If you can picture the two of you accomplishing most of these four tasks with the help of a mediator,
the answer is “yes”. By working together in this way, you can save divorce costs and follow a reasonable path to a Final Decree.
Start out with the Right Attitude!
1. The first step is a candid talk with your spouse or partner. Choose a time when you both can keep your emotions in check and talk business. Can you agree that both of you wish to save attorney fees and cut turmoil in the divorce process? Together, reach the conclusion that you are both capable of taking control of the process especially with some leadership from a lawyer whom you trust is neutral to your differences. This might sound corny, but you and your spouse should shake hands on it. If this step starts to blow up, try again later. 2. The next step is very important if you have a child. Again, keep your emotions in check as you work toward the next agreement. The divorce is the end of the marriage and the beginning of co-parenting as a divorced couple. Agree that you are each able to strike a plan for the co-parenting that is in the absolute best interests of the child. Agree to understand that it is not important that each of you get exactly what you want concerning your child, rather, what is best for your child is very important. Commit to doing your best toward this goal.
Points 1 and 2 are the biggest hurdles toward an economical and sane divorce. Keep going!
3. The next task is simply the gathering of documents and information to divide your marital assets. The end goal is an agreement that the resulting list of assets is accurate. In the more common divorce litigation setting, the parties are passing piecemeal information to their attorneys; this leaves the attorneys to go back and forth until the list is complete; the process is an unnecessary expense if you two can do this together. Before you start, agree that you are perfectly capable of gathering the information and making the list. Commit to full disclosure. Even if you can't agree on the list, can you at least gather the information and agree to be square with each other? Anything you own that is worth anything is an asset. The goal is for you to agree on a current value to each asset. If you can come to an agreement concerning most of the assets, we can work toward more agreement at mediation; but do your best. For example, if you own a home, the value is how much you could sell it for minus any outstanding mortgage(s). Another example, you might receive monthly statements concerning some of your assets (bank accounts, investment accounts, etc.) It is much simpler to agree on the value of these assets because you have the statements. Do not forget to include your retirement assets (IRA, 401k, pension value statements.) Your employer might be able to help you. Documentation of every account (rather than just an oral statement) will give each of you confidence that you understand the value of the asset and how the asset is held. Can you picture the two of you doing this homework together? If so, this can save you money and fighting. Next, discuss whether each item is an asset of the marriage or an individual asset. For example, if you had a money market account before you got married and you have not deposited any money earned during the marriage in the account; it might well be an individual asset. Do not let this determination ruin everything if you begin to disagree. It is much cheaper for the two of you to solve the dispute than for a judge or two opposing attorneys to do it. On the subject of pre-marital assets that may have become joint assets, if you owned some assets before your marriage, it is helpful to determine the value of the accounts at the time of marriage. If you can keep a positive attitude about the value of our mediation process, I, as a neutral mediator, can guide you to an agreement on the classification of the assets. Moreover, each of you is free to seek independent advice at any time. Keep that in mind if either of you start to get insecure about these tasks. 4. Make another list of all your debts. List every single entity or person that either of you owe anything. The list will include the creditor, the name on the account or debt, what you got for incurring the debt, and the current balance due. As with the assets, begin to discuss whether each debt is a debt of the marriage or an individual debt. If the debt is a credit card, you need to discuss, think back, and conclude what you got with the borrowed money. For example, a credit card balance might have paid for a family vacation, furniture, and a new air conditioner. If so, it sounds like a marital debt. In contrast, if one of you incurred student loans before you married and did not refinance the loans, they are likely an individual debt. This is sometimes a testy topic. Can you and your spouse make this list knowing the goal is to simplify the process and not have lawyers fight about it? A neutral mediator can help you reach an agreement on the fine details of this list.
Keep These Motivating Points in Mind
Do not worry if there are a couple of sticking points during these four tasks. A worthy mediation goal is mostly the accomplishment of two things: First, a neutral mediator can neutrally educate both of you about the process toward a rational and economical divorce. Second, by getting you to discuss the issues peacefully, a neutral mediator can neutrally assist both of you toward an agreement on the issues hindering the agreement. You have a safety net to the process because you know can seek confidential independent advice anytime and another lawyer or lawyers will draw up the final agreement for filing with the Court.
Additional resources provided by the author
Look for mediators in your area with an interest in this kind of process.
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