Making the Best Use of Family Mediation

Most family mediation is really divorce mediation or separation mediation, making two household out of one. In Minnesota this is often done by attorneys, but though attorneys can be very helpful, it is often not necessary to retain or hire an attorney for most divorces or separations. Here’s how to do it.

First, find a good mediator- a family mediator. Not all mediators are the same. Some are really good at property division. Attorney mediators are good at details, but often not so good at emotionally charged situations. What many attorneys call mediation is often more negotiation, with pushing to get results. Counselor or pastor mediators (No, not all mediators are attorneys!) are wonderful for interpersonal conflict and working out creative child custody issues but may not have experience with S Corps or LLCs. I do have experience with such things and am happy to refer people to appraisers and accountants: they are generally less expensive than getting an attorney to help. I can get results with most folks.

Second, figure out how and where you cooperate and agree before you come in to see me. Bring a list of your issues and agreements to me, for example, and it can take hours less, saving you hundred of dollars.

Third, understand that mediation means give and take. You will not get everything you want. If you are locked into a position, and can’t think of any other way, you won’t do well in mediation, but you won’t get everything you want in court, either. With mediation you can ponder and try different options. In court you usually have to accept what the judge rules.

Fourth, it is best if you have children to focus on what’s best for them. The more you can cooperate, the better off your children will be. And so will you. Think before you speak and act. Words and actions in divorce can seldom be taken back. The single best indicator of how well kids will do (even grown ones) post-divorce is how well you two can cooperate, even though you may not agree on everything.

Custody mediation, divorce mediation and family mediation are seldom easy. But they are most often the best way to avoid unneeded expense, pain and anguish. Mediation can help you co-parent after separation in a way court battles can’t.



An Easier Divorce

I recently attended a Minnesota AFCC conference. AFCC is an organization devoted to legal professionals. The speaker, a law prof from Canada, spoke of how broken the Canadian and US court systems are with respect to family law (divorce and custody matters). She believed that it was necessary for family law to be taken out of the court system or remade entirely within the system. Not long ago, a bill was introduced in the Minnesota state legislature that would create a separate system for divorce and family matters.

When it comes to divorce mediation or family mediation, I agree. Minnesota divorce mediation should not be handled by the courts. With a little help, parents can handle their separations better than the court system. And judges would be better off too, because most judges hate deciding family law cases.

In many or even most family law cases, mediation without attorneys can accomplish agreement faster and cheaper than two opposing attorneys arguing back and forth on their own or worse yet, going to court.

At very least, attorneys should offer unbundled services: writing up a divorce agreement, appearing in court or writing letters. It is helpful to have agreements in divorce or custody mediations written up by an attorney so judges will understand what the couple wants. When I help a couple work out an agreement, I can refer the couple to some of the few attorneys who offer such services. Divorce mediation or custody mediation done in this way can be half (or even less) the cost of a traditional attorney aided divorce. There will always be cases (abuse, mental illness, extreme substance abuse) where attorneys will be necessary for divorce, but mediation without attorneys can work for the rest. An easy divorce or at lest an easier divorce. enough said.

Divorce Mediation Made Simple

Divorce Mediation can be as difficult as anything you can imagine, but Divorce Mediation can be easier than anything you ever expected. It depends, to a large extent, on the Divorce Mediator you choose and the attorney you choose (if you have one- you don’t always need to). Ideally, if you and your ex are fighting over child custody it makes sense to find a mediator who can understand and work with the strong emotions that such a conflict generates. for such matters, it is often better to find a “non-attorney” mediator, as attorneys are great with logic and adversarial conflicts but usually not as good at emotional ones.

If you feel the need for your own attorney, understand that it often makes the divorce process longer and much more expensive, even if your attorney wants to be collaborative (many aren’t). Many attorneys resist mediation, or believe mediation can be used only in very rare circumstances. To be fair, from an attorney’s background, with an attorney’s skill set, they are correct. But if you choose a “non-attorney” who understand emotions in child custody mediation, a successful agreement can not only be possible, but probable. A mediation that would end in stand-off or trial might well be settled by the right mediator ( a “non attorney”) and often without needing to retain an attorney yourself. But if you play the attorney card too soon, or find an attorney who is overly zealous, problems can develop and big problems can get bigger. I have played “clean-up” for many situations where attorneys had fought long and hard. Whether they reached agreement or no, such situations left a host of bad feelings on both sides, and an inability to co-parent cooperatively. but it doesn’t have to be. Divorce mediation can be simple, often as simple as one or two visits with the right family mediator.

