Traditional divorce, as most people know it, is inherently adversarial in nature. In a typical “war-of-the-roses” scenario, spouses each hire an attorney and then they battle it out until some sort of agreement is reached.
This type of divorce can go on for many months or even years. Consultants of all kinds may be called in by both sides for “expert” opinions, reviews, depositions and evaluations, driving up fees and increasing a couple’s stress levels, anxiety and animosity. The children may get caught in the middle, awash in the tension and harsh feelings between their parents, while experiencing their own stress and anxiety about what will happen to them next and after the divorce.
The truth is, it doesn’t have to be this way. Increasingly, attorneys, mental health professionals (MHPs) and divorce financial planners are moving toward a kinder and gentler divorce process – collaborating in a variety of non-adversarial approaches. Among a number of methodologies, divorcing couples may now choose to settle their divorces using what is called Early Intervention Mediation, or Cooperative Divorce Mediation. With this approach, professionals who are trained and experienced in Early Intervention Mediation encourage rational discussion of each spouses’ concerns and needs, working toward developing reasonable, mutually satisfying solutions.
Here is basically how this approach works.
- Early Intervention Mediation is a special kind of mediationthat takes place at the beginning of a divorce rather than at the end.
- The couple hires a mediator trained in this approach who may or may not be an attorney. Co-mediators for this process can be Divorce financial planners/analysts, psychologists or family-law attorneys, with each using the tools of their trade to facilitate mediation sessions with the goal of producing a written divorce agreement both spouses can accept.
- If the mediator is an attorney, he or she cannot give the parties legal guidance before, during or after the mediation process, but he can answer questions about the law as it pertains to their situation.
- Typically, a half-day mediation suffices to settle issues and agree to a settlement. This is due to the advance preparation by the divorce financial analyst.
- If theirs is a very complicated situation, the process may involve the couple and the mediator attending meetings before the formal mediation to settle issues in their divorce.
- In preparation for this type of mediation, the couple meets with a neutral financial expert (divorce financial analyst) and if desired, a mental health professional;
- The divorce financial planner or analyst works up an inventory of marital assets and debts, creates a spreadsheet of these items and develops a post-divorce financial budget for each spouse using their input. This is prepared before the mediation session and will likely be revised during mediation.
- The financial expert may also provide an optional analysis of the long-term outcomes of a proposed settlement for each party. This long-term cash flow table is linked to the financial settlement page so that the future financial security of the parties can be better determined.
- If there are children, the MHP may help the parties create a parenting plan that prioritizes the needs of the children, and takes into account parents’ concerns and needs. The MHP also may assist spouses and family members in resolving any disagreements or issues that arise, giving the family new tools for managing their relationships post-divorce.
- A mediator/attorney and/or a family law attorney typically co-mediates with the divorce financial planner and guides the parties toward a settlement. The attorney/mediator draws up the mediated settlement agreement to be signed as evidence of an agreement.
- If needed, the spouses may attend a second or third mediation session to resolve difficult issues. But, this is rarely necessary.
- After the mediation is complete, another attorney files the divorce paperwork, beginning the 60-day waiting period. He or she answers questions concerning legal issues but doesn’t treat the case as litigation. This attorney writes the divorce decree and “proves up” the agreement in court accompanied by one of the parties. This is typically the only court involvement and takes only a few minutes in front of a judge.
This approach works best for couples who are well informed about their property and expenses and have a degree of trust between them. A Certified Divorce Financial Analyst is specifically trained in divorce law and divorce finances, so this professional can guide couples through this component of the divorce process with ease. Couples would also be wise to hire a divorce financial planner/mediator who is well-trained and experienced in this approach so important assets are not overlooked or issues left unsettled. Ideally, this mediator would also have a good grasp of divorce law in your state. The overarching goal of this approach is to save couples time and money, while minimizing stress and preserving relationships going forward.