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Penny Field - Certified Divorce Mediator

Getting divorced is difficult in so many ways. The emotional upheaval that happens as a marriage is ending can be extremely painful and how the dissolution of the marriage is handled will have long reaching consequences for both parties and certainly for any children involved.

Mediation, as opposed to litigation, can be a very effective way to avoid some of the worst fallout that often happens as the result of a contentious divorce and also can save everyone a substantial amount of money and time. Below you can find answers to some common questions about divorce mediation. These are general answers and are not meant as legal advice.

What Happens With Litigation?

With litigation, each party hires and pays an attorney to handle their case. Litigation is adversarial by nature and lawyers are obligated to encourage their own clients to fight for the lion’s share of any marital assets. There will be motions and counter motions filed and hearings scheduled as each of the lawyers fight to obtain details about the finances and personal lives of the opposing counsel’s client. Each lawyer will be charging their client in 6 minute increments at rates of $250-$600 per hour, racking up many, many hours of time before a divorce is granted.

Often, clients will be instructed to not speak to one another while their lawyers argue for months and months, attempting to reach an agreement that a judge will accept and so grant the divorce. Often, many of the issues that were not originally in contention between the divorcing parties become so through this process. The emotional, psychological, and social pain of ending a marriage can be made much worse through a litigated divorce.

How Does Mediation Work?

In mediation, both parties meet with one impartial mediator who helps them to negotiate a fair and equitable agreement based on their individual circumstances. Issues of child custody, child support, parenting plans, and the division of the marital assets and debt are settled through this process without the use of litigation. The mediator helps the parties to come to agreements about what will be fair and equitable for all parties involved and when all the pertinent issues are agreed on, the mediator draws up a Memorandum of Understanding that states in clear language what those agreements are. This document will be presented to the judge along with any other required paperwork. A Family Court judge is the only person who has the power to make any document, even those prepared by attorneys, the basis for a legally binding divorce.

Who Can do Divorce Mediation?

Generally, divorce mediators are either attorneys or mental health professionals although technically, anyone who has completed mediation training can serve as a mediator. Mediators often have a post-graduate degree in a relevant field, such as law or psychology. Regulations regarding mediation vary from state to state, but there is no overall governing body for mediators.

Why Would I Choose a Mediator who is a Mental Health Professional Instead of an Attorney?

Attorneys and mental health professionals have very different training and experience. Lawyers are trained to work within the adversarial process of the law and are required to "zealously represent" their clients. In some situations, this is exactly what is needed but this is not always the case. With mediation, the divorcing people have complete control over the process and the mediator’s goal is to help the parties to reach a fair and equitable agreement for everyone involved. Many attorneys, because of their training in the adversarial nature of the law, have a trouble with the process of mediation. But mental health professionals are trained in listening and responding to the needs of their clients in a compassionate, non-judgmental, and unbiased manner in order to resolve conflicts amicably. This background is ideal for helping couples to reach a fair and equitable agreement based on their individual circumstance. Ideally, the court is minimally involved in the process.

With Mediation, Will I Still Have to go to Court?

Yes. The process of finalizing a divorce is a legal process and only a judge of the family court can legally dissolve a marriage. But a good mediator will write up your agreements in such a way that it is very likely to be accepted by the court so that the judge, who does not know your personal circumstances, will not need to make decisions about your life. A good mediator will make sure you have the help you need to navigate the court process with the least amount of difficulty possible.

How Much Does Mediation Cost?

Mediation fees can vary widely but it will most certainly cost less than retaining two attorneys to litigate a divorce. Fees can range anywhere from between $100-$500 per session. Many mediators, me included, don't charge an up-front retainer as most attorneys do. This allows clients to pay per session as opposed to needing to come up with a large amount of money at the beginning of the process. Often a divorce can be mediated in 2-4 one hour sessions and generally there will be a separate fee for the written Memorandum of Understanding. A good mediator will clearly discuss their fees with you before you schedule your first appointment.

Can All Divorces Be Mediated?

No. For mediation to work well, both parties must agree to mediation and be able to sit in the same room and communicate with each other civilly. Mediation is not usually an option if there are issues of spousal or child abuse, severe substance abuse, or if there are pre-marital agreements. Please feel free to call me if you have questions about whether or not your situation is suitable for mediation.

About My Mediation Practice

Although I am a licensed mental health professional, divorce mediation is not therapy and I will not be acting as a psychotherapist while doing mediation. While we, of course, acknowledge that there is a complex history and most likely a great deal of pain in the ending of a marriage, the primary task is to reach fair and equitable agreements about the division of marital assets and debt as well as custody and parenting plans that will most benefit any children involved. If at any time in the process it becomes apparent that some counseling might be helpful, I will be happy to refer you to another mental health professional that can help you with the emotional issues that can be so challenging in times of divorce.

I am not an attorney and at no time will I be offering legal advice but my training as a Certified Divorce Mediator as well as my professional mental health background will help me to help you reach agreements that will lead to a non-litigated and uncontested divorce. Please feel free to call me at 860-966-4480 or email me with any questions you might have or to discuss setting up an appointment.

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