For spouses who are going through a divorce, mediation can help the couple reach a resolution much faster and more cost effectively than traditional litigation. Mediation is a voluntary process in which the spouses work out the terms and conditions of their divorce with the help and guidance of a neutral, third-party mediator. This process can work for just about any couple, as long as the spouses are willing to cooperate. Mediation can even be used for long distance divorces in which the spouses are a significant distance apart from each other.
Virtual Mediation to Bridge the Distance Gap
Many divorcing couples no longer live near each other. At the time they decided the marriage was over, one spouse may have moved out of the area. In other cases, the spouse may have accepted a job in another part of the country, which may have even been a contributing factor to the separation in the first place. There are also many military couples who have one of the spouses deployed overseas on active duty.
For these and other long-distance scenarios, couples can still take advantage of the benefits of mediating their divorce. Through today’s technology, participants can be virtually anywhere in the world when mediation sessions are held. All that is needed is a stable internet connection to communicate through a medium such as Skype, or the ability to make a long-distance phone call. As long as the mediator and other participants can hear each other, virtual divorce mediation can be used successfully.
Advantages of Virtual Mediation
For many couples, long-distance mediation can work better than being in the same physical location together. Here are just a few of the reasons people may prefer virtual mediation:
Busy on-the-go Lifestyles
In today’s society, people have busy schedules. Some professionals travel a lot for work and others just have a lot of obligations; such as work, taking care of aging parents, doing volunteer work, etc. With a packed schedule, it is hard to find time to travel to a specified location for the mediation session. With virtual mediation, this problem is solved. Whenever you have a spare hour or so, you can just call in or connect from wherever you are.
Ability to Facilitate Multiparty Discussions
There are times when it is appropriate to involve multiple participants in a divorce mediation. For example, in more complex cases, you may need the assistance of various financial professionals to work through some of the more complicated economic issues. Some participants may also want others to join (such as adult children or other family members) to provide input or moral support. Virtual mediation makes it much easier to facilitate a session that requires multiple participants.
Divorce is a stressful and life changing event by its very nature. This stress can get in the way of working cooperatively to reach a peaceable divorce resolution, which means the next step might be a costly and protracted litigation proceeding.
Before going that route, virtual mediation is worth a try. In many cases, being in separate locations can be just the solution you need to overcome this issue. Spouses can feel more comfortable and at ease as they speak to the mediator and the other spouse, and this puts them in a much better position to succeed with divorce mediation.
After a divorce is finalized, life goes on and people adjust and move on. Circumstances will inevitably change, and challenges and unexpected difficulties will arise. Ex-spouses get remarried, jobs and income levels can change, a job or another circumstance may take parents and children to another geographic location, health issues come up, and other issues may arise that your divorce decree did not cover.
When a material change in circumstances happens down the road or your ex-spouse is just not cooperating with the terms and conditions of the original divorce settlement or decree, post-divorce mediation can be an effective and cost-efficient way to resolve these issues.
Most post-divorce issues can be worked out through mediation. Some of the most common include:
- Financial Changes: There are many circumstances that can cause material financial changes. People change jobs, run into health problems, and sometimes become disabled. As children grow up, their financial needs change as well. Financial changes may call for a modification of the child support and/or spousal support arrangements, and maybe other changes as well.
- Parenting Schedule Changes: As kids get older, they often get involved in various extra-curricular activities. These activities can affect the time parents are able to be with the children. Parents’ schedules may also change because of a new job or another obligation. These types of changes may require parents to revisit the parenting/visitation schedules.
- Out of State Relocations: A new job or another circumstance may require one parent to move out of the area. This can often become a very contentious issue as it is almost certain to affect the parenting schedule, especially if it is the custodial parent who is moving.
- Communication Problems between Parents: Sometimes, parents just have difficulty communicating with each other. Virtually every conversation turns into a heated conflict, and parents are not motivated to communicate much at all anymore. This causes breakdowns such as a child not being picked up from school, missed doctor’s appointments, and similar problems. In such cases, mediation may be needed to help improve communication between the parents.
- Ongoing Business or Financial Relationships between Ex-Spouses: Some spouses who get divorced still have shared financial interests. One of the best-known examples of this is the Bezos divorce, in which the wife retained ownership of a significant percentage of Amazon stock. If you and your spouse own a business together and/or have shared investments, it is important to sit down and work out a formal agreement for how your shared financial interests will be handled post-divorce.
The Advantages of Mediation for Post-Divorce Agreements
Mediation can be a refreshing change from going through litigation (that often leaves parties with bad feelings) or even negotiating settlements through legal representatives. The process is done in a cooperative rather than combative setting, and it is guided by a skilled, third-party mediator whose goal is to bring the parties together to develop a win-win resolution that works for everyone.
