The New York State Bar Association Task Force on Family Court issued its January 2013 Final Report. Finding No. 5 of the Final Report sets forth the conclusion which many in the mediation field already believed to be true – the mediation programs in NYS Family Court “should be greatly strengthened, expanded and funded.” The Task Force noted the loss of many family court mediation programs due to budget cuts and recommended funding for mediation should not only be re-instituted but should also be increased in Family Courts. It concluded that mediation is very effective in dealing with a range of situations, such as child support and child custody cases. It is well worth the time to read the Final Report and the comments regarding mediation. It can be found at http://www.nysba.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Final_Report_9_21_2012.
The mediation process for separation or divorce answers all the same questions and resolves all the decisions that you would in a litigated divorce that goes to court.
A mediated separation or divorce takes less time, is less costly, is private and the decisions are made by you, the clients. Clients sit in a comfortable office with one mediator to make decisions
The typical mediation process looks like this:
1) A one hour initial consultation is set-up with one of our mediators. We answer all your questions and go over the process in detail. You decide if the process is a good fit for you and your situation.
2) After the initial meeting, it typically takes 3-4, 1 ½ hour sessions to go over issues surrounding parenting plan, equitable distribution and support issues. Depending on your specific situation it may take more or less sessions to resolve all the issues.
3) Once your decisions are made, the mediator writes a Memorandum of Understanding that summarizes all of your decisions. One last meeting with the mediator is required to review the Memorandum and make any changes.
4) You, the client, take your Memorandum to an attorney of your choosing to review the document and make the appropriate filing.
The mediation process doesn’t necessarily involve attorneys until the end of the process, and keeps you out of court. The results are: more money stays in the pot for both households, you can set the pace of the process and not be at the mercy of the court system, you make the decisions that are best for your specific situation and communication is established between the parties that fosters cooperation in decision making. The emotional benefits of working cooperatively together are lasting.
After divorce, parents often are challenged on how to communicate effectively. Mastering such communication skills can be very difficult especially when lack of communication or hostile communication skills may have contributed to their divorce. Despite the difficulty, it is important to communicate since good communication can reduce the post-divorce conflict. It is a common assumption by many mediators that limiting post-divorce conflict between the parents will assist kids adjust. In addition, it seems logical that less conflict will reduce the stress in the lives of the parents, too. I as well as some of my colleagues in the mediation field were eager to have the communication process improved by the electronic age. We believed e-mail as well as cell phones for calling and texting, were going to be a fantastic resource for parents- Fortunately, there were folks willing to do scientific research on the subject.
At the University of Missouri a group of researchers studied the use of communication between divorced parents. The parents used electronic calendars, e-mails, and cell phones in their efforts to co-parent. Lawrence Ganong and Marilyn Coleman and their team discovered that despite the use of electronic communication, the parents reported a wide range of ratings about the level of their post-divorce conflict. The technological tools ranged from helpful to harmful. The parents with good co-parenting relationships used electronic communication in effective ways which improved their communication. Unfortunately, parents with poor co-parenting relationships sometimes used these tools to harass, control and mislead the other parent. It seems that while technology can be a useful tool it is does not cure or correct the underlying communication problem. If you want more information on this interesting study, check it out in the Family Relations Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies. Volume 61, Issue 3, pages 397-409, July 2012 published by the National Council on Family Relations.
Sometimes as we go through our busy lives, we are negatively affected by the actions of those around us. The idiot who pulled out in front of us, the teenager playing their music too loud, the creep who pulled into the parking spot we were going to take.
I know how easy it can be to react in ‘justified’ anger: “I had the right of way”, “The sign says ‘Quiet’”, “He saw me waiting for that spot”. How could that person be so selfish? You feel they have purposefully acted against you.
Maybe. But what if they didn’t? What if the person was just not very good at judging distances (because their eyesight isn’t what it used to be)? What if the teen didn’t realize how loud his music was (because he’s lost his hearing from playing his music too loud)? What if the creep was distracted by the baby in the back seat and really didn’t notice you waiting?
