Category: divorce mediation

Divorce Mediation or Collaborative Law ?

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As a Divorce Mediator and Collaborative Law Attorney I am often asked what is the difference between mediation and collaborative law? And then I am asked “which process is going to be better for me?” The answer is not one-size- fits all. There are many factors to take into consideration. Each participant in the process has different needs, and couples have different needs and communication styles. I find the following chart useful to describe the both processes and how they differ. It is most important to speak with a professional divorce mediator and a collaborative law attorney to get your questions answered and to assist you in choosing with process best meets your needs. There are many many mediators out there that can help resolve your family law mediation whether it involves divorce settlement or some other issue to be resolved.

What is the difference between mediation and collaborative law?



-Husband, Wife, Mediator.

-Parties can be referred to professionals outside of the process to assist with particular issues such as financial advice, mental health support or evaluations.


-Husband, Wife, Husband’s Lawyer, Wife’s Lawyer meet together at “4-way” conferences.

-May also have Child specialist, Process Facilitator, Financial specialist, coach for either party or other professional to assist.


-Determined by number of sessions and complexity of issues.

-Generally less expensive than Collaborative because the participants pay for one Mediator.

-Usually less expensive than litigation. The participants have more control over time and costs.

-Determined by number of meetings, number of professionals involved, and complexity of issues.

-Generally more expensive than mediation because two attorneys are present at every meeting and the additional professionals are paid for attendance at meetings as well.

-Usually less expensive than litigation because it is more efficient and the parties have control over time and costs.


-Participants may hire an attorney to represent them for advice during the mediation, or after the mediation to review the agreement.

-An attorney is hired to complete the legal paperwork necessary to complete the process.

-Each party has their own attorney present throughout the collaborative process.

-All meetings are “4-way” conferences with both parties and their attorneys present.

-The attorney’s complete the legal paperwork necessary to complete the process.

How do I decide what process is best for me?
There are many factors that impact which process is best for an individual. You should analyze your ability and your spouse’s (other participant’s) ability to negotiate honestly and openly. You should assess your need to have an alpharetta divorce lawyer present with you at the negotiation table, your ability to communicate your needs and wants and to advocate for yourself, and the funds available for the divorce/separation process.

ALWAYS take the time to meet with a mediator and a collaborative attorney to discuss your questions about process and to get assistance choosing the process that is best for you.

[author_info]Julie V Mersereau, Esq. is an experienced Divorce Mediator and Collaborative Family Law Attorney- Contact info: [email protected]; 585-377-5487[/author_info]

Do we have to sell our house if we are getting divorced?

Erasing FearWhen people work together through mediation, they can focus on meeting the interests and needs of their family, rather than “settling” their property. This opens up all kinds of creative possibilities including what to do with their home.

Many couples hope to keep their home. For some, it is important to keep their children in the same home and neighborhood, at least during the transition of the divorce. Others have put a great deal of work and effort into their home and one or the other would really like to keep it and live there. Still others are concerned about the financial investment and determining the best timing for a sale.

Some couples sell their home. Others decide that one person will “buy-out” the other person’s equity in the property. Still others continue to own the home jointly for a period of time. Each option has positive and negative consequences and numerous decisions that must be made about how it will take place. A mediator can facilitate a conversation the helps couples stay open to possibilities while exploring options and thinking through decisions. Contact a mediator today at 585-244-2444 or [email protected].

Conference takeaways for our clients

Recently, Barbara Kimbrough and Julie Mersereau from the Mediation Center co-chaired the Upstate conference for the New York State Council on Divorce Mediation in Canandaigua, NY. The presenters brought information and insights about many different aspects of divorce mediation and litigation. The following information from the speakers is particularly valuable for our clients, or anyone considering mediating their divorce:

  • Litigating your divorce can have many different outcomes depending on the judge who hears your case. Judges have great latitude about how they interpret and apply matrimonial law, and most apply it through their own lens, with varying results, particularly in the area of spousal support. Both you and your spouse lose control of your situation, when you litigate and are bound by the decisions of the court. The mediation process puts you in control, and the decisions, in your agreement are your own.
  • In making decisions about pensions, the importance of having pensions valued by a professional valuator was highlighted when one speaker compared the pensions of two people who had similar incomes, had worked about the same amount of time, and whose plans showed similar monthly payouts at retirement. It turned out that in valuing the two pensions, one was worth more than double the other due to cost of living adjustments and other benefits that came with that pension that were not part of the other. If you really want to have complete information when discussing the sharing of pensions, valuing them is important.
  • Sometimes personality disorders are present in a party to mediation, and are effecting the process. Where known (diagnosed) or suspected disorders exist, it should be disclosed to the mediator so they can determine if the situation is right for mediation, and if it is, so the mediator can monitor it and adapt their interactions in the mediation so that the discussions remain balanced and effective.
  • And lastly, from a speaker who specializes in team building, this can hold true for anyone: before you begin something, set your intention and goals for the outcome. During the event, check in with yourself and make sure you are on track and comfortable with the progress and afterwards, think about whether you accomplished your goals. What went right? What could have been done better, or a different way? Debrief afterwards with a friend or colleague or family member if necessary.


