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Beyond Child Support: Educational and Estate Planning in Divorce Mediation

estate planning and divorce mediation

Deena and Greg, who are both in their forties, have recently decided to divorce. They are on good terms with each other, and they believe that they could resolve all of their issues amicably in divorce mediation. They are planning to meet with a mediator together before consulting with separate attorneys. One major concern is bothering them though. How can they plan financially for their children’s futures? Read more

Reducing Conflict in Mediation by Leaving Blame Behind

The New Year is finally here, and many people are more than ready for a new start. If your new start includes moving forward with your divorce, it might be time to take a look at the level of conflict between you and your spouse. High conflict can make mediation less successful, but there are some ways to address this. If your conflict level is high, it might be worthwhile to consider what lies beneath that conflict. Is it based on rational disagreements? Or is it mainly fueled by anger and blame? Once you have answered these questions, you can consider whether or not there are steps you can take to reduce the conflict. Start by asking yourself where you fall on the following spectrum:

  • Low conflict
    • Neither of you blames the other for your marriage ending, and
    • You agree about all or most aspects of your divorce settlement.
  • Moderate conflict
    • One or both of you may blame the other for the divorce, but neither of you believes that this should impact your divorce settlement in any significant way, and/or
    • You have some disagreements about your marital settlement plan, but they are minor, and you believe that you can work them out.
  • High conflict
    • One or both of you blame the other for the divorce, and
    • You have marked disagreements about your post-divorce parenting arrangement, your property distribution plan, and/or the need for one of you to pay spousal support to the other.

How Conflict Affects Mediation

While it is true that high conflict can make mediation less successful, it is also true that the process itself tends to reduce conflict. Starting off with relatively high conflict, therefore, does not necessarily mean that you should give up on the idea. If you can succeed in lowering the temperature of your interactions, you are likely to benefit from the lower expenses, faster time frame, and vastly reduced stress that mediation can offer. How can you do this? The first step is to look more closely at what is going on. Notice that the categories above identify two distinct types of conflict. Differentiating between these is often the key to success.

The Cycle of Blame

The first kind of conflict is interpersonal and is based on blame and anger. Couples who have low or moderate conflict overall generally understand that blame in a divorce tends to be counterproductive. Even if one spouse did, in fact, do something egregious, the other does not want to focus on this and prefers to focus on the future instead. Couples in the high conflict category, on the other hand, tend to actively blame each other. Typically, one spouse believes that the other cheated on them, lied to them, or abandoned them in some way, and uses this to deny parenting time, demand more alimony, deny alimony, or complain about the division of property. The blamed spouse reacts defensively to these provocative moves and tries to turn the blame around onto the other spouse.

Sometimes both spouses blame each other from the outset. Regardless of how the cycle begins, however, it tends to escalate once a divorce is in progress. One spouse might file a fault-based complaint alleging that the marriage failed due to the other spouse’s misconduct. Proving this requires producing evidence of the misconduct. Even if the complaint does not specifically allege a fault ground for the divorce, there are likely to be affidavits full of aspersions against the other spouse. Once the mudslinging has begun—even if it was justified at the start—it becomes hard to stop. The cycle feeds on itself.

Resolving the Cycle

The point is not that blaming your spouse is “wrong.” In many cases, blame is justified. The point is that holding onto the blame is likely to be counterproductive for you. If all you want is for your spouse to acknowledge that they wronged you and apologize, then by all means, ask for that. If you speak authentically from your heart, you might even get it. Or you might not. Either way, the next step is to ask yourself what is best for you. If the answer is that letting go of your anger will benefit you, but you just can’t seem to do it on your own, then individual therapy can help.

If your spouse is the one caught up in blame, you have a harder task, but there are still things you can do on your own. Therapy might help you limit your reactivity and learn better responses to the escalation of conflict. It can be surprising how much a mutual cycle of reactivity can change for the better even if only one party decides to change.

Separating Rational Disagreements from Blame

The second kind of conflict is different. It is based on realistic disagreements with the other spouse. Couples experiencing this kind of conflict usually understand that the division of property should be fair, that support payments should be based on one’s party’s need and the other party’s ability to pay, and that parenting agreements must be based on the best interests of the children. They simply disagree on what is fair, on who needs what, or on what is actually best for those children. Simply having many disagreements about these types of issues does not make mediation a poor choice. In fact, the more complex your divorce is, the more you stand to gain by staying away from the high expenses of the courtroom.

The problem for many couples is that the two types of conflict tend to intersect. If you are focused on blaming your spouse, it can be difficult not to see everything the spouse proposes through a lens of feeling victimized or of wanting to punish the spouse. Couples who are not focused on blame find it much easier to commit to keepings things amicable and fair.