How differently would you feel if you knew that this person had simply made a mistake? We may be pointlessly putting ourselves in a bad mood, feeling put upon, or worse, starting a confrontation. To put things in perspective and to keep myself from reacting in situations like these, I have devised the following trick:
I pretend the bad driver is a friend of mine. I’m pretty sure she cuts people off daily. I imagine the teen is my son. Enough said. And I imagine the parking spot stealer is myself, because I have actually done this without realizing it until being told afterwards. Because I know that my family, friends and I are fully capable of making these mistakes, and I would hope that the person impacted by our actions would forgive me and those that I love, I do the same for them. And if I’m wrong, and the person IS just being a jerk, well, that’s his/her problem, and one that will do them a disservice in life. But, it doesn’t have to affect me.
Experiencing a divorce can bring with it a profound sense of loss. Yet it can also represent an array of possibilities. It is important to manage your sense of loss, and honor the grieving process when you divorce so that you will be able to construct a healthy future for yourself, and your children if you have them.
Things you might consider when going through divorce include:
Working with a mental health professional. Even if only through the period of separation and divorce, many people find it helpful to have someone to talk with who is neutral and supportive.
Taking good care of yourself. We all know we should eat well, get plenty of rest and exercise, but during times of stress this is particularly important.
Giving yourself a break. The difficult process of uncoupling means that you might not always do the right thing. When you mess up, apologize, forgive yourself and resolve to do better.
Doing what brings you joy. Remember that you still have a right to be happy. Take time to read a new book, watch a favorite show, play a sport, work on an art project, catch a meal with a friend, go for hike, wear something special, pet your cat or dog–whatever it is that makes you happy.
Using mediation as your process for divorce can also help. The ability to keep communicating through this difficult time can help you construct a healthy future for all of those concerned. The mediator assists by providing information, facilitating the conversation, and helping manage conflict and strong emotions if they arise. With mediation, you have direct input and make the choices that you feel are in your best interest, rather than relying on someone else to tell you what to do. After all, you are the expert in your own life.
Contact one of our mediators today to learn more: 585-586-1830.
For about what it costs to have dinner at a nice restaurant, a couple in New York State can zip down to the court house, sign a piece of paper and get hitched. But, if a couple wants to divorce, the financial costs are much greater.
None of us that get married are thinking we will get divorced. When we get married, we’re all caught up in the romance, planning the wedding and looking forward to the honeymoon. We are working, buying a house and planning for children. The long term outcomes of the marriage itself are not even on the radar and “divorce” is something other people do.
So, fast forward fifteen years and you may have three kids, a goldfish and a golden retriever, a mortgage and a couple of car payments – and a spouse you can’t relate to anymore and have grown apart from. You love your children and the fish (the jury is still out on the dog), and you want a divorce.
New York State is an equitable distribution state, and although “equitable” doesn’t necessarily mean equal, it means you need to come up with a fair division of property. Marital property is defined as anything acquired during the marriage where marital funds were used. Cars, houses, motorcycles, sewing machines, guitars, retirement accounts, and yes, even the goldfish. Liabilities like loans and other debt are shared as well.
Property acquired prior to marriage may be considered separate property. There are exceptions to be sure, and we look into all the specific situations during the mediation, but in general, everything that was accrued during the marriage may be considered joint property regardless of who earned it or who took out the loan and whose name it’s in. In mediation, everything is on the table for discussion to reach the best possible outcome for everyone.
Every family is unique and different. Mediation is sensitive to that by allowing for customization of agreements. Mediation helps couples decide how to divide marital assets and liabilities equitably and in a way that makes sense to the couple. Mediation also keeps the couples costs down by using one mediator rather than two attorneys and the process can be much less lengthy than a court case, also keeping process costs down.
Although property is owned jointly, most couples in mediation find a good way to create a division that works best for both of them.
I recently attended a conference on Nonviolent Communication. A statement at the top of the handout we received read: “All human actions are an attempt to get a need met.” Wow. Fascinating. And totally applicable to mediation.
In mediation, people often come in entrenched in their positions. All kinds of emotions come out as they defend those positions. We see it expressed in ways that run the gamut from disengaging to yelling. The premise of nonviolent communication is that the clients’ emotions express feelings that stem from a perceived need, and the actions people take (crying, speaking loudly, talking over someone else) are their attempts to get the need met.
The problem is, people may not even recognize they have a need, and only be in touch with the feelings invoked by not having that need met. Therefore, they can’t express the actual need. What they do instead is put forth a strategy they have developed to get their need met. This can be the cause of conflict with others. For instance, a neighbor may insist they need to put up a fence in their yard, when their actual need may be privacy, or to have the neighbor’s dog stay off their lawn. If putting up the fence is a problem for their neighbor, what other ways can the need be met that might be agreeable to both parties? Can the dog be kept on a lead when it is outside? Will a privacy hedge work?