Who will pay for college?

Education costsParents often have conflict about how to pay for their children’s college education and those who are divorcing wonder if there is prescribed formula for the payment of college expenses. While the New York State Child Supports Standards Act recognizes that education is an add on expense (something that is above and beyond every day expenses), there is no formula.

Every family’s values are different regarding higher education and each family arrives at their own agreement. For example, some families agree that each parent will pay a set dollar amount per year, others to pay for a 2-year school and re-evaluate, others expect their child to contribute by paying one-third of the total cost through work and student loans, others feel the child should be 100% responsible, and others agree to pay a full ride wherever the child is accepted. These are only a few examples and the possibilities are as varied as the family. Some things you might consider are:

*As a married couple, did you intend to pay for college or not?

*If you planned to help with college, was there a limit to how much you could or would pay?

*If monies for college are set aside and there was a plan in place to continue saving during the marriage, how might that change as the result of a separation or divorce?

*If you have no savings in place and a mountain of debt, is it realistic to expect to pay for your children’s college education?

Whatever you decide, it is helpful for the child to know in advance what the plans are. That way, if he or she wants to begin working and saving during high school or attend a trade school or two-year college to save money, they will be prepared. You may even want to tell your child about fundraising ideas for college, many fundraising platforms see campaigns created by children and young adults wishing to gain financial help for a college education. This may be something that could help you and your child pay those tuition fees.

Your mediator can help facilitate this discussion whether you are married, divorcing, or divorced. Call for an appointment today at 585-244-2444 or email [email protected].

Balanced is the New Busy

mini conf photo “Balanced is the New Busy: Practicing Self-Care in a Frantic World”  — Keynote Kristen Skarie.

The New York State Council on Divorce Mediation is presenting a fantastic conference Saturday September 6, 2014 at the Inn on the Lake, in Canandaigua, New York where the Keynote Speaker- Kristen Skarie will speak on the topic “Balanced is the New Busy: Practicing Self-Care in a Frantic World”. This promises to be a great opportunity for to refresh our minds and add new skills to our toolkits as divorce mediators.  The program includes tools for managing mental health concerns, best practices, pensions, spousal maintenance and issues related to the “Gray Divorce” (the over 50 age group).  The venue is right on the shores of beautiful Canandaigua Lake, in the glorious Finger Lakes Region of Upstate New York!  We look forward to getting together with our fellow divorce mediators and any other individuals interested in the attending the program.  You can find the registration form online at  Or contact Julie Mersereau, or Barbara Kimbrough at 244-2444 for more information, or email us at [email protected]



I'm Happy You're HappySometimes, in a conflict it can seem easier to just give up or give in. Yet many of us regret that choice. This is especially true when going through a divorce. Decisions made now will impact you and your family for the rest of your life. It is important to carefully think through the long-term consequences of decisions and stand up for what you want. At the same time, you don’t want to bully the other person into giving you everything you want at the expense of his or her needs. This is especially true if you’ll have an on-going relationship as parents or with friends.

Weighing up your decision on whether or not to get a divorce could be draining to your mental health and that of those around you. Sometimes all it may take is to speak with some divorce lawyers in your area who will be able to discuss all of your options with you, so you know what will be involved if this is the route that you decide to take. There are many things that you can consider doing before having to think about divorce as a final option.

Here are some tips to get your needs met while staying open to your spouse’s needs:

-If conflict scares you, do everything you can to be in control. Pick the time and place of the meeting, be well fed, wear comfortable clothing, rehearse in your head what you will say, how you will say it, what you think the likely response will be from your spouse, and how you will calmly respond.

-If you usually give in, determine your bottom line in advance. If you know your spouse is going to ask for more than you are willing to give, start by acknowledging his or her request, then outline your feelings and needs and ask for a little more than your bottom line. It is easier to give in a little if there is some wiggle room.

-Choose your battles. Sometimes it is worth it to give up smaller things in the interest of moving forward. Decide in advance which items are not as important and concede here and there to keep things moving forward. This will help you reference your flexibility when negotiating becomes more difficult.

-When all else fails, blame someone else. A good mediator will encourage her clients to seek a consult with separate attorneys. Many clients are reluctant to do this because of costs or fear of litigation, but being informed helps you negotiate more effectively. It also allows you to say “your attorney” advised you not to settle for less. This can take some heat off you and help empower you to get a fair settlement. That said, don’t feel like you have to do everything your attorney says. After all, this is your life and what is important is what you want and need, not the law.

The mediator can help to facilitate your conversation and manage the strong emotions that may come up. Call today to schedule an appointment at 585-244-2444 or email us at [email protected].

If we already agree, why do we need to write it down?

"WHY?" Letter Collage (questions explanations help support how)It’s not unusual for couples who are separating to have thought about and maybe even agreed about some of their assets or liabilities, things like what to do with the house or how they’ll pay a credit card. It can feel unnecessary and like extra work to then have to find all the information about the value of every account, write it down, and talk it through. Yet, what may feel like a waste of time can actually save time and money in the long run.

