We are facing unprecedented times that are impacting every area of our lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the family courts closing for everything except emergency proceedings, leaving many couples wondering if they can still move forward with their divorce, or if they have to put it on hold.
If you are choosing to go the route of traditional litigation, your divorce is likely to be delayed for several weeks or perhaps months because of the coronavirus situation. Fortunately, there are alternative processes that will allow you to proceed with your divorce even while the courts are limiting cases,
One such alternative that has become increasingly popular in recent years is divorce mediation. With mediation, you can resolve all of the outstanding issues that would be necessary to reach a settlement, and the settlement can become legally binding even without the final court hearing. This allows couples to finalize everything and be in a position to move forward with their lives when everything gets back to normal.
The Benefits of Divorce Mediation
In recent years, a growing number of couples have realized the numerous benefits that divorce mediation can provide. The process is far less expensive than a court trial, and it can be completed much sooner. But aside from the cost and time savings, perhaps an even more important benefit is the ability to resolve your divorce in a cooperative rather than competitive setting.
Mediation sessions are facilitated by a neutral, third-party mediator whose goal is to guide the conversation toward win-win resolutions. And although the mediator guides the conversation, the participants are in full control of the outcome. In other words, nothing can ever become legally binding unless both spouses agree to it.
The flexibility and control that mediation offers allows couples to get creative and come up with more customized solutions that fit their individual situation. This is very difficult to do in a court setting, because the courts have many other cases to get to and they tend to favor “one-size-fits-all” solutions that do not take a lot of time to develop. The ability to work together on their divorce also helps preserve delicate family relationships, which is especially important when there are children involved.
Another thing that is particularly beneficial about mediation during the coronavirus pandemic is the ability to conduct remote sessions. At Advanced Mediation Solutions, we have provided virtual mediation for many years, and we have the ability to connect participants by phone or videoconference from wherever they are, so we can all observe the social distancing guidelines laid out by our federal, state, and local governments.
What Happens when Mediation is Over?
For most couples, it will take approximately four mediation sessions to resolve all of the underlying issues and finalize the divorce. If you have a more complicated situation, such as significant and unique assets that need to be divided, children with special needs, or a military divorce, then more time may be required. We can also bring other experts into the conversation when needed to help with their particular area of specialty. Examples include CPAs, financial planners, and child psychologists.
Once everything has been agreed to and the mediation is completed, we work with attorneys (or the attorneys for the participants if they have them) to create a legal agreement. In New Jersey, this is known as a Marital Settlement Agreement, and in Pennsylvania, it is known as a Property Settlement Agreement. Once the spouses sign the agreement, it becomes legally binding.
It is important to note that mediation can also be used for couples who are separating and not getting a divorce at this time to develop a separation agreement. A separation agreement can address most of the same issues as a divorce, such as child custody and parenting plans, spousal support, and division of property. It is always best to have a formal agreement when you separate so that your interests and the interests of your children are fully protected.
Finally, we want to stress again that these are unprecedented times, and there is additional flexibility to create temporary arrangements to help families get through this. For example, you may have a parenting plan that worked great for everyone just a few short weeks ago, but now it has to be completely revised. In such cases, it would make sense to create an interim agreement that fully addresses your current circumstances.
We are Here for You
We know that this is a tough time for a lot of families, and we are here to help in any way we can. Of course, we are all working remotely now, but we are also offering customized and extended hours as well as free consultations to make things as convenient for you as possible. Feel free to contact us any time to schedule your complimentary consultation. We look forward to serving you!
We are going through one of the most turbulent times our country and the world has ever faced. The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has disrupted the lives of literally everyone. Our current situation may go on for just a couple weeks, or it could last for several months. As of this writing, no one really knows the final outcome or what the world will look like when this is all over.
As our nation deals with the COVID-19 crisis, divorced parents face many unique challenges. Most of the schools are closed and the kids are at home. But since we are supposed to follow social distancing guidelines, most parents are choosing not to allow their children to go out and play with other kids.