There are several reasons those who have been through a divorce often prefer mediation when it comes time to revisit issues between the ex-spouses and other parties:
- Creative Solutions: It is the nature of family courts to impose cookie cutter solutions to family legal matters. But each circumstance is different, and the issues that come up are as unique as those individuals who are dealing with them. With mediation, you are able to talk through these issues between yourselves and the mediator, and you are free to be creative and think outside the box when developing a resolution.
- Confidentiality: The mediation process is entirely private and confidential, and everything that is discussed is kept between the parties and out of the court record. This allows parties to speak more freely and exchange ideas more openly without fear that something they say might be used against them later on.
- Cost Savings: Going back to court for some type of post-decree modification usually means hiring lawyers, scheduling hearings, and/or negotiating back and forth at whatever hourly rate your legal counsel is charging you. If you handled your divorce this way, you know how quickly these costs can add up. Mediation can usually be done for a fraction of what it would cost to bring your issues back before the court.
- Convenience: In addition to cost savings, mediation can usually be completed much sooner than a court proceeding. It is done on your schedule rather than the court’s, and it can be done in a location that is most convenient for the parties involved. You can even do virtual mediation if the parties are unable to meet together in the same physical location.
- Control: Although the mediation process is guided by a neutral third-party mediator, participants are ultimately in control of the outcome. The process is entirely voluntary, and no agreement can be enforceable unless all parties agree to it. This means no one has the power to impose anything on you that you don’t want; and because of this, participants are far more likely to take ownership of whatever is ultimately agreed upon and abide by it.
When a couple is facing a divorce, there are some different options for how they should handle the process. You can go the traditional route of hiring attorneys and filing the case in court, or you can try to resolve their differences through an alternative dispute resolution process such as divorce mediation.
Mediation may entered into voluntarily, but it may also be ordered by the court before a judge hears arguments in a case (depending on the state you are in). For example, in New Jersey, divorcing couples who disagree over child custody and economic issues must go to mediation first before having these disputes heard by the court.
While the processes have many similarities, there are some significant differences between court-ordered and voluntary mediation.
As the name implies, court-ordered mediation is a process that is mandated by the court to resolve certain aspects of a divorce or another family legal matter. This process takes place after the case has already been filed in court and before any arguments on the matter(s) being mediated can be made before a judge. The mediator is appointed by the court, and divorcing spouses can be ordered not only to participate in the process, but to do so in good faith. If the parties are able to resolve the issues being mediated, the court signs off on the agreement, and there is no need to litigate these matters. If no agreement is reached during mediation, then they must be resolved at trial.
Voluntary mediation is a process that takes place before the divorce or family law case is filed in court, and it can be used to resolve virtually any difference or dispute the couple may have. Voluntary mediation is chosen because both parties recognize the benefit of resolving their differences (or at least trying to resolve their differences) without the need for costly and protracted litigation. The parties choose their own mediator, who should be someone who is neutral and impartial and licensed to practice divorce mediation in your state.
Both voluntary and court-ordered mediation are confidential processes that are non-binding. This means that the parties must be in agreement on a particular issue in order for the agreement to be legally valid.
With both types of mediation, the results and success rates vary depending on each individual case. That being said, there are some distinct advantages that voluntary mediation offers:
- Voluntary Process: When both spouses desire to participate in the divorce mediation process, they tend to be far more motivated to produce a positive result. The participants are the ones making the decision to mediate, which makes them feel more empowered and more likely to take “ownership” over the process and results.
- Cost Savings: Another major factor that can be highly motivating for divorcing spouses who choose voluntary mediation is the amount of money that can be saved if they are able to resolve their differences through this process. For example, there is no need for the parties to hire attorneys (unless they want to); and even if they do, there is no extensive discovery, and the only thing the court needs to do is approve the final settlement. Since couples are fully aware that mediation can save them thousands or potentially tens of thousands of dollars, this alone can sometimes give them the motivation they need to make the process work.
- Reduced Tension: Mediation takes place in a cooperative rather than combative environment. If the parties agree to enter into it before filing a case in court, it can significantly reduce conflict and make the entire process far less stressful. Producing a more amicable settlement also helps preserve delicate family relationships, which is especially important if there are children involved.
If you and your spouse have decided to get a divorce, there is a good chance that, at some point, you will end up in mediation over at least some of the issues you do not agree on. In most instances (aside from cases that involve domestic abuse, highly uncooperative spouses, and similar issues), it is in a couple’s best interests to at least try voluntary mediation before taking the case to court. The cost is typically a fraction of what you would pay to litigate the case, and if you can get the case settled this way, you can save yourself not only a lot of money, but also a ton of emotional stress as well.
Jeff Bezos and his ex-wife MacKenzie are the wealthiest divorcees in American history, and maybe world history as well. Bezos is the founder of Amazon.com, one of only three companies to ever reach a $1 trillion-dollar valuation. Amazon, of course, is a well-known ecommerce powerhouse that has been used by vast majority of Americans. Nearly everyone is familiar with the company, and it is estimated that somewhere between 40% and 60% of U.S. households subscribe to Amazon Prime, the company’s popular monthly subscription service.
