When a prospective client calls me, they will often ask,
“Could I just meet with you on my own, before my spouse comes in, just so I get an understanding of what the law says, how things are divided and how much child support is.”
Followed by, “Then I can present it to my spouse so they won’t have to come in.”
“My spouse says, ‘If you meet with the mediator and write up an agreement, I will come in and sign it.’ ”
And I say: “Absolutely Not.”
This is what attorneys do. I’m not an attorney and I don’t act like an attorney. My goal is not to make your spouse regret the day they were born no matter how much it costs or how long it takes. There are some litigating attorneys that will do this. There are other litigating attorneys whose goal is the same as mine, but the process is adversarial, so it costs more and takes more time.
Standard operating procedure of my practice is to meet with both the husband and wife for a free consultation to explain to them what the mediation process is, how it differs from litigation, how long it takes, how much it costs, and what documents they need to produce. What I do is a very different process than what attorneys do. I meet with both spouses and give them explanations about everything they have to consider:
- How do you calculate child support?
- What are the factors to see if spousal support/alimony is necessary and should be paid?
- How do you divide the marital assets and debts?
- What is the difference between a retirement plan and a pension plan and how do you divide it?
I explain this with both spouses in the room, so they both have the same information. If one of them doesn’t quite understand, I’ll spend time on a more indepth explanation so they are both up to speed on what their choices are.
Meeting with both spouses together sets the pattern for how the mediation process works. Ultimately, we want to develop a plan for both spouses concerning where they are going to live and how much money they will need to pay their bills. After the Agreement is signed, this plan enables them to move on with their lives.
Be very wary if you go to a mediator or somebody who says they are a mediator, who is fine with just meeting with one spouse. I’ve even heard of some that create an agreement with one spouse and then present it to the other spouse who is never present. This is not mediation!
Meeting with one spouse can give the impression that you are formulating a bargaining strategy against the other spouse. This is not the way mediation works. A mediator levels the playing field for both spouses who may have different views and levels of understanding.
So “Two’s Company. Three’s a Crowd,” except in Mediation where it takes three, working together, to get the job done.
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