Divorcing Without a Lawyer: Mediation

As a supplement to my first post on Divorcing Without a Lawyer, I wanted to offer another cost saving approach when you do not or cannot pay for a lawyer. A good, qualified family law mediator can help avoid some of the pitfalls of a purely pro se divorce. When I do a divorce mediation, I know all the categories and issues that can come up in a divorce and I present those to the couple. I go through each topic and ask them if they have discussed it and then I know where to start the dialogue.

By touching on each area of life that a divorce settlement agreement needs to address, I invariably come across some issues that the couple never even contemplated. This is a benefit to each party because it reduces the chance of litigation down the road after the divorce is final. Sometimes I ask about a topic, such as retirement, and it becomes clear that one or both parties simply do not want to be forthcoming on that topic. As a mediator, I can still ask questions that may help them realize it is for the best to disclose now, in this setting, rather than for it to come out later. Such non-disclosure could actually nullify a settlement.

The limitation, as a mediator, is that I cannot then begin to advise the other party. I cannot tell them that they are getting a raw deal; I can only ask if they have enough information to reach an agreement. Basically, I cannot take my mediator hat off and put my lawyer hat on. So, if you want to minimize costs of a divorce by avoiding lawyer fees, a next best approach is mediation. But, if you take this approach, make sure you listen to the questions the mediator is asking so that you can know what information you need to be considering.

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Posted in Attorney Fees and Other Costs, Distribution of property, Divorce / Dissolution of Marriage, ethics, Family Law, Mediation & Conflict Resolution | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Divorcing Without a Lawyer

Many people get divorced without hiring a lawyer. This is perfectly legitimate and it might save a whole lot of money. Those who are likely candidates for going the self-help route are those couples who are in entire agreement on how to divide property and debt and on a parenting plan if they have children. One caveat to this scenario: make sure you know what the value of assets are that you are agreeing upon.

It is an all too common occurrence that one spouse has had significantly higher income or significantly better retirement benefits through their work. Retirement accounts are ripe for “hiding” assets because people typically do not think about them on a regular basis. They just sit over in the corner, hopefully growing, but the other spouse just does not give much thought to it because it is a someday sort of thing and does not seem real. It could be that the one who has the account does not even realize it should be treated as marital propery. But, there are actual dollars in that account and some or all of those dollars are marital.

If you reach an agreement and file a divorce on your own, then it is likely to go through the system without ever having to appear before a judge. The judge assumes that you have all the information you need and all the wisdom you need to make a voluntary and fair agreement. So, they will not put the brakes on the divorce to make sure you are getting a “just distribution” of the assets. They will not call you into court and ask, “Are you sure?”

A lawyer can tell you how much of the retirement (or any asset) is marital and subject to being divided. A lawyer can tell you if the proposed agreement is roughly equitable. And a lawyer can put the brakes on for you and tell you where you did not even know to look. For example, does that spouse have a whole bunch stored up in retirement but never shared that information. So, saving several hundred or a few thousand on an attorney could cost you tens of thousands in the long run. It pays to at least consult with an attorney regarding any proposed agreement.

Posted in Attorney Fees and Other Costs, Discovery, Distribution of property, Divorce / Dissolution of Marriage, Family Law, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Family Law, Mediation, and so much more

Family law encompasses a wider array of services beyond divorce, legal separation, child custody, timeshare and child support. I provide high quality and affordable family mediation services. Furthermore, I have extensive experience in both domestic and international adoptions and I streamline the process, making it a time to celebrate. On the other end of the spectrum, since 2006 I have represented parents as well as children from neglect and abuse actions all the way termination of parental rights. Family is important to me.

Divorce proceedings can be especially painful for everyone involved. While some view it as merely a legal action, I take care to help those involved understand the complex interplay of emotions and family dynamics that drive the decisions that people make in the midst a total upheaval and reorganization of one’s life. Not only do I want you to know someone is in your corner, but I want to help you think of lyour long-term health and the well-being of any children involved. This means that I firmly advocate for you while avoiding the tactics used by some that actually increase conflict and costs.

