Traditional divorce and child custody processes are predominately adversarial in nature. In a typical “war-of-the-roses” divorce scenario, spouses each hire an attorney, and then a variety of expert consultants enter the fray on both sides to produce “dueling” business evaluations, financial analyses and/or custody evaluations.
This type of divorce can go on for many months or even years, driving up fees and increasing the couple’s stress levels, anxiety and animosity. The children are often caught in the middle, awash in the tension and harsh feelings between their parents, while experiencing their own stress and anxiety about what the future holds for them.
The truth is, it doesn’t have to be this way. Increasingly, attorneys, mental health professionals (MHPs) and financial planners are collaborating in a variety of non-adversarial approaches to divorce and child custody cases. Divorcing couples may now choose to settle their divorces using what is called Early Intervention Mediation, or Cooperative Divorce Mediation. Here is how it works.
- Co-mediators for this process can be 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.
- In preparation for mediation, the couple meet with a neutral financial expert and if desired, a mental health professional;
- The divorce financial planner or analyst works up an inventory of 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 pre-mediation and can 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.
- If there are children, the MHP may help the parties create a parenting plan that prioritizes their welfare and takes into account parent’s 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 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.
- After the mediation is complete, another attorney files the divorce, 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.
Early Intervention Mediation involves trained professionals who encourage rational discussion of each spouses’ concerns and needs, working toward developing reasonable, mutually satisfying solutions. If needed, the spouses may attend a second mediation session to resolve difficult issues. However, the overarching goal of this approach is to save couples time and money, while minimizing stress and preserving relationships going forward.