Some folks in my mediation sessions do so well they wonder how they ever could have done it another way.

Summer and Divorce Mediation

Summer is here and this is an excellent time to get child custody disputes worked out. I know summer is busy, and summertime is short. Yet when there is beautiful weather and lots of sun, it’s a perfect time to work out parenting and divorce issues because most people feel great. We all have more patience, more energy and it’s the time of year for moves and fresh starts. if you have to separate permanently, summer is a good time to move households.

Summer is also a great time to try out different parenting schedules, different child custody arrangements. The kids are out of school so if a new plan doesn’t work out, their grades don’t suffer. In summer is the time to plan for fall and school schedules, so you can have a stress-free fall and school year. The kids may have more time to be active, so they feel better too, and there are fewer child related issues. early summer is the time to work out summer vacations with the kids, if you haven’t already. Summer is a time to make those memories with each parent so the kids understand that you’re not separating from them, but from each other. Your children need reassurance and special time with each of you.

One of the greatest ways to make divorces and separations work well for kids is for parents to get along. One of the best ways for parents to get along is to have an agreement in writing. The agreement should take into account each parent’s schedule and each child’s activity. It should take into account the personalities of each parent, and especially of the kids. One size does not fit all! A poor agreement (or no agreement) almost guarantees more problems in the months and years ahead.but if kids see you, their parents, working things out in an adult way, that gives them hope and even confidence that things will be okay. If you look at it that way, a good mediated agreement worked out by you, not by a judge or attorneys who don’t know your kids, is one of the best things you can do. Good for you and good for your kids. And mediation is a lot cheaper than going to court. Call a mediator today!

Child Custody Is Not Crunching Numbers

In my Minnesota mediation cases, I occasionally run into folks that are concerned about numbers with child custody and child custody mediation. These people could be attorneys or people who mediate with me. The numbers they are concerned with are the number of child overnights (used in Minnesota to calculate parenting time), 45.1 % (the overnight time needed to get child support in Family Mediation cases based only on incomes and not on parenting time) and how much money they’ll have to pay their ex-spouse in maintenance (used to be called alimony).

Now I’m not opposed to using numbers in mediation cases (I was a math major once), as they can tell you lots of things. If one partner or spouse has an monthly income of $3,000, expenses of $4,500 and used to living on 8K, there is a problem even if that person has cut back considerably to pare down the monthly budget to $4500. As a mediator I try to head off problems so people will not need to return to mediation later. If parents agree that one spouse or partner lives in a 7 bedroom house worth $400,000 and the other lives in a one bedroom trailer worth $25,000, there may be problems with their 6 kids being happy living in the trailer. A judge might appropriately ask them “What are the best interests of the children?,” and “How is this fair for them?.” and may tell them that their agreement isn’t. Even if the judge lets the agreement stand sooner or later their kids (your kids) will ask, “How come Mom (or Dad) always has to be careful with money and you, (Dad or Mom) have plenty.

Now there are people who have legitimate concerns about how much they can or should pay for child support and maintenance. All too often, however, people who play the numbers game are more concerned about their money than their kids. When I ask them what they want and they say, I want 45.1% parenting time, I sometimes ask them, “Would you want that much parenting time even if it meant paying more child support?” If they say “yes” then an agreement can be reached. But if they say, “No,” then I ask, “What do you think is best for your kids?” and we continue to mediate. Child Custody is not crunching numbers.

Minnesota Divorce Mediation

Minnesota divorce mediation is not like California divorce mediation.For one thing, divorce mediation in CA has been up and running a lot longer.It’s a normal process for divorce and nobody thinks about it. Here in Minnesota divorce mediation is different. For one thing, it takes a while for trends on the coast to become “trendy” around here. Most people in Minnesota think of attorneys when they consider divorcing. And there is a difference between Minneapolis Divorce mediation, Saint Paul divorce mediation and say, Rochester divorce mediation. It is more common to find mediators in the Twin Cities who are not attorneys, but it is more difficult to find a “non-attorney”
mediator (that’s what thy call us) out state than it is in the Twin Cities metro.