One aspect of family conflict that I am particularly sensitive to is domestic violence. In additional to the decade of legal practice in family law, I provided child protection and domestic violence services prior to law school. My years with social services attuned me to the particular needs of those who have experienced family violence and the ongoing cycle of control that can play out in legal proceedings. This experience also creates a degree of effectiveness in mediating for couples where violence has occurred and the ability to offer a safe space for resolution on equal footing to occur.

Please schedule a no-risk consultation. It is vital in a family law matter that your lawyer is a good fit and so there is no charge if you choose to retain someone else.

Posted in Assignment of debt, Attorney Fees and Other Costs, Child custody, child protection, Child support, Distribution of property, Divorce / Dissolution of Marriage, Divorce lawyer tactics, domestic violence, Evidence, Family Law, Legal Separation, Mediation & Conflict Resolution, Time-share | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Domestic Violence & Mediation

Judges in Kentucky Family Courts are precluded by law from ordering parties to mediate when there is a Emergency Protective Order (EPO) or Domestic Relations Order (DVO) in place between a couple. In fact, even if there is no EPO or DVO but a court has made a finding that there has been domestic violence, KRS 403.036 keeps a judge from ordering mediation unless the victim volunteers to mediate.

The reason for this is obvious, the main issue in a domestic violence situation is the exertion of control by one person of the through intimidation. Physical contact does not have to be present for there to be domestic violence and the imbalance of power that fosters this control. This protection of the victim is good and proper, and it also comes at a price. That price is often the continuation of the cycle of violence through the litigation process. When an abuser can no longer directly intimidate the other person, they inevitably resort to recalicitrance to drag out the process making it as hard as they possibly can. They usually operate on the cusp of contempt of court in order to perpetuate as much control as possible without landing in jail. The victim, finding their voice and a measure of power for the first time, sometimes makes barriers to resolution that are ultimately harmful to their own situation.

Mediation with a trained mediator presents a real prospect of redirecting this cycle and breaking through it sufficiently to get immediate issues resolved. The mediator must be adept at maintaining the mediation ground rules quite firmly while still fostering the victim and the abuser alike to engage in dialogue about issues. In this regard, my background in child and adult protective services through the Cabinet for Health and Family Services provides an advantage. In both that role and in my undergraduate degree of Family Sciences, I recieved training in a systems approach to understanding and addressing family violence.

The Next Gen Mediation that I wrote about previously is the very best chance we have at effective mediation when the two parties have been locked into a cycle of violence. That first session with each party individually at separate times provides the victim a chance to allay any remaining reluctance about the process and discover what safe guards will be put in place. It allows the abuser to discover that they will be treated with respect and their issues will be given voice while still getting clear on the boundaries of behavior and communication in that setting. Both parties operate from a position of fear though it manifests in very different ways. These fears are eased as much as possible in that sepaarate sesson.

Often, this two-step mediation process will be the first experience each party has had with resolving a conflict without the burden of powering up or giving in. I hesitate to over-sell mediation in such situations. It is very likely that the parties will slip back into that familiar pattern soon thereafter, but that is no reason to avoid the attempt. A single success in conflict resolution is the first step in setting a new pattern and it the best option to moving a divorce or separation towards resolution.

Posted in Child custody, child protection, Distribution of property, Divorce / Dissolution of Marriage, domestic violence, Family Law, Legal Separation, Mediation & Conflict Resolution, Time-share, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Next Gen. Mediation

Better, more effective mediation exists. 

Don’t get me wrong, traditional mediation is wonderful. My clients usually experience good results from the mediation structue practiced in this region. That model, in essence, has the two parties agreeing on a mediator, a place and a time to come together and work through as many points of disagreement as possible in one session. Usually, the mediation is from a few hours to all day, though mediations occasionally can be multi-day events.

