A Mediation Guide for Divorce and Child Custody

Divorce and Child Custody

Many couples take months planning the details of the wedding to assure a festive beginning for the marriage, but few realize that planning the details of the divorce can do more to assure the stability of the relationship after the marriage has ended. Divorce, or the legal termination of the marriage, can be expensive, time-consuming and can leave deep emotional scars on all involved. Planning can avoid many of these issues and can build a positive foundation for the future.

Divorce mediation allows the couple to work together to develop a settlement that takes into account the unique personalities, needs and circumstances and blends them together resolving the issues of a divorce. A divorce mediator is a neutral professional who works with you and your lawyers (if you have them) to map out an agreeable plan for property, support, child custody and visitation.

There are times when mediation is not the best way to handle a divorce. When the marriage has signs of physical or emotional abuse, when specific circumstances leave the judgment of one or both of the spouses impaired, or when a spouse is hiding assets, mediation may not be an appropriate avenue to settle the difficult decisions of ending the marriage.

Benefits of Mediation

But many couples find that mediation provides some advantages over the tradition litigation approach of the court systems.

  • Mediation is often quicker than traditional divorces. Court dates are not required, so the necessity of scheduling months in advance is eliminated. Haggling between lawyers is eliminated.
  • Mediation makes the couple feel that they have agreed upon the decisions, rather than having the decisions forced upon them. This allows the couple to feel more in control of the outcome, minimizing fear and stress.
  • Mediation is an alternative to the courts that will keep your divorce more private. Because the decisions are agreed upon in advance, there is no public record of arguments or objections.
  • Mediation is often less expensive. It can avoid the costs of the formal process of the court system. It usually requires fewer hours from the lawyers.
  • When children are involved, mediation can provide structure that will make the child feel secure. Child custody, the legal and practical time that a child will spend with each parent, can be determined from all of the very personal needs and circumstances of the family.

Making Mediation Happen

  1. Get the right individual or team to give you legal advice. Find an attorney who understands and agrees with the benefits of mediation. Some attorneys push for litigation for their own financial benefit. Some attorneys are far more combative than your personality would desire. Find the right match for your style and circumstances.
  2. Learn about your rights. Consult with more than one attorney if necessary. Gather information from books, articles and websites. Do not hesitate to ask questions. Websites like DivorceNet.comdivorcesupport.about.com, theguardian.com and the American Bar Association can provide a wealth of information.

Two books may provide invaluable assistance: William Donahue’s book Reconcilable Differences: A Consumer’s Guide to Divorce Mediation; and Lois Gold’s book Between Love and Hate: A Guide to Civilized Divorce.

  1. Take some time to prepare thoroughly for the mediation. Work with your lawyer to raise all of the issues that will need to be covered. Talk about what outcomes can be fair to both parties. Try to be as organized as you can be.
  • Have a list of all of the assets that you have: bank accounts, retirement funds, mutual funds, stock, real estate, cars, boats, annuities, time shares,
  • You will need the balances and monthly payments on mortgages, credit card balances, student loans, private loans, and car loans. If you have taken a loan against insurances or retirement funds, they will need to be included in this mix. Also include any loans or debts that you may have with family members or friends.
  1. Make specific determinations concerning your financial needs after the divorce. Having the needs be too general can leave you unprepared and unprotected. Work through several post-divorce scenarios and formulate budgets for each. Go into mediation with an understanding of what your financial needs will be.
  2. If the marriage produced children, put them at the highest priority on your “life after the spouse” list. Children need two parents who are physically, emotionally and financially healthy after the divorce. Even though the two of you will not have a marital relationship, you will continue to interact for the good of the children – providing advice and guidance, celebrating birthdays and important occasions, and contributing finances to meet their needs.

While the ending of a marriage rarely takes place without some threads of anger and pain, divorce mediation can be a kinder, gentler alternative to the often cold, harsh realities of the courtroom process.

This article is a guest post by Fine & Associates, Toronto divorce lawyers.

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