I like to think of my mediation practice as Minnesota family mediation, because families and especially kids, come first. I have the counseling and logic background to work well with emotions, but also help you figure out what is practical. This means that you can work things out for yourselves rather than spending many thousands of dollars going to court to fight things out.

Getting back to the differences between Minnesota mediation and California mediation. In California there are no seasons really, while in Minnesota there are. So there are different times of the year that are busy for Minnesota mediation services. Spring is busy (who moves out in a Minnesota winter?), summer is busy, especially just before school in the fall. Then it tapers off gradually at Christmas time except for divorced parenting holiday schedules. It helps me to realize how much we are affected by both people around us (culture) and weather. though I can’t prove it, I’m willing to bet that bad winters increase the divorce rate. People get stir-crazy after a while.


Court Ordered Mediation

I got a call this morning from a Rochester mediation client. Minnesota mediation clients often call me with questions. A common question is this: “My mediation is court ordered; What do I do?” I’m happy to answer this question, but first I want to explain a bit about court ordered mediations.

A court ordered mediation is an order to try to settle your dispute before you try court. If a judge orders you to do something, it is important that you do it, because the judge has the power to make your life much more difficult than most people realize. If you ignore a court order, you can be fined or in extreme cases a warrant can even be issued for your arrest. Now these things don’t happen very often, because judges want to settle disputes, not delay them by jail time. What is more important is that a judge helps you settle your case, and you want the judge to think you are cooperative.

Occasionally a mediation client asks me to set up a time for a court ordered mediation with their ex, and their ex refuses. When that happens I am often asked to write a letter stating that I tried to set up a mediation, that one party was cooperative, but the other party wasn’t willing. I would not want to be the uncooperative party when they get back to court. The first question the judge will say is “Why didn’t you try mediation?” and you’d better have a good answer. The cooperative party can say “I tried, Your Honor.” but the other person is confronted by a judge who may believe they are uncooperative. Is a judge likely to accept their excuses? Is a judge who thinks you are uncooperative likely to rule in your favor and do what you want? Probably not.

Judges don’t like to try family cases in court. Judges want you to figure things out on your own because judges almost never win when they rule in a family case. one party, and often both parties, are unhappy. If you’re not happy with a decision then it’s back to court again and again.

In mediation YOU can figure out what’s best. The judge doesn’t love your kids, but you do. The judge doesn’t know your kids, may never meet your kids, but you do. Going to court just makes things harder. After all the nasty things that are said in court it is hard to co-parent, and you will be co-parents forever, until your kids are 18 and even after your children turn 18. when mediation is court ordered, do it. Even if mediation is not court ordered, give mediation a chance before you go to court, before you even hire attorneys. With your family mediation, you can save thousands in attorneys’ fees.

Minneapolis mediation divorce clients, St. Paul divorce mediation clients, greater Minnesota divorce mediation clients: Give mediation a chance, whether court ordered mediation or before that. You can save thousands of dollars, get a great agreement. you’ll be glad you did.

Mediation and Cost

When people call me for Minnesota divorce mediation or Minnesota family mediation, the first they often say is “how much does it cost?” A question I ask people seeking family mediation or divorce mediation in return is this: “How well do you get along?” If two people can’t get along well at all, ANY way they try to work things out is not going to be easy, at least at first.

I wish I could offer a flat fee of say, $300, to mediate a divorce. But how much a mediation costs varies widely from couple to couple, and depends on many factors: how tired the people are, how hungry they are, what else is going on in their lives. Cost depends on how stubborn or cooperative either of them are. Some mediation goes quickly until folks reach an issue that neither will budge on. Others take a couple hours to reach the first agreement but agreements flow quickly after that. Sometimes circumstances change from horrible to great and vice versa.

What I can tell you is, the more patient people are, the less it will cost. The more people listen and think and the more creative people are the less it will cost. The more they focus on their kids or their families, the less it will cost. The more locked into thinking that they are always right, the more it will cost. If it’s a matter of pride not to give an inch, the more an agreement will cost, if they can get an agreement at all. Bad relationships don’t happen all at once, Neither do agreements and making things better.

If you haven’t been working together well, give mediation a chance. Learning or relearning to cooperate takes time. But cooperation can bring benefits for as long as you live. Even if you never see your ex again, and you never had kids together, a good divorce agreement can make the rest of your life easier. It may be the best financial decision you’ll ever make.

