Financial issues are often cited as the number one reason couples divorce. So it stands to reason, then, that at a time when our country is suffering with 9.1% unemployment and a volatile market, divorce rates would begin to trend upward…. higher than the current statistics which reveal that 50% of first marriages and 65% of second marriages end in divorce. Some statistics cite the average cost of a divorce to be $15,000. However, given my exposure to family lawyers’ rates and my own personal experience, I would challenge that figure as grossly underestimated. Mediation offers couples an alternative, which is not only financially palatable, but is also substantially less stressful than litigation. In the hands of a competent mediator, couples can part ways and maintain their dignity, their sanity and their financial resources.
Consider this: 35 year old man, divorced six years ago in an amicable, non-litigious fashion. He and his ex-wife had their respective attorneys draw up a mutually agreeable Property Settlement Agreement, which addressed alimony and child support in a comprehensive 27-page document. Fast-forward a few years, and the ex-wife took on a lover. In and of itself, this was not a problem. However, the Property Settlement Agreement included a clause, which terminated alimony upon cohabitation. And so the dispute began to erupt. He accuses her of living with him; she vehemently denies it. He wants to stop paying her alimony. She wants his money. Hostilities increased over months and months of arguing, culminating in the filing of a Petition to Terminate Alimony. This fueled the fire even further, and the attorneys representing each party having been “zealously” representing their respective clients (translation: running up legal fees without consideration for the parties.) The case is not yet resolved, and he has spent over $50,000 in legal fees. She has spent over $20,000.
Mediation is an effective tool used increasingly more these days to resolve disputes without litigation. Litigation, by its own definition, is a litigious process. It is time-consuming, expensive, and often destroys family dynamics. Mediation offers a way for people to resolve their disputes without the brutality that often arises when lawyers get in the way. As a result, both parties often find their way to a reasonable and mutually agreeable settlement. This isn’t always the case, but it’s a good place to start. In fact, many courts require that parties engage in mediation prior to trial. Unfortunately, by this point, many parties have already exhausted their financial resources with the attorneys’ fees, making mediation a less than meaningful exercise.
Before calling an attorney, consider retaining the expertise of a certified family law mediator. Initial phone consultations are often free, and first formal meetings (whether in person, over the phone or Internet) range anywhere from $200 – $450/hour. There is typically no expectation of a retainer, and you can often pay-as-you-go. These fees pale in comparison to the fees generated by family lawyers, who are motivated to convince you to pay them a retainer fee, and then begin working on your file. By calling a mediator first, at worst, you will gain solid advice about your situation and guidance about your best course of action. At best, you will find yourself resolving your issues cost efficiently and relatively stress-free.