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Mandated vs. Private Divorce Mediation - Is There a Difference?

When couples make the decision to legally separate or dissolve their marriage, they have more options than to just muddle through it on their own or retain attorneys and go to battle. Discovering what those alternatives are is part of the education process we offer couples as they embark on their journey to transition into the next phase of their lives.

If a couple chooses to go through the court system, whether or not they have legal representation, most courts require them to attend mediation or conciliation before their case is heard in a courtroom. This type of mediation includes a quick review of the file by a court appointed mediator at the courthouse, a short question and answer session to find out what the main issues are, and a chance for the couple to come to an agreement on one or more of the core issues of a divorce; property, income and assets, custody of children, and support. Often these agreements are incomplete and neither party feels really heard because of the time constraints on this type of mediation.

Private mediation offers couples a more flexible time frame, allowing ample time to be spent on issues that may be more complicated than others. The mediator asks pertinent questions which encourages each party to think about the future and how their decisions will impact not only them, but any children that are involved as well. While the courts have guidelines regarding custody and support, private mediation offers custom agreements for families that implement what works best for their particular set of circumstances with a flexible timeline that allows the parties to make appointments convenient to each of their schedules.

Couples who agree to private mediation instead of being mandated to cooperate with a court mediator or conciliation facilitator, take back the control that is handed over to attorneys and the judge during the divorce process. In essence they are saying “these are our lives, our children, our property, our assets; we will decide what happens”. By keeping the adversarial court system out of it, it is often more peaceful, less stressful, and in the best interest of each individual and the children who are involved.

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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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