Why? For one thing, you may not be aware of all the options. For another, making decisions without complete information can leave you unhappy with those decisions in the long run.

Here’s an example. If I told you that I really didn’t want your pension, you could keep it because I have a 401(k) of my own, that might seem reasonable. If, after the divorce, I find out that your pension will pay you $25,000 a year for the rest of your life, while I only have $86,000 in my 401(k), I’m likely to question my decision. Even invested at a good rate, I will never have the equivalent of $25,000 a year for life. If I had full information at the time of the divorce and still chose to waive my right to your pension, that was my choice and I have to live with it. If I didn’t have the information, conflict may ensue.

Part of the process of divorcing is identifying all of the marital assets and liabilities and gathering documentation. Working with a mediator can make the process less onerous as the mediator talks through each item with you and your spouse and provides worksheets to help you gather what is needed. It may feel overwhelming at times, but the decisions you make at the time of divorce will affect you the rest of your life. It is worth it to slow down and do it right.

Parenting Teens After A Divorce


Teens are a tricky age group. They are by nature pushing boundaries and wanting autonomy and freedom. Finding the right balance of setting limits and giving them responsibility for themselves is tricky in general, and that can be compounded with the added pressures of co-parenting from two different households.

Although they may not express it, divorce can have a de-stabilizing effect on older children and young adults. Teens need to understand that the relationship between you and your spouse is the only one that has changed, and that each of you continues to have the same relationship with them as their parent.

The more both parents can work towards creating the same expectations for the children in each household, the better. Sometimes, due to different parenting styles, the need for both parents to work full time, the amount of conflict between the parents, or other reasons, there can be very different rules in the two households.

In that situation, parents should strive to work together to instill in the children respect for the rules of each household. The more parents support this, the more the children will feel compelled to follow them. Don’t try to gain your child’s favor by commiserating with them about things they don’t like at the other parent’s house. Helping them to think through situations that challenge them, and encouraging them to talk over with their other parent any issues they have, will show them that you care, help them feel heard and work toward actually solving their problem.

When teenagers understand clearly stated rules that each parent expects them to follow, the less license they will have to ignore or circumvent them, and the more secure and grounded they will feel. Teens need to know that their parents are paying attention to where they are and what they are doing. As annoyed as they may act, they know it means you care.

Update on Child Support and Temporary Maintenance in NYS parents, attorneys, mediators and anyone else that has an interest in Child Support and Temporary Maintenance calculations there have been changes effective January 31, 2014.  These changes are required by the statute to occur every year on January 31st.

The new income levels that may affect the amount of a child support obligation are as follows:

  • Combined Parental Income Amount: $141,000
  • Self-Support Reserve: $15,755
  • Poverty Income Guidelines Amount (single person): $11,670

You can find the New York State Child Support Standards Chart online at .  This chart is released each year around April 1.  The chart that is currently posted is the 2013 chart and does not include the new income levels referenced above.  You should check online for the new chart in April.

The new Income Cap under the Temporary Maintenance Guidelines has been adjusted from $524,000 to $543,000.  You can find revisions to the Temporary Maintenance Worksheet at and the changes have also been made to the Temporary Maintenance Calculator which is found at

It is important to note that the application of these guidelines may vary depending the particular facts of each case.  The Court may deviate from these guidelines depending on the circumstances of each case as it is presented.  Parties who choose mediation, collaborative law or who negotiate a settlement through attorneys may reach any agreement that varies from the strict application of these guidelines. [author_info]Julie V. Mersereau, Esq. is a Divorce Mediator and Collaborative Law Attorney with offices at the Mediation Center.

We’ve already agreed on everything, why shouldn’t we do our own divorce?

There are spouses who wonder whether they need a mediator to help them with a divorce, or whether they can do it on their own. You can go to ‘do-it-yourself’ divorce websites online and create an agreement that you can file in court. Do I recommend it? The reality is that there is so much at stake in terms of the future financial stability of each party and the needs of any minor children of the marriage, that as an experienced mediator I would not recommend it.

The lack of knowledge of applicable laws and factors considered by the courts in determining the terms of a divorce can leave critical details unaddressed. Very few people who don’t work in the field have an accurate understanding of NY State’s Equitable Distribution and Child and Spousal Support standards and calculations and how they are applied. The filing process itself must be done properly.

But even beyond those major areas, there are many other things that should be addressed in order to avoid future conflict or hardship. Can either of you really afford to keep the house? Are you covering support payments with life insurance or other assets? Do you understand the tax implications of different assets, debts and support? If you have children, what if one of you wants to move away from the area? How will you handle new relationships parents may have and how it will effect the children? Who pays for children’s medical insurance, non-covered medical expenses and daycare?

The list of things that go into creating a solid divorce agreement is lengthy, and while your desire to be amicable is of great benefit to everyone in the family, the reality is, that without a mediator providing you with information and helping you have some conversations about what will really work best for each of your future lives, you may forfeit your legal rights or end up with an agreement that causes financial hardship, or simply doesn’t serve you and your children well in the future.