Minnesota Divorce: Mediation or Attorneys- Which Is Best?

In doing Minnesota divorce mediation, I often run into folks who’ve called a lawyer before they call me. Worse yet, they’ve paid a $2000-$5000 retainer to an attorney before contacting me. Perhaps the lawyer is already working zealously on their behalf, doing their job, but making a bad relationship with your ex worse. Below are my top 8 reasons for trying mediation before you hire an attorney.

1. Mediation works best before lawyers get involved
When lawyers start to work, they confront your ex via phone, email or letter. That puts them on the defensive; defensive people don’t settle or mediate very well.

2. Mediation is more expensive when you do it with attorneys
If you retain an attorney, often they’ll insist on mediating with you. That means paying half the mediation costs plus your attorney’s fees- often $400/hour or more total.

3. Mediation is less expensive than doing almost anything with attorneys
Attorneys talking back and forth to reach settlement takes time. Accusations, phone calls, meetings and drafting legal briefs might take 20 hours for each attorney. A mediated agreement without attorneys often can be finished in 10 hours, with a total cost much less than half the cost of hiring attorneys.

4. Attorneys are win/lose; mediation is win/win
In theory attorneys make a case for you; in practice attorneys usually make a case against your ex-partner, trying to prove they’re wrong, or bad parents. Mediation respects each of you.

5. Most people know their situation better than their attorneys do
I’ve spoken to many folks who regret involving attorneys. Simple problems become difficult. Complicated situations get even worse. It can take many months or years. When they finally settle, attorneys can ignore their clients wishes and make what they think is the right agreement, often without clients understanding.

6. Co-parenting is easier after mediation
I work with parents after divorce, too. With attorneys, each of your flaws is brought up, even before court. It can be embarrassing or humiliating. You remember forever all the bad things attorneys said. After all the mud-slinging, cooperation can be difficult or even impossible.

7. Mediation is an agreement that you make- not attorneys or a judge
Judges rule on the law, but even after court, they don’t know your situation like you do. When judges rule or attorneys decide often nobody’s satisfied. You’ll return repeatedly to court. If you mediate, you work out what’s best.

8. Mediation is less stressful
Honestly, mediation can be hard at times: both people need to be respectful and honest. But compare that to spending days in court listening to arguing attorneys, not knowing what will happen, and all the financial problems made worse because of attorney costs. A skilled mediator makes a divorce or separation without attorneys possible and because it’s your agreement, it stands the test of time. Mediation works!

Minneapolis Divorce Mediation

What do you look for in a divorce professional? There are many, many folks who have Minneapolis divorce mediation services, or Saint Paul divorce mediation services, for that matter. Many are attorneys who have realized that the grind of court litigation is tough on them and their clients. Some attorneys understand most folks aren’t willing to pay $3-5000 to retain an attorney. Most understand that these are not the “Kramer versus Kramer” days of 30 years ago, where there were plenty of Baby Boomers with kids, with lots of money and eager to defend their rights. times are lean for many family attorneys.

Many of the attorneys out there are not mediating because they want to, but because they have to. Fewer folks want full service court battles and attorneys; most want to get by as inexpensively as they can. Some attorneys offer Minnesota mediation services because they don’t have enough paying clients who want to fight it out in court and they have to mediate if they want to stay in business. Many of these think a law degree ensures one can mediate. But Minnesota divorce mediation is tough; it requires more than a law degree. You need a person with head smarts and logic; someone with the creativity to look at situations in new ways and can help couples get there.

You are best off with someone who understands emotion and conflict and has a good track record of helping people cooperate. You are also better off finding a mediator without a huge office and up to $100K of overhead expenses. There are folks like me who offer Minnesota family mediation services or Minnesota divorce mediation services by traveling close to where folks are. Some, like me, do that with no travel charges. I travel up to two hours away from Rochester or Bloomington. Why travel 50 miles to get mediation? Do it close to home! Why not Chaska family mediation or Rochester family mediation, or Mankato family mediation, too, not just Saint Paul family mediation or Minneapolis family mediation?

Get mediators who have a track record in getting folks to cooperate and who have most of their experience in actual mediation, not just law. Minnesota family mediation should be done by folks who don’t take sides for most of their living. Mediation from a caring professional works better!