New York State – An Equitable Distribution State….What does that mean?

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.

Renee LaPoint

Do you really need that?

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.”

When You Want a Divorce and Your Spouse Doesn’t

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. If you do end up getting the divorce under way you’ll need to hire a family law attorney to help you through the legalities of the process.

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.

Renee LaPoint

The Pain of Being “In-Between”

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

Gift Wrapping For a Cause

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 5 at Gift Wrap Booth 2012

Altering Time and Space

“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.”—Joseph Campbell

When I’m working with divorcing couples, one of the most important things I do as a mediator is to attempt to alter time and space! What does that mean…?

Going through a divorce is stressful and consuming. It’s a major adjustment. But what lies beyond that? What happens when you have adjusted, and have the space to move forward? People have the rest of their lives ahead of them—it’s just hard to picture that as you are going through the divorce.

My job is to help my clients look into the future and to get them to imagine how their lives will look five, ten, twenty years from now. That plays a large role in the choices they are going to make in their divorce agreement. What financial support would you need to go back and finish your master’s degree so you can get a better job, now that you are living on a single income? What if you are going to want your children to go to religious or other private school once they are school aged? What would you want in your parenting plan if you or your spouse meets someone? Marries someone? What if you get a great job offer in another city?

The areas covered in a separation or divorce agreement need to include provisions for these types of situations, or at least include commitments to get together, discuss them and come to agreements in response to a triggering event in the future.

Too many people going through divorce feel stressed, guilty, or withdrawn from the situation to the point where they decide they just need to get it over with. It’s a position they may regret later on.

Sometimes helping my clients make the best choices means making sure they understand their options, sometimes it means referring them to the appropriate professional who can go through financial needs or legal rights with them, but always, it means getting them to think “What will be my story? What are the different paths I might take from here and how can I be prepared for them?”

That’s why it’s so important for me to hold a window to the future open to my clients and get them to think, “What if….”

The Mediation Center

The Mediation Center is a new space comprised of five experienced Mediation professionals. We offer comprehensive mediation services under one roof. Our clients benefit from the varied backgrounds and experiences of our mediators as well as from having the opportunity to utilize on-site attorneys to help you navigate the legal system when needed. We are all committed to providing our clients with a private, professional and affordable place to mediate their divorce, family issue or other area of conflict.

Benefits of Mediating at The Mediation Center:

– Professionalism
– Confidentiality
– Respect
– Empowerment
– Choice
– Comprehensive services
– Co-mediation available
– Attorneys on-site
– Collaborative law available

Our goal at The Center is to provide a professional, respectful space for couples, individuals, families, colleagues and community members who desire to work out their differences outside of the courtroom.

How you handle the issues in your life should be your decision. You should have the control to make the choices that matter to you most. Mediation empowers you to make those choices.