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Reinvent the Deal - Redefining Divorce

Beyond the economic disasters of divorce, there the situation of sanity, which seems to make a quick getaway during this tumultuous time. But the reality can hit much harder than anticipated. Read on for more information on how mediation can help save your equilibrium - and your future.

The Rx Files

As early as 1998, Joe Williams knew he had a problem. The screaming, late night legal wrangling, the works, and nothing was advantageous. The tired situation of who gets what really hit home - especially since he was losing his to his estranged wife.

"My boys are sixteen and eight," began Joe, a plumbing contractor from Milwaukee. A tall, angular man standing in the remains of a 17 year marriage ruined by affairs and mistrust, he expressed deep concern for what was his, hers, and theirs. "My ex left with everything," he sighed between puffs of Marlboros. "She took our kids college funds, my straight off the showroom floor SUV... everything." Now Joe is battling overtime for the house, which he's afraid he'll lose in foreclosure. "It's amazing that I was the one who invested everything into this marriage - and I mean everything - I bought the house, cars, you name it. Now I'm 51 and realize that if I'm left with nothing - which is exactly how this looks -- I won't be able to retire. How do you like that?"

How indeed. Although down from a high of 5.3 divorces per 1,000 Americans; in 2001, there were 4 divorces per 1,000. The National Center for Health Statistics recently released a report that found an average of 43 percent of first marriages end in separation or divorce within 15 years. 37% of remarriages among women end in a separation or divorce within 10 years, compared with 30% of remarriages. And what do couples generally battle about? Custody and money, with the majority of failed marriage usually a result of the children from the spouse's first union. "Generally it looks better on the outside compared to what is really going on underneath it all with battling spouses putting up a congenial front," says James A. Craig, Esq., a Newport Beach, Calif. attorney specializing in family law and international relations. "But during divorce, if you are experiencing an already fractious family infrastructure, certainly you should concede that when dealing with this type of volatile personalities, nobody is going to budge. And of course, you've got a lose-lose situation on your hands - with the kids in the last running."

Misunderstood Motives

Once the once upon a storybook romance crashes and burns, a whole lot of problems ensue, with the biggest of how to end the liaison as quickly and painlessly as possible. At the outset, a tremendous investment is made in making the marriage as strong as possible. But when the hatchet is falling and self-preservation is of primary interest, who wins? "Absolutely nobody, if there is no hope of even the most rudimentary aspect of civility between the divorcers," says attorney Cynthia P. Goldenrod, a family law and mediation specialist in Akron, Ohio. "And if you believe for one minute that a mediator can concoct a compromise between two die hard litigants, you have to be kidding yourself. Of course, in the courts the judge has the power to divide and conquer, but then there you have it: the Ultimate Prryic Victory!" The mediator can only do so much, she explains. The rest is up to the combatants. "And if this a second or third divorce, with children who are his hers and ours, you can imagine the mess this is."

According to research from Penn State, when marriages fail, the psychological harm inflicted upon children lasts well into adulthood. A team of sociologists at Pennsylvania State University recently released their findings of seventeen years of longitudinal studies collected from two generations. Their results confirm the data of "old" understandings from parental divorce while also providing new insights. As such, they report that more than three fourths of children who experienced divorce also had to contend with at least one parental remarriage, with many of these same children experiencing a second or third divorce as well! Sobering statistics? Not surprisingly, the data indicates that the psychological well being of these children declines with the number of family transitions. "Even though the parent may mean well when remarrying, especially those who marry to 'find a mom or dad for their kids,' is really doing a tremendous disservice to their children. Not only do the kids need them, not somebody in the body of an impostor, but to marry in haste for this specific aim defeats the purpose of marriage in the first place. Think about it: have you given your children enough time to really understand and digest what's happening in the first place? And if they're very young and completely unaware, you should reconsider this kid of miscalculation." A recent aggressive study found that teens in single parent families and teens in step families are three times more likely to have needed psychological assistance within the past year, with disturbed adolescent functioning is as common among step families as those of single parent families, and much more common than children from intact, well functioning families. Therefore, the study clearly debunked the theory that remarriage for the sake of a new parent is good for the psychological influence of your child. Wow! That's good to know.

