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What is Mediation?

When you are considering separation or divorce there are a lot of decisions to be made. You will have to find answers to the questions of when?, where?, what? and how?. The question of how you will separate is about the process you will use. Will you and your spouse each hire a lawyer and go to court, i.e. litigate? If you do you can expect to spend thousands of dollars in attorneys fees and have little if any control over the outcome. A judge will tell you what to do with your house, your bank account, your pension and your children.

You can choose to mediate instead. You and your spouse can select a neutral third party, a mediator, who will help you decide for yourselves what to do with the house, bank account, pension and children. You can create your own separation agreement, with terms that suit your particular needs. All your discussions are private, the schedule is up to you, and you can stop if it doesn't work and still go to court. The mediator doesn't tell you what to do, but helps you make informed choices.

Mediators use lots of techniques to help you make decisions. Even if communications with your spouse aren't good, a skilled mediator can help each of you express your concerns and get your needs met. Mediators help you focus on your interests, rather than on what you may think you want. Among other things, it is always in the best interest of both parties to reach an agreement they can live with, and studies generally show that mediated agreements are honored more than litigated settlements.

The typical steps in mediation are to identify the issues, create options for resolving them, analyze the options, discard options that don't meet the needs of all the parties (including the children), and choose the best solution. Other professionals can be of help here. An accountant can help with tax implications, a psychologist can offer insight into the needs of the children, a Certified Divorce Planner can analyze the financial impact of a proposed settlement, and an attorney can explain the boundaries of the law. Once you have made your choices the mediator will write an agreement for you, which you can have reviewed by an attorney if you wish prior to signing.

Mediation works best when both parties are confident that they can represent their own interests. The better informed you are before beginning mediation, the more effectively you can use the process. Taking the time to go to the library or surf the net in advance is well worth it.

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The Virginia court gives primary consideration to the best interests of the child in determining custody. The court assures minor children of frequent and continuing contact with both parents, when appropriate, and encourages parents to share in the responsibilities of rearing their children. In determining the best interests of a child, the court considers a variety of factors including the age, physical and mental condition of the child as well as each parent, the needs of the child, the role of each parent and the rapport of each parent, and the "willingness and demonstrated ability of each parent to maintain a close and continuing relationship with the child, and the ability of each parent to cooperate in and resolve disputes regarding matters affecting the child," family abuse, and "other factors as the court deems necessary and proper to the determination."
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