With the statement “I want a divorce” many dreams and plans are destroyed; anger and frustration, guilt and fear, depression and humiliation – these are some emotions that accompany the process of divorce. All of these feelings are normal, for divorce is ranked at the top of the list of stressful events in one’s life.
When such strong emotions overpower us, our ability to think straight and make wise decisions is affected tremendously. Unfortunately, this is the time when the most difficult decisions need to be made. The most important one, in my opinion, is the decision on the manner in which to divorce. Will it be bitter or civilized? Will children be suffering the consequences of the divorce for many years or you will be able to minimize the impact of the divorce on them? Will you try to sabotage the process and lose your dignity and sanity or will you handle it gracefully? Will you accomplish your divorce without spending your entire savings or will it be a nasty and expensive battle?
Many of you will argue that you do not have such choices, that lawyers decide and impose upon you their decisions, that the process of divorce depends on your lawyer’s experience and aggressiveness. In many instances this is a true statement, as when a couple chooses the path of a traditional divorce. Each year thousands of lives are disrupted and destroyed by the negative effects of a litigated divorce: broken resources, emotionally scarred children, struggling and frustrated parents…Is there any other way to divorce?
I believe that divorce mediation is a much better way to negotiate your divorce and in this article I hope to help readers to understand my points on this subject.
Family mediation as a profession has emerged in the past decade as a fast-growing alternative expressly designed for the 98% of couples who by statistic will resolve their divorce through negotiated settlement. In the conventional divorce settlement is the by-product of preparation for trial notwithstanding that almost all cases settle. If we assume that the case will settle, it makes little sense to prepare for trial. In mediation settlement is the explicit rather than the incidental objective.
Mediation helps a divorced couple to reach an agreement that is the fairest and free of biases to both parties through the guidance and support of an impartial family mediator. The primary objective of a mediation process is a negotiated settlement that meets the real needs of the family. However, before such an agreement is reached, a couple is faced with many issues and concerns that, if handled properly, can be the foundation for a decent end to their marriage. A couple needs to understand how the legal system works in order to make the right decisions, learn how to negotiate fairly and in good faith, learn how to control their emotions, and be responsible for the decisions they are making. Along the way the parties consult their lawyers for information and advice that informs their deliberations. When experts such as accountants, appraisers, or mental health professionals are needed, the couple chooses one neutral expert rather than two adversary experts. It is a process of informed decision-making that leads to genuine agreement rather than concession.
Mediation is a process that requires the couple to forego much of the hostile behavior that usually occurs in the early stages of divorce, to separate their emotions form financial and parenting issues – the key issues of every divorce – and to take the responsibility for their own deeds. At first glance, it seems like a burden. Therefore, skeptics of the divorce mediation process ask how it is possible to negotiate with one another in spite of overwhelming feelings of anger, desertion, sorrow, or shame. The answer is simple: a family mediator, a trained professional, will help a couple to restore an emotional balance, help overcome many psychological barriers, get them to focus on their future and facilitate constructive conversation between two of them. What is the benefit of such an arrangement, you may ask, when it is so much easier to hire a lawyer who would take control over your life?
It is imperative to understand the following: it appears that, when people are in control of their own lives and making arrangements for themselves and their children, they will not sabotage their own agreements and their conflicts are minimized or eliminated. This situation will allow people to thrive and move on to satisfying and productive new lives after the divorce is completed without unnecessary stress and emotional turmoil.
Another very important reason to have your divorce mediated is the amount of time in which the divorce is completed. Traditional divorces usually take up to a year or longer to resolve, depending on how adversarial they become. Most mediated cases, on the other hand, are resolved within a few months because all issues are discussed openly without wasting time on drawing pleadings, making motions, appearing in court, etc. These and many other things that divorce lawyers do have little or no effect on the ultimate outcome of the divorce. They are just part of the legal chess game into which divorce lawyers turn your divorce.
Professional fees for divorce mediation are typically a fraction of those for a conventional divorce. Instead of paying a retainer and then an hourly fee to two lawyers, your entire package will consist of the payment of an hourly fee to one mediator, and a fee for drawing a property settlement agreement and filing to court.
However, if none of these reasons are impressive enough, you owe your children a decent end of your marriage, for your relationship will not end after the divorce and will be tested again and again. Birthdays, weddings, funerals and other significant events will bring you together and stir up the emotions buried deep inside your conscience. “Good” divorce is a solid base to pass such tests!
We have all heard horror stories about divorce battles that have a tremendous effect on the lives of entire families and, especially, the children. Psychological issues vary in scope and intensity and depend on the age group of your child. As a psychotherapist I worked with children of divorce who suffered from depression, anxiety, antisocial behavior, bed wetting as the result of nasty divorces. It is extremely difficult to treat such children, for their trust in adults has been shattered; many of them perceive us as traitors and their anger and frustration is overwhelming. Some blame themselves for their parents’ divorce and with that put great strain on themselves without knowing how to handle it. Some feel betrayed and abandoned and as a result lack the ability to foster their own communication skills and prepare themselves for relationships. I often witness the children of bitter divorces sabotaging their parents’ relationships with new partners.
To summarize, I do believe that poor choices we make as adults on this subject poison not only our own lives, but can also handicap our children and create the need for many years of therapy and emotional scarring.
On the other hand, if the two of you retain the ability to parent well, research suggests that you will maximize your children’s ability to adjust in time. Most long-term studies suggest that parental cooperation is a critical factor in helping children overcome the devastation of divorce. Thus, if the parents handle the divorce well, the children may react well, too.
Mediation, as a process, teaches both parties to make the right choices, communicate to each other, respect each other’s opinions and handle issues fairly without any overwhelming feelings of guilt or shame. During a mediation process a couple will hopefully acquire knowledge not to depend exclusively on professionals, but rather be creative and come up with their own decisions, negotiate fairly and in good faith, learn how to experience and express their anger rather than act it out. Therefore, friction can be avoided, thousands of dollars can be saved, and both of you will be able to enjoy your children’s birthdays together for many years to come.