Divorce Dialogues

Think of it as a bit of a twist on the representative approach of marriage counseling, but with distinct advantages: Divorce Counseling already assumes you are serious about terminating the union without the extraneous distractions of a well meaning marriage mentor guiding you toward the ultimate goal of reconciliation. "In Divorce Counseling, the therapist is there for the sole purpose of offering emotional assistance as well as the proper resources for you and your children, with the understanding that indeed, you are not going back," says Leslie Howard-Diehl, MA, MFT, a marriage and family therapist turned Divorce Counselor in private practice in Laguna Beach, Calif., and the author of the upcoming "Divorce Your Style," a comprehensive guide to divorce counseling. "In marriage counseling, the therapist acts as a cupid of sorts. With Divorce Counseling, you're acclimating your children to the fact that although you aren't residing in the same home with their other parent, you are still the parent, even though at some point in your life, there just might be another significant other," says Leslie. "Divorce Counseling helps your family through one stage at a time. Assets are realistically and politely discussed, and alternate methods of resolutions are discovered." Says Loren Larson, Ph.D., a child development specialist and Divorce Counselor in Los Angeles, "I have clients who insist they deserve everything, and what I try to do before the situation is thrown to the lawyers is help the couple decide who gets what, when, and why. I act as a intermediary before the parties go to court, and most especially, my objective is to keep it all out of the courtrooms." If one party does not consent to mediation or counseling? "This can be an annoying dilemma, most particularly when clients come equipped with a tremendous sense of entitlement," he sighs. "But I usually have pretty good luck with this!"

Mediation vs Arbitration

In mediation, both parties meet with a neutral person who assists in structuring a plan that will work for each and everybody. An arbitrator does the same, but with an exception: a mediator does not make the final decision. "An arbitrator has the power to wield the final decision. If you don't come to terms with the mediator, an arbitrator can step in and take over. However, if one party is not amenable to mediation, this can be more challenging, especially if the case goes to arbitration, and of course, to court," says Sunitha Anjival, an attorney in Los Angeles who specialized in family law in California and Canada. Although mediation can be a terrific way to sort out problems, watch the caveats: Orange County, California mediator Jacqueline Soares of Alternative Solutions offers some sage advice about how to get the most out of mediation or arbitration. "One of the first issues is about trust," she says. "Obviously, everything needs to be out in the open but primarily, don't be afraid to lay it on the table. The mediator can't help you if you're hiding anything. Be as open and honest as possible and this will certainly help in showcasing your better side." According to recent stats, only 7% of divorces are mediated in the United States, but are satisfaction rates are reported to be much higher than those who litigate.

Advantages of Mediation/Arbitration
  • Staying out of court, which is generally a protracted, arduous experience at best,
  • Conciliatory advice which is usually advantageous to both sides; and
  • Faster decisions, which can result in less pain and torment.

"You may find that mediation and even arbitration are easier on the soul than courts," says Sunitha. "Which isn't to say that some people aren't adverse to battling it out in the judge's chambers, but those are the types who are extremely angry and combative, and who have no sense of fair judgment, even for their children. But in the end, if it's at all possible, mediation is by far a more effective and compassionate way to end a marriage."

What Would A Mediated Divorce Look Like?

"Usually, mediation takes about three to ten sessions to complete, with each session lasting two to four hours," says Ken Baker, a mediator in San Jose, Calif. "In addition to saving thousands of dollars, mediation saves tons of time." Why use mediation?

  • Tremendous cost savings
  • Negotiating an amicable, hostage-free settlement
  • Assistance in maintaining legal information
  • Nobody takes sides

The mediator can also help identify pertinent points with cooperative problem solving of typical and usually emotionally charged issues such as:

  • Who gets primary custody?
  • Support payments
  • Who gets the house? (This is usually the next question after who gets the kids)
  • Who will the investments be divided?
  • Health insurance coverage (a loaded topic)
  • How will the children go to college? (That is: who will finance the kids after the age of 18?)
  • And last but not least, "Nobody takes sides," says Cynthia.

Resources:

"Divorced Dads: 101 Ways To Stay Connected With Your Kids,"
Nancy J. Wesson, Ph.D.
Insightful info for dads on how to bridge the emotional gap before you go. Very useful.

"My Parents Are Divorced, Too,"
Ford et al.
Kids talk about how they aren't so different after all. Great insights from out of the mouths of babes.

"Divorce Is Not The End Of The World,"
Stern et al.
A coping guide for kids. Valuable and resourceful.

"And remember to stay involved," says Dr. Larson. "Above all, be a class act and carry on as the loving parent you were before the divorce."


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