In a divorcing couple, both might insist they need to stay in the marital residence. That may seem like an impasse, until you ask the question, what needs are they trying to meet? A need for stability? For the children to have continuity? For keeping up relationships with neighborhood friends? Obviously, they can’t both stay in the house, and sometimes for financial or other reasons neither can stay in the house, so how else can they get these needs met?
The next time you are in conflict with someone, ask yourself “What is my real need, separate and apart from my strategy of trying to get it met?” What is the other person’s need that is not being met by my deciding to meet my own need this way? If you separate the needs from the strategies, you will move the discussion from an emotional exchange where neither party can move from their positions, to a problem solving session. In that space, you can work together to create mutually acceptable solutions.
As the presenter put it: “Hold on tight to your needs, but be wide open to the possible strategies for getting those needs met.”
Deciding to Divorce is a devastating decision to have to make. None of us get married with the thought of divorcing in the future. We marry our chosen spouse for many different reasons. The bottom line is, this is the person you chose to go through life with and somewhere along the way, it all changed. And here you are reading this blog.
There are many issues. How do you have the conversation regarding separation or divorce? How do you get your spouse to mediation? And what happens when one wants the divorce and one doesn’t? How do you both move on productively?
You have a life with this other person that may include children, a house, cars, marital debts/assets, and many other possessions. Not to mention the feelings and memories that go along with this life. But what if, you want a divorce and your spouse doesn’t? What if this other person who you have formed a life with, whether it has been for a short time or if you have been married for over 20 years, wants to stay married? He or she may feel blindsided by your decision and this can make the process of moving on even more difficult. If you alone are making the decision to divorce, your spouse feels helpless and that they have no control about what is happening in their life.
You have already let go and emotionally started to move on with thinking about life without your spouse. Your spouse has not done so yet and getting to that same place will take him/her a long time. So, beginning the mediation process can be complicated by the emotional aspect of a person who is still trying to hang on. People need time to process information and when one spouse has been considering divorce for months and maybe years, the other spouse has been in the “dark”. The news comes as an incredible shock, and you both find yourselves on completely different pages of this book of life and marriage. This is a very common scenario in mediation. People need time to vent their feelings and time to process. Getting the spouse who does not want to be apart to transition their thoughts and feelings is a complicated process and takes time. Mediation can help people deal with the emotions associated with moving on and redefining their role as a spouse/partner to ex-spouse/ex-partner.
Communicating your wants and needs to your spouse is crucial. If a separation or divorce is what you want, then you must have the conversation with your spouse, no matter how hard it will be. The mediation process allows you the ability to speak openly and privately with your spouse about many issues, with a neutral third party (the mediator) in the room to help you with the conversation. Learning to talk openly and gaining new tools for communicating in the future will help both of you.
Moving on productively for both parties is one of the main goals of mediation. Being productive is a very individual thing and each couple must find what works best for their specific situation and family. Finding the best solutions for your unique life and family and creating an agreement that works for both of you is what mediation is all about. The mediation process puts the control and ownership for your life and decisions in your hands. Even the spouse who initially did not want to divorce can feel empowered and that they have some control over the situation they did not originally want, but find they must plan for and participate in.
Last year I had my first experience climbing a rock wall. I was literally tethered to my friend Jude, who controlled the amount of rope I was given in order to climb and was my only support when I was ready to return to earth. On my first climb, I froze part way up, not wanting to go forward or backward. While clinging to the wall, my palms began to sweat and my legs became like jelly. My body was literally failing me. Read more
During the holiday season 2012, Ontario ARC’s annual Holiday Gift Wrapping Booth celebrated its 17th year at Eastview Mall. The Gift Wrapping Booth was initially established by the Mediation Center’s Bobbie Dillon. Over the years, Bobbie, her family and friends have always volunteered to wrap gifts. This past year was no different- Bobbie recruited the rest of the Mediation Center team, Barb Kimbrough, Julie Mersereau, Renee LaPoint, and Don Crumb, to spend an evening wrapping gifts. It was a fun time for all of us!
All of the proceed from the gift wrapping booth benefit Pet Connections — the Ontario ARC’s amazing program that connects pets and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. For more details on the ARC and its programs check out http://www.ontarioarc.org/