When I first started as a divorce mediator, I really had no model of how to conduct myself and my practice. I would interview prospective clients over the phone, try to answer questions and tell them how we were going to cooperate and work this out together at the mediation session.
About 30% of the people that called became mediation clients. Not a very good batting average. Certainly not good enough for the major leagues.
Instead of the “phone” consultation, I started offering a free “in-person” consultation and quickly saw the advantages. This gives the mediator and the potential clients an opportunity to meet each other face-to-face and see if they can make a connection. Even more than that, as the mediator, I gain an insight into their relationship and the dynamics of their family.
The consultation isn’t just a meet and greet; it’s really an opportunity for me to prepare my clients for the mediation, such as answering:
Do we have to get values for property or some other asset?
If there is a buy out, can one party qualify for a refinance?
Do they need to create a budget to see if their decisions for moving forward are economically feasible? Continue reading
Often divorcing couples come to mediation having done some research or gotten advice from friends. Since this is usually their first divorce, they try to get as much information as they can, so they can be informed as they go through the mediation/divorce process. But this is very much like trying to study the night before the test.
Mediators and attorneys have to understand that clients don’t know this stuff, and we have to be patient in stepping them through the information. Leave the decision making up to them, but help them in getting the information they need to make the decisions. We shouldn’t be impatient when:
They calculate their own child support after deducting expenses not allowed by the child support worksheet
I just completed another divorce mediation on Skype. One spouse was in New York and the other in Europe. Technology allows you to communicate over long distances, with both video and audio. We were able to speak and see the person as if they were right in the room with us – way better than speakerphone.
What was difficult about the mediation was that in this particular European country, the healthcare and educational systems are very different from systems in the United States.
This is a prime example of what happens when you leave the decision-making about your children’s lives to a stranger who doesn’t know your kids. Whether it’s a lawyer or a judge, it can be a BIG mistake.
In a litigated case, the attorney for the father asked him what he was looking for, “What do you want?” The father indicated that he thought he would like to have custody of the kids, but admitted that he had never been the caregiver. “My wife has always been the caregiver, and I’m not sure if I can handle that, but I was thinking about it.”
The lawyer asked if there was anything else he wanted, and the husband said:
“No, we’re pretty much in agreement with all the other issues. There isn’t a lot of money to divide, and truthfully, I had an alcohol and gambling problem, so I burned through all the money we had. I’m going to AA, but I have to be honest, I don’t go to all the meetings.” Continue reading
Today, more often than not, the family home is not a couple’s greatest asset. Although it used to be, the defined benefit pension may now be worth more than the home. For many years, homes were going up in value. During the boom in early 2000, some prices were going up 30% or 40% in one year. Since then, prices leveled off, and many have gone down.
Now, more and more clients are coming to mediation with:
Little equity in the house;
Some equity in the house;
Negative equity in the house.
It is now less common to find couples with paid off mortgages or who have a lot of equity in the house, thus the pension has become the largest asset.
I was recently emailed a 65-page Settlement Agreement by an unhappy couple. They said that the mediator who created the Agreement was horrible: He had produced this incredibly long Agreement, but they still had tons of unresolved issues.
They explained that the odd part was that the husband and wife were in complete agreement on everything. However, a week or two after they had been in to modify the Agreement for the third time, the mediator called them and said, “I’ve discovered more issues. You have to come back.”
They said, “We used the services of this mediator to create our Settlement Agreement.”
I asked, “Do you mind telling me who it is?” Continue reading
“We don’t want anything to do with lawyers. We will not have lawyers review the Agreement. We hate lawyers. We know what they do in divorce cases. We don’t want any part of that.”
Unfortunately, the spouse that’s the most vocal about this is usually the one with the most money. The moneyed spouse doesn’t want anybody reviewing their Agreement. They usually have the financial savvy, where the other spouse doesn’t.