As one of the top family law litigators in the country, I know the downside of the traditional litigation process. For many years as a top divorce attorney I watched thousands of clients spend huge sums of money and time fighting through the adversarial process only to end up with even more fractured lives. I am happy to say that the days where most couples need to spend a small fortune litigating their divorce with attorneys in court are long over. There are now many options that can make the process simpler, faster and infinitely less expensive but still provide you with the guidance and assistance to help you reach those necessary agreements so that you can finalize your divorce and move forward with your lives. Divorce mediation is at the forefront of those alternatives and is becoming a more popular and attractive option for many. More and more couples are turning to mediation to help them work through the issues of their divorce rather than lawyering up and following the traditional litigation route.
To take the mediation experience to the next level, fellow top family law attorney Rebecca Zung and I have founded Breaking Free Mediation, the first mediation centers in the country to offer a mindfulness track to assist our clients in managing the difficult emotions that often accompany divorce. With mindful mediation, clients are given tools that help them to calm the anger, fear and other negative emotions that so often arise during the process so that they can think clearly and make reasoned decisions. After all, the decisions made, and the agreements reached during divorce will often have significant and long-lasting effects on your your lives. Doesn’t it make sense to make those decisions with a clear head and calm emotions?
So what exactly is mediation? Good question and a great place to start. Mediation is an informal and voluntary process where couples work with a neutral mediator or mediators to work together to determine how to best restructure their lives and family. The key here is that the mediator, while they often are an attorney as I am, is acting as a supportive neutral professional there to assist you both equally as you work through the process. Importantly, unlike in a court room where a judge will make the decisions about who gets what, pays what and how you will co-parent your children, in mediation, the couple themselves make all the decisions and agreements.
So if the mediator doesn’t make decisions like a judge, what do they do? The mediator is there to guide you and support you through every step of the process. There are three main phases that your mediator will guide you through.
Phase One: They will first help you to identify the issues that you need to resolve in order to finalize your divorce. Very generally, this includes how you will divide your property and debt, how you will co-parent your children going forward and issues of support, which includes both alimony and child support where there are minor children. Now those are broad strokes and there can be many sub-issues that fall under these broad categories but again, that is one of the things that your mediator is there to help you with.
Phase Two: Once the issues have been identified, your mediator will give you the general understanding of the law around those issues and any information that you need to consider. Again, this is a neutral understanding of the law and information, but this is a very important step because although the two of you are making all the decisions, you want them to be informed decisions.
Phase Three: Finally, with this foundation laid, your mediator will help you to discuss all of these issues and will facilitate your discussions about these sometimes difficult topics. The goal of mediation is not to find a win for one and a loss for the other but is to find the solution that best suits both of you and your family. Ultimately, as you work with your mediator, you will each identify what you both can and cannot live with and what best achieves fairness as the two of you define it.
Besides being cheaper, faster and less stressful than litigation, what are some of the other benefits of mediation?
Privacy and Confidentiality. There are a number of additional reasons to consider mediating your divorce such as privacy and confidentiality. Because mediation takes place entirely out of court, it allows you to keep the sensitive and personal details of your life out of the public forum. You will be discussing the intimate details of your finances, your children and your personal life as you work to resolve your issues with your spouse so being able to keep things out of a courtroom, where anyone can be listening, is a big plus. In addition, because the courts are hoping that you can resolve things without a judge being involved, most states, including California, have strict laws making anything communicated during the mediation process confidential meaning you can have open and candid conversations with your spouse during the mediation without fear of the information disclosed there being used against you in a later court proceeding.
Autonomy and Self-Determination. Another major benefit of mediation is that you and your spouse are the only ones making decisions about what works best for your family. In a litigated matter, the ultimate decision maker is a stranger wearing a black robe. Judges do their best, but they do not know you and they do not know your family when they apply the law to the facts of your case. In mediation, you and your spouse will decide what you can and cannot live with and what works for your family going forward. In the end, study after study has shown that agreements that you both participate in creating are the ones that are successful and long-lasting, so a mediated agreement gives you the best chance of success as you move past the divorce.
Breaking Free Mediation is the first family law mediation center in the country to offer a mindfulness track for its clients. Why is this so important?
This is actually one of the most important factors in any divorce. In her book, Breaking Free From Divorce: A Step By Step Divorce Guide to Achieving Emotional, Physical and Spiritual Freedom, Rebecca refers to a phenomena she calls the Divorce Paradox, which describes the fact that at the time in your life when you are at your lowest and feeling all kinds of difficult emotions such as fear, anger and sadness, you are called upon to make some of the most important decisions that you will ever make for you and your family. To compound this, when you are emotional and upset, it is hard to think clearly and rationally and often these strong emotions cause people to take unreasonable positions that do not serve them well and cause them to drag the divorce process out rather than come to agreements. With our mindfulness track, Breaking Free Mediation, incorporates tools and methods for calming those emotions and to help you to create a clear mental and emotional path to your future. The emotions won’t go away but you will be provided with ways to create the space that you need to think more clearly and make those important decisions.
One additional bonus with Breaking Free Mediation is that we offer all our services online! You can work with our mediators and preferred providers through an online platform in the privacy and comfort of your own home, office or other secure location. No matter your geographical distance, you and your spouse can discuss your divorce and come to agreements face to face. In so many ways, the online platform allows for a more seamless, less stressful process for you both.
If you are facing divorce, consider mindful mediation to help you and your spouse to resolve your issues.
All in all, mediation provides a preferable alternate method to traditional methods for handling your divorce. It allows a couple to work through the issues of their case with much less expense, stress and in a much faster timeframe making it preferable in many ways to the adversarial and expensive litigation process. At Breaking Free Mediation, not only do we provide you with the ultimate in convenience by offering online mediation services, but we also offer our mindfulness track to help you manage your emotions to allow you to make reasoned and clear choices and agreements to resolve your issues and reach peace.