For those who are co-parenting during the coronavirus pandemic, there are a lot of issues that need to be dealt with. First of all, most people have experienced major changes in their schedules. Some have been temporarily laid off or are working from home, while others are working overtime on the front lines to help deal with the crisis.
It could be that both parents are working away from home, in which case you will need to figure out who is going to watch the kids when they are home from school all day. And keep in mind, if “grandma” and “grandpa” have always been your “go to” babysitters, that might not be the best option during the midst of this pandemic as they could be in the high risk group if they catch the virus.
Another scenario could be that one parent is at home and the other is out working. If this is the case, then it would probably make sense for the parent at home to have the kids most of the time, while the other can maybe conduct regular Skype or Facebook messenger conferences in order to stay connected.
Maybe both parents are working at home. If this is the case, it could be an opportunity for the parents to share more evenly in the stress involved with having the kids home from school. With all of this going on, both parents should be actively engaged in the lives of their children, because your kids need you right now.
Parenting Time Revisions because of the Coronavirus
With all the schedule disruptions caused by the COVID-19 crisis, there is a very good chance that your work or living situation now may not be nearly the same as it was when the original parenting plan was established. In times like these, everyone needs to be flexible and try to work together.
Trying to hold to a plan that never accounted for anything close to a situation like this will cause enormous stress for everyone involved. The best thing to do right now is take a look at your current schedules and the schedules of the kids and try to work out something that everyone can live with.
If you are having a hard time figuring all this out, there is help available. This is a difficult and stressful time, and it may be helpful to have an outside professional assist you with your parenting schedule.
At Advanced Mediation Solutions, we have helped countless couples over the years to develop parenting plans that are customized to fit their unique circumstances. Our mediation services are affordable, and most couples can hash out their plans in just one or two sessions. We also have virtual mediation services, so you can conduct sessions remotely while following all of the current social distancing guidelines.
Helping your Kids through the Coronavirus Crisis
In addition to scheduling, another major issue that must be dealt with during the COVID-19 outbreak is protecting your children and helping them get through it. As mentioned previously, you need to look closely at social distancing guidelines to make sure your kids do not run a higher risk of contracting the virus and spreading it to others. They may not understand why this is so important, and you may have to have some difficult conversations with them.
On the other hand, having the kids at home with nothing else to do can present some opportunities for quality family time that would previously have been unavailable. Many kids are doing distance learning right now, and they may need you to help them with their homework, which could be a good time to bond. This may also be a time to play some games together as a family, or to use technology for you and your kids to connect with other close family members for some virtual fun.
Together We Will Get through This
At the end of the day, it is important to remember that this situation, no matter how long it lasts, will eventually pass. Sooner or later, life will return to normal and we will resume the regular work and activities that give our lives purpose. In the meantime, try to make the best of the situation.
Be patient, be understanding, try to keep conflicts to a minimum, and do what you can to help you and those around you manage the stress. And don’t forget, there are resources available out there if you need them, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
During a divorce, alimony/spousal support is one of the most important issues that needs to be resolved. During traditional divorce litigation, court determinations around spousal support are unpredictable, because there are no preset formulas like there are with child support, for example. There is a set of factors that the court is supposed to consider, but ultimately, it is at their discretion whether or not a spouse receives support, and what level of support is paid.
In divorce mediation, things work a bit differently. Because the process is voluntary, both participants must agree to the arrangement. And if they cannot come to an agreement, this issue could end up being decided by the courts.
This is actually one of the major benefits of mediating a divorce rather than pursuing litigation. Mediation gives the spouses total control over the process, and they are the ones that are in charge of the spousal support agreement. This eliminates the unpredictability and risks associated with this issue, giving both spouses more assurance that the arrangement they reach will be reasonable and not one-sided.
When it comes to spousal support, three essential questions need to be answered:
- Should spousal support be paid?