If you are having a lot of trouble coming to an agreement, it might be time to reassess the degree to which blame might be coloring things. You can then take steps to move forward.

Considering a Structured Process

If, in spite of all your efforts, you and your spouse seem hopelessly locked into anger and blame, you still might not have to give up on mediation entirely. You can look into trying a more structured mediation process.  Start by finding a mediator who has experience working with high conflict couples.   Look for someone who:

  • Offers or encourages pre-mediation coaching,
  • Promises to insist that participants stick to ground rules,
  • Will keep participants focused on making proposals and counter proposals that address well-defined issues,
  • Is willing to meet separately in caucus with each participant as often as necessary,
  • Understands how to help correct any pre-existing power imbalances, and
  • Is comfortable with higher attorney participation if that should prove necessary.

Pre-mediation coaching can improve your communication skills and ability to maintain composure under emotional stress, as well as to set and stick with firm personal boundaries. Ground rules and caucuses exist to help participants move forward without getting caught up and bogged down in emotional turmoil. Attorney participation can help everyone focus on the law and separate real issues from reactive responses.

Are you wondering whether or not divorce mediation is right for you? One of our caring and experienced mediators can help you decide. Contact us today for a free consultation.

 

A New Year: Time for Divorce Mediation?

Time to start divorce mediation

Happy New Year and welcome to the 2020’s! The start of a new year, let alone a new decade, always leads a lot of people to decide that it’s time to make real changes in their lives. For some, that means finally sorting out an impending divorce.

Maybe you’ve heard that mediation is a good way to handle a divorce. On the other hand, maybe you just watched A Marriage Story and have been scared away. (For those who haven’t seen the movie yet, heads up, there are some minor spoilers in this post, but nothing you wouldn’t learn very early in the show.) Read more

Communicating with your Spouse During Divorce Mediation

divorce communication

If you are considering divorce mediation, you might be taken aback when you hear that during the process you and your soon-to-be-ex will need to speak directly to one another. Tracy, a 32-year-old mother of two, sums up the typical response. “Impossible! The whole reason we’re getting a divorce is that we’re completely unable to communicate with each other.”

But for Tracy, and for you, the truth is, no matter how you plan to proceed with your divorce, you will need to find some way to exchange information and ideas during settlement efforts. Effective communication can make all the difference when it comes to maximizing positive results. If you have children, you will also need to continue interacting with each other after the divorce is over, so the sooner you learn how to do that effectively the better. Read more

Mediation: A Holiday Gift for Everyone on Your List

The winter holidays can be full of joy, but its common knowledge that they can also generate a great deal of stress. For those facing divorce, mustering up any holiday spirit at all can be a challenge. You may find yourself surrounded by high expectations at the exact same time that you must confront the end of one of your most important relationships and the prospect of restructuring your entire family. Read more

Using Post-Judgment Mediation to Modify Parenting Agreements

Many parents successfully launch a plan for sharing time with children after divorce, only to find that the plan blows up a few years later. Children grow older, parents may change jobs or careers, some remarry, some move away. Sometimes rifts that have been slowly expanding for months or years threaten to become full blown chasms around the holidays. This can put further stress on families who are already coping with increased pressure. Post-judgment mediation of parenting issues can help these families get back on track.

For many children of divorced parents, the holidays are less than calm and easy under the best of circumstances. Instead of two or three uninterrupted weeks baking cookies and drinking cocoa, they may have to split their time in a complicated schedule, or travel out-of-state to spend time with a parent they rarely see. Children with amicable parents may relish being able to spend some vacation time with each of them. Children with parents who are not able to let go of past hurts, on the other hand, often sense the tension. Such children may feel a responsibility to reassure each parent of their equal love. They might feel the need to perform perfectly, and to conform precisely to whatever schedule is in place, to avoid any chance of upsetting either parent. No child deserves this kind of burden.

A Smooth Start for a Reconstructed Family

Gina’s parents, Brianna and Joe, have always gotten along pretty well. When they divorced five years ago, they decided to continue living within a few miles of each other. At the time, Gina was barely five years old. She has little memory of the holidays before she began spending half her time at mom’s house and half at dad’s. Her normal routine was to celebrate Christmas eve with one parent before returning to the other parent’s house to wake up on Christmas morning. After presents and brunch, it was back to the first parent’s house for dinner. It may have been a little complicated, but it was all she knew, and it was a way for her to celebrate the holiday fully with both her families.

