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.