- If “yes” to question one, how much support should be paid?
- For how long should the support be paid?
Some of the major factors that a court usually looks at in answering these questions include:
- What is the income and earning capacity of each spouse?
- What is the educational level of each spouse?
- What is the age of each spouse?
- What is the physical and mental health condition of each spouse?
- How long has the couple been married?
- Has one spouse been out of the job market for a significant length of time?
- Does one spouse have parental responsibilities that keeps them from working?
The overall goal of spousal support is to allow both spouses to maintain a comparable standard of living separately comparted to when they were married. And the court will take into account the above factors as well as some others in deciding how to accomplish this goal.
Although they can look at individual circumstances, courts do not usually have the time to delve too deeply into one case. And as mentioned earlier, it is very difficult to know how a court will end up ruling.
Spousal Support in Divorce Mediation: The Creative Approach
Couples are often relieved to know that they can develop a spousal support arrangement that addresses their specific circumstances, rather than the possibility of having a “one-size-fits-all” resolution imposed on them. With mediation, we take an in-depth look at the real needs of the spouses, lifestyles, budgets, obligations, and the other issues that are most important to those who are involved. We also take a look at the goals of the spouses and the purpose of the support.
For example, at first glance, a receiving spouse might want support to be maintained at the same elevated level for an indefinite period of time. But after some additional discussion, we might learn that this spouse wants to go back to school and obtain a higher degree, which could greatly increase their earning capacity.
This could mean a much higher amount of support in the short term in order to achieve a more moderate level of support later on. It could even mean eliminating the need for support at all later on in some cases. Of course, the age of any kids that are involved and the need to care for them would also need to be considered in this scenario.
Like other aspects of divorce mediation, spousal support is a negotiation. Participants need to enter the process with the mindset that they will have to give up some things and that some compromise will be necessary. But in exchange, they will be part of a more amicable process that puts them in an environment that allows them to be creative and come up with the arrangement that best works for them.
When spouses decide to get divorced, there are four primary issues that will need to be worked out; alimony/spousal support, child custody/visitation/parenting plans, division of the marital estate, and child support. All of these issues are resolved either by the courts or through negotiation between the spouses.
It is always better for the spouses to work these things out between themselves, rather than leaving it in the hands of the court, and this is what makes mediation one of the most effective ways to handle a divorce. There is a common misconception when it comes to child support and mediation, however.
Each state has formulas and guidelines that are used to determine support. For example, New Jersey uses the “income shares” model, which is a complicated formula that takes into account the combined incomes of both spouses, the number of children, the ages of the children, and other factors. For this reason, many couples believe that they will simply plug a bunch of numbers into a formula, calculate the results, and be done with it.
But there is a lot more to it than that. First of all, these state formulas generally only approximate the minimum level of support that will be needed. There are a lot of important things that may not be factored in, and of course, the state has no idea what your specific circumstances look like.
The goal of child support is to provide the children with a standard of living that is comparable to what they enjoyed when the couple was together. This support is a continuous obligation for both parents until the child reaches adulthood (and in some cases, longer), and the children should never become economic victims of their parents’ divorce.
All of that said, only you and the other parent know the real cost of raising your child(ren). And this may not be the same as the neighbor kids across the street or even your sister’s children. Your income might be lower than that of your neighbor or sister, and you might have a more modest lifestyle, or vice versa. And this is where divorce mediation can be very helpful.
The Benefits of Mediation for Child Support Determinations
While the courts have some discretion with regard to child support, they do not have the time to delve too deeply into any specific case, so they need to stick pretty closely to preset formulas. With mediation, it is just the opposite. Mediation allows families to get creative, think outside of the box, and develop the child support arrangement that works best for them.
Now, the arrangement has to be fair and the court has to sign off on it. And this provides assurance to some who may be hesitant to go to mediation because feel like they are not good negotiators and they think their spouse is going to walk all over them.