But, I am convinced that is not the best model. You see, when people come in for that single day, they have formulated their positions:  what they want, what they will concede, and what is their “walking away” point. Attorneys can sometimes go beyond that in prepping their clients, but just because of training and economic forces (more of that talk another time), they rarely get past positions to issues.

So, the better model of mediation is one that I offer and which is appearing in other settings across the nation. Not everyone will choose it, but I do encourage people to engage in this extra-step mediation. The extra step involves each party meeting one on one with the mediator (with or without attorneys) to identify the issues that are behind the positions. In another post I will help define these two concepts, but for now it is enough to say that when one deals with issues rather than positions, creative resolutions can come about.

In that pre-mediation session, no sides are taken and no decisions are made or recommended. The mediator asks questions and listens intelligently to identify the issues. Then, when the mediation happens, the parties can move into resolution mode far quicker and readily. 

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Affordable Mediation

I apologize for the redundancy, but I realized my last post that addressed the issue of affordable medation was quite long and so some may not have gotten to the important part. So far as I know, I am the only family law mediator in this area who offers income based mediation fees with a highest fee rate that is no higher than the least expensive mediator I know (he also happens to be one of the best!).  I plan to do this for as long as possible.

I am doing this to make mediaiton more accessible and because I love to do it. When one loves to do something, getting paid for it is merely a way of keeping the lights on and the opportunity to keep doing it open. I have also found that if someone is paying for a service, even a nominal amount, they tend to engage more and get more out of the process.

Call or email me if you want to know more.

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How Mediation can be like MMA

I know, you thought I was talking about Mixed Martial Arts. And, truth be told, I have seen some mediations that wanted to go the route of verbal MMA. But, even that can be turned to a productive session. Actually, I was referring to Making Mediation Affordable. Mediation can be expensive. There are mediators out there that charge a few hundred dollars an hour for their services. Add to that having an attorney attend the mediation with you and then one is looking at several hundred dollars an hour (I usually reduced my attorney rate by half, though, to make mediation more appealing than fighting in court). EVEN SO, MEDIATION IS WORTH IT financially in the long run and most definitely in terms of limiting relational damage in a divorce or separation situation.

But, many people cannot afford to pay those rates for mediation. So, I am breaking one of the cardinal rules I established as a lawyer. I learned early on that if an attorney charges a very low rate to a client, then there was this psychological kickback where the client often devalued the services. Sometimes, the client would even leave to go to an attorney who charged more just because they assumed the service was better because it cost more. This is not to dissuade pro-bono work, because I donate many hours a year via court appointments. Also, if the situation warranted, a discount at the back end did not have that same downside but could still help a struggling client.

The cardinal rule I am speaking of is to charge a reasonable rate compared to the market and expertise level so that I can make a living AND so participants value my services. Why am I breaking that rule with my mediation rates? Well, I really love mediating. I believe that mediation can make the difference between a future of constant contention or creative conflict resolution, especially for couples who will continue to co-parent. I believe it is a calling for me and not just a job (I would do it for free if I could AND if clients would still buy into the process). Finally, I want attorneys to come to trust me as a mediator; to value what I can bring to their family law cases.

So, I have created a sliding fee schedule based on a tiny percentage of the total household gross income. If you want to know what that formula is, feel free to call or email me, but everyone must pay some amount so that they have some “buy-in” to the process. On top of that, I have capped my hourly rate regardless of the income level. Finally, the minimum number of hours for which participants must pay is just one (1) hour as opposed to the two or three hour industry standard. I have two comfortable conference rooms in our offices and free parking, but I can travel within a reasonable distance to do the mediation at one of the attorney’s offices. I hope to offer this arrangement for the foreseeable future so that many people can experience the benefit of mediaiton for whom it would ordinarily be out of reach.

If you are in a conflict intense circumstance, I hope to hear from you soon.

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