needs to brush up on their skills, learn new laws, discover different styles of mediation, and delve deeper into issues such as financial topics, domestic violence, and learning how to handle difficult cases.

- Basic Courses: Basic divorce mediation courses are usually 40 to 60 hours long divided over a period of five to seven days on average and cover issues such as custody, child and spousal support, and the applicable divorce laws in your area.

- Computer-Based Courses: Done via the internet, this type of course is self-paced and usually includes instructional aids such as CDs, downloads, web forums, testing, and email support.

- Webinars: For law firms and organizations interested in group mediation training, especially refresher courses, there are several training institutions that offer webinars, where entire groups of people can learn together without ever leaving their workplace or office.

Sample 6-Day Divorce Mediation Training Course

Day 1

- Introducing and explaining mediation to clients.
- Adopting an air of neutrality and conveying it to clients.
- Building rapport and trust.
- Identifying client's goals and maintaining focus.

Day 2

- Learning the art of respectful listening.
- Reviewing client's financial information.
- Finding ways of increasing a client's options.
- Learning legal issues such as grounds for divorce, division of assets, spousal maintenance.

Day 3

- Setting agendas and following them.
- Creating viable parenting plans.
- Knowing how to gauge client's underlying interests and goals.
- Learning to control personal bias.

Day 4

- Learning to deal with different personality types.
- Discovering ways of empowering the weaker client.
- Perfecting the art of rewording a client's demands.
- Recognizing signs of domestic violence or abuse.

Day 5

- Learning how to take back control of a heated discussion.
- Learning the importance of consulting outside experts when necessary.
- How to draft a mediation agreement.
- Preparing clients for court.

Day 6

- Learning how to deal with combative couples.
- How to develop a marketing plan and set up practice.
- Preparing for your first client.
- Receiving your certificate and course materials.

Photo: Renjith Krishnan