A New Development Threatens the Harmony

Then last Spring, Brianna found a much better job that was nearly two hours away. Reluctantly, she decided to move. Suddenly, Gina found herself spending every other weekend, plus spring break and summer vacation, in a new neighborhood. She doesn’t want to stop visiting her mom, in fact, she wants to see her more, but she also doesn’t want to change schools. At the end of the year, though, she will graduate from her K-5 school. Her mom wants her to start 6th grade in the new neighborhood. Her dad does not.

Gina doesn’t know what she wants. What she does know is that for the first time since their divorce, her parents have begun to argue. They rarely exchange harsh words in her presence, but she can sense a new coldness in her previously warm extended family—and she knows why. Her parents have talked to her about the two options open for next year. They have been careful not to reveal that they are fighting over the options, but Gina knows. She can feel it.

Now winter break has arrived. Last night, Gina was upstairs in bed at her dad’s house when she heard him yelling on the phone. She ran to her door and opened it a crack to listen. It was obvious what he was yelling about. “The usual plan won’t work anymore,” he said. “We need to start alternating holidays. No running back and forth with two hour drives in the freezing cold!”

Gina crept back to bed, but she couldn’t sleep. Why couldn’t they just figure out how to fix this? She didn’t want either of them to be lonely on Christmas, but she was only one person. She couldn’t be in two places at a time.

Brianna and Joe Go to Parenting Mediation

Brianna and Joe are understandably going through a difficult time with their co-parenting arrangement, but they are losing sight of what is most important—their child’s emotional stability and happiness. They realize that they need to stop the arguing, not only for Gina’s sake, but also to minimize their own emotional stress. Brianna, not knowing where else to turn, decides to consult with a family law attorney, who listens to her story and immediately recommends parenting mediation.

Mediation, the attorney explained, isn’t just for setting up parenting plans when parents first separate or divorce. Like many parents, Joe and Brianna didn’t have any trouble with their initial plan. They reached a settlement agreement easily and filed it in court. As they have learned, however, things can change. Mediation can help parents decide how to address such changes with a minimum of conflict.

Joe agreed with Brianna that mediation sounded like a good idea. They chose a mediator together, and scheduled a session right away.

A Few Tips from the Mediator

Before delving into specifics, their mediator, Ms. Schumann, gave Brianna and Joe a few tips for how to change their approach. “I’m not on either parent’s side,” she stressed, “and I don’t give legal advice. These are just a few general suggestions that other people have found helpful.”:

  • First and foremost, step back, stay calm, and stop yelling at each other. If you can’t keep your cool, then put things in writing instead of talking face to face. If you need to vent, see a therapist.
  • For the short term, focus on the giving spirit of the holidays, instead of on the competition for Gina’s time.
  • Think about establishing your own separate traditions, regardless of exactly what day in the calendar they may fall on. The winter holiday season in this country is long. Be creative.
  • If you can get back to being friends, consider spending part of the holidays together—nothing too stressful, but maybe a low-key afternoon outing of some kind. This kind of interaction wouldn’t work for many families, but it seems like it might work for yours. If you decide to try it though, make it only about Gina, and agree to table any difficult discussions for the time-being. The purpose is to alleviate her anxiety about the increasing hostility between you.
  • For the longer term, remember that whatever school schedule you decide to adopt for Gina, you must keep her best interests at the forefront.

Moving Forward in Peace

After their first mediation session, Joe and Brianna made a pact to table all discussions about next year until after January 1st. They scheduled another mediation session to broach this topic in late January. In the meantime, they would concentrate only on making the holidays as happy and stress-free as possible for Gina.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of parents working together to support their children. This importance can become starkly obvious during holidays and long school breaks. Don’t let your kids feel responsible for keeping the peace in the family. That’s not their job; it’s yours.

Whether your holiday schedule is in tatters or simply needs a tune-up, don’t hesitate to contact a mediator for help. The family law mediators at the Weinberger Mediation Center wish you peace and joy this holiday season and all year long.

Thankfulness and Mediation

If you are going through a divorce, especially now as the holidays are arriving, you may be finding it difficult to cultivate thankfulness. Even under the best of circumstances, divorce is stressful. The holiday season can actually make some people feel worse, because of the high expectations that this should be a happy and festive time of year. Still, if you have agreed with your spouse to use a collaborative method like divorce mediation to restructure your family, you do indeed have at least one thing to be grateful for.

Benefits of Mediation

Taking your divorce out of the courtroom can go a long way toward alleviating stress. Litigation tends to force divorcing spouses to face off as enemies, increasing hostility and conflict. By contrast, couples who choose to approach issues through a collaborative process can preserve the positive aspects of their relationship. If you have children, this can be a big step toward making their holidays happier.

