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Avoid the Turbulent Waters of Divorce Through Mediation
How is a divorce like a journey through turbulent waters? Imagine that you and your spouse are about to undertake a river rafting trip, and are faced with deciding between two methods of travel.
In the competitive method, each of you will have his/her own boat and own guide. During the trip, you will fight over who gets most or all of the provisions, and incidentally or deliberately, will attempt to damage the other's boat.
In the mediation method, both will be in one boat with one guide. Provisions will be divided by negotiation, and no one will attempt to damage the boat. At the outset, the spouses and the guide all agree in writing to make a continuing good faith effort to work together to find mutually acceptable solutions.
Divorce court is like the competitive boat's method. Each spouse has his/her own attorney who spends a lot of time fighting with the other attorney and getting ready for a trial. Just before the time for the trial, in almost all cases, the two sides "settle on the courthouse steps." Along the way, there has been little or no planning for the future, and no attempt to determine the real issues dividing the spouses. The time and money spent fighting and preparing for the trial-that-didn't-happen has been largely wasted. Naturally, the last minute "settlement" often proves to be unsatisfactory to both spouses. Also, after all the legal squabbling, the spouses are very likely to be more antagonistic toward each other than they were at the start of the divorce.
Mediation is like the one-boat method. All issues are decided by negotiation, not by conflict. The mediator assists the spouses to talk directly [not through an attorney] on all issues. Instead of fighting about who should get more assets, money, or time with children, the spouses identify underlying issues and negotiate to reach mutually acceptable agreements.
The resulting Marital Settlement Agreement takes into account the highest priorities of both spouses and of their children. And, unlike in divorce court, the spouses have a good chance of preserving relatively amicable relations between themselves and in-laws. Most importantly, damage to children can be minimized if not avoided completely.
Generally, debts incurred during the marriage are community obligations. This includes credit card bills, even if the credit card is in one name only. Student loans are an important exception because they are considered separate property debts. Community property possessions and community property debts are divided equally unless both spouses agree to an unequal division in writing. If spouses can't agree on the division of debts and possessions, a judge makes that decision.
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