It is important to understand that mediation is a cooperative rather than combative process. It is a negotiation, but the discussion is facilitated by a neutral third-party mediator who is experienced with these matters and whose goal is to guide the parties toward a win-win resolution that both spouses will be happy with.
Although the mediator facilitates the discussion, they have no power to impose anything upon anyone unless all participants agree to it. This means that you and your spouse will both have to approve whatever child support arrangement is worked out during mediation even before it gets reviewed by the courts, so there are plenty of checks and balances during the process.
At the end of the day, child support is about making sure your children are well taken care of during one of the most difficult seasons of their lives. And there is more at stake here than just money, you also want your children to know that they are loved by both parents, and that all of their needs are provided for. Mediation allows critical decisions around support to be made by those who know your children best (you and your spouse), rather than leaving this important matter in the hands of a largely impersonal judicial system.
A high net worth or high asset divorce is one in which couples have significant income and assets. Their annual income often runs into the mid to high six figures, and they typically have a net worth that as well into the seven figures or even higher. Those who are in this category usually have a much more complex financial picture than an average couple, and when they separate or get divorced, they often assume that the division of assets will be too complicated and difficult to handle using a process like mediation.
Divorce mediation is becoming an increasingly preferred alternative to traditional litigation, and it is not hard to see the appeal of mediating a divorce rather than going to the courts. A typical divorce can cost upwards of $20,000 or more for attorney fees alone, while the divorce can usually be handled through mediation for a fraction of that cost. Mediation can also be finished much sooner, and the process is entirely confidential, flexible, and typically far less acrimonious than litigation.
While the numerous potential benefits of divorce mediation seem very attractive to high net worth couples, some are still apprehensive about the process. Much of this is based on the common misconception that complex financial issues cannot be effectively resolved through mediation. The truth is that mediation is no different in this regard than if the spouses hired attorneys and went to court.
When divorce attorneys represent high net worth individuals, they do not handle everything by themselves. Their area of expertise is the law, and they will often need to call on outside specialists such as CPAs, business evaluators, forensic accountants, and other professionals to help with various aspects of the divorce. What many people do not realize is that these same professionals are used when needed during divorce mediation as well.
At AMS, for example, we work closely with a team of skilled professionals who have extensive experience with some of the most complex financial assets; including family-owned and closely-held businesses, franchise businesses, commercial real estate holdings, complicated business arrangements (such as stock options and deferred compensation), international investments, and rare and unique assets. Whatever the level of complexity your finances bring, we are fully equipped to handle it.
What about Protecting my Interests?
You might be thinking, “it’s nice that you can handle our complex financial situation, but how can I be sure that my interests will be protected if we mediate the divorce?” This is a valid concern, and one that is often brought up when one spouse is worried that the other will walk all over them if they do not hire a good lawyer.
First of all, spouses who go to mediation are totally free to hire an attorney as well so they can receive expert legal advice during the process. Secondly, mediation is a voluntary process that is conducted in a cooperative rather than combative environment. Although the mediator facilitates the process, both participants must agree to any settlement that is reached, and nothing can be imposed upon someone that is against their will. Mediators are trained professionals who guide the discussion toward finding common ground and developing a resolution that is acceptable all parties involved.
Mediation is certainly not for everyone, and spouses need to enter the process with the mindset that they are willing to cooperate and work together toward an amicable settlement. Most often, the process is successful, and the spouses are able to resolve their divorce without a long, drawn-out court battle. But if the couple is unable to come to a resolution, all that is lost is a little bit of time and money.
Why Mediation Makes Sense for High Asset Couples
If you are a high net worth couple that is considering divorce, you can either litigate or mediate. The same types of professionals will participate in the process either way, and as far as the division of assets goes, the end result is likely to be about the same. With divorce litigation, however, you will be spending a whole lot more of your hard-earned money on legal costs, and depending on the complexity of your situation, the process could take years rather than months complete.