The many advantages of mediation include the following:

  • The process is more flexible than adhering to crowded court calendars and formal court procedures.
  • It is often much faster than going through the courts.
  • It is usually cheaper, and sometimes much cheaper, than litigation.
  • The participants maintain control over the results.
  • Participants are able to preserve confidentiality.
  • The focus on mutually beneficial results tends to reduce conflict.
  • Children benefit when parents maintain positive interactions and open lines of communication.

Practicing Thankfulness is Worth the Effort

Mediation is a small consolation prize for the often overwhelming feelings of loss connected to divorce. Science tells us though, that changing focus is likely to be worth the effort. People who intentionally and regularly practice thankfulness not only experience more positive emotions, they also tend to sleep better, and they may even have stronger immune systems.

Harvard Medical School’s Healthbeat newsletter recounts research on the positive effects of practicing gratitude. In one study, psychologists Dr. Robert A. Emmons and Dr. Michael E. McCullough asked three groups of participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on one of three topics. The first group wrote about events that had inspired feeling of gratitude. The second group wrote about daily irritations. The third group also wrote about events that had affected them, but without any direction to focus on either positive or negative effects. After 10 weeks of participation, the “gratitude” group expressed increased positive feelings and greater optimism. The researchers also found that this group was exercising more and had fewer doctor’s visits than the group that had  expressed irritations.

Another leading researcher in positive psychology, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, found that people who were directed to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude once a week to someone they had not previously thanked for an act of kindness immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness. Still other studies show that expressing gratitude for another person not only builds positive feelings toward that person, but can also make it easier to speak up to that person about problems in the relationship. This latter point may hold a helpful tip for mediation participants. While it might seem counterintuitive, focusing on what has been good in your marriage could make it easier to stand up for yourself in mediation.

Why Practicing Thankfulness, or “Gratitude,” is Effective

There is a pretty simple explanation for why expressing gratitude might make someone feel better. It’s a matter a focus. When we are so overwhelmed with sadness and worry that such feelings block out the positive aspects of our lives, it’s easy to go into a downward spiral. Practicing gratitude helps us refocus on what we have instead of what we lack—and it seems to work even if the only reason we are doing it is because someone else told us to! So give it a try. You have nothing to lose but a few minutes of time each day, and the benefits could be tremendous.

How to Cultivate Gratitude

Healthbeat suggests a few ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis, including the following:

  • Writing a thank-you note. Is there someone who has stood by your side throughout your marital strife? Express your appreciation of that person with a note. You can send it, or you can read it to the person aloud. This method has the side benefit of making the other person happier as well!
  • Thanking someone mentallyEven thinking about how grateful you are to have someone to lean on can generate positive emotions.
  • Keeping a gratitude journal. Taking a few minutes each day to jot down things you are grateful for is a tried and true method.
  • Praying. If you are religious, prayer can be a wonderful way of cultivating gratitude, and the holidays are an ideal time for renewing faith.
  • Meditating. If you favor a more secular spiritual practice, mindfulness may be the perfect choice. Mindfulness can be a powerful tool for maintaining sanity during divorce.  One variation on mindfulness meditation focuses on gratitude. You don’t need to set aside huge amounts of time for this. Joaquín, a positive psychology writer, points out that you can practice gratitude meditation in the amount of time it takes to brew your morning coffee. And as Healthbeat notes, gratitude can celebrate the smallest of things—the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound, or the aroma of that eagerly anticipated first cup.

Even in our most troubled times, it is worth expressing thankfulness. No wonder we have an entire holiday dedicated to it!

The top mediation professionals at Weinberger Law Group’s Mediation Center are deeply thankful for the privilege of helping those going through divorce arrive at a place of peace and joy. Contact us today for a free consultation.  

Marriage Counseling and Divorce Mediation

Over the past few months, we have been following the stories of three couples considering divorce mediation. Two of them, Gerry and Beth and Katherine and Julian, decided that they wanted to pursue marriage counseling first. Today we are taking a closer look at marriage counseling. When is it appropriate? How is it different from mediation? Is there such a thing as “divorce counseling?” Many people find themselves confused by a variety of options that all sound somewhat similar. Read more

Tailoring Mediation: Gerry and Beth

Today we will follow one more couple as they consider using the divorce mediation process. As we learned in our introductory post to this series, Gerry and Beth have been married for 35 years and have three grown children. Read more

Tailoring Mediation: Eva and Eric Address Parenting Issues

Today we are continuing to follow Eric and Eva as they focus on using divorce mediation to address parenting issues. As we learned in our introductory post, 40-year-old Eric and 43-year-old Eva have been married for 15 years. They have two children, Chris, who is 10, and Laura, who is 12. For the time being, Eva is remaining in the family home, while Eric is moving into a nearby rented townhouse. Read more