In January of this year, Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos announced that they were splitting up after 25 years of marriage. In a joint Twitter announcement that one respondent said sounded “better than most people’s marriages”, the couple said, among other things, the following:
“We feel incredibly lucky to have found each other and deeply grateful for every one of the years we have been married to each other. If we had known we would separate after 25 years, we would do it all again.”
Despite the usual tabloid drama that surrounds celebrity divorcing couples, the Bezos divorce settlement was handled quietly and completed in just a few months. On April 4, MacKenzie Bezos tweeted the settlement announcement along with some of the details:
“Grateful to have finished the process of dissolving my marriage with Jeff with support from each other and everyone who reached out with kindness, and looking forward to next phase and is co-parents and friends. Happy to be giving all my interests in the Washington Post and Blue Origin, and 75% of our Amazon stock…”
The Bezos split was the ultimate high net worth divorce, and the stakes could not have been higher. The couple’s combined net worth is estimated to be somewhere around $150 billion. This includes 16% ownership in Amazon, the Washington Post, rocket and space travel company Blue Origin, two homes in Beverly Hills, two homes near Seattle, WA, the largest home in Washington, DC, and a ranch in Texas.
The stakes could not have been higher; and because the Bezoses reportedly had no prenuptial agreement, the marital estate could have been split 50/50, potentially disrupting the operation of one of the world’s largest corporations. But that did not happen, because the couple decided from the very outset to do what was best for their family and their business investments and handle things respectfully.
At the end of the day, Jeff Bezos remains the world’s richest man and Amazon’s largest stockholder with a post-divorce net worth estimated to be around $110 billion. MacKenzie also gave Jeff her voting shares in Amazon, so he still retains firm control of the company operations. For her part, MacKenzie’s $35 billion settlement makes her the world’s third richest woman.
All financial considerations aside, the most important outcome is that the Bezos couple is committed to maintaining a close relationship going forward. By settling their divorce amicably and without a long, drawn out court battle, they were able to remain friends and business partners and minimize the negative impact the divorce was bound to have on themselves and their family.
It is widely believed that the Bezoses mediated their divorce, but no one is entirely sure because everything was done privately. Whether they used an official divorce mediator or not, the result of their proceeding is typical of what happens when high net worth couples go through mediation.
I have worked with numerous couples that have significant and complex assets, albeit none have had an estate anywhere near the size of the Bezoses. When couples are in the high asset category, they often fear that their situation is too complicated to be resolved through mediation. But the Bezos divorce shows that this is not the case.
You can absolutely mediate your divorce, even when you have a large estate. In fact, this is one of our specialties here at Advanced Mediation Solutions. We work closely with a team of in-house experts such as experienced CPAs and other seasoned financial professionals who can be called upon when needed to help navigate the complex aspects of the divorce that need to be settled.
In recent years, there has been a definite shift toward parents wanting to have equal parenting time with their children after a divorce. In fact, many states have already adopted co-parenting as the default arrangement in child custody cases, putting the burden of proof on either party to show that this arrangement is not in the best interests of the child. While 50/50 parenting may sound great in theory – the children get to be with both parents for an equal amount of time during the year – in practice, it may not always be the best arrangement for the parties involved.
Equal parenting is a wonderful concept, and proponents of this arrangement are well-intentioned. The idea behind it is that kids are always better off when both parents are heavily involved in their lives. And 50/50 parenting seeks to replicate, as much as possible, what it would have been like for the children had the parents stayed together.
There are unintended consequences of the co-parenting arrangement, however, and careful consideration needs to be given to each family’s unique circumstances before going down this road.As a divorce mediator, I work very closely with my clients to thoroughly examine all important factors to help determine if this arrangement really makes sense for their situation.
How does 50/50 Parenting Time Work?
Many people wonder what a 50/50 co-parenting schedule looks like. There are actually a variety of schedules that parents can implement, depending on what works best for everyone. Some examples of 50/50 parenting schedules include:
- Alternating Weeks: Children spend one week with one parent and the next week with the other parent, with the handoff usually occurring at the beginning of the weekend (late Friday or Saturday morning).
- Alternating Every Two Weeks: Children spend two consecutive weeks with one parent, then the next two weeks with the other parent.
- 3-4-4-3 Schedule: Children spend three days of the week with one parent and four days of the week with the other, then alternate the following week.
- 2-2-3 Schedule: Children spend two days of the week with one parent, two days with the other, then go back to the first parent for the final three days of the week. The next week it alternates.
- 2-2-5-5 Schedule: Children spend two days with each parent then five days with each parent then back to two days with each parent, and so on.
These are just a few examples of schedules parents may use in a co-parenting arrangement. There are numerous variations of these and others that can be implemented. Some parents are even choosing to have their children live at the same residence all the time while they are the ones alternating back and forth between residences.
Problems with 50/50 Parenting Time
One of the driving forces behind the 50/50 parenting movement is the idea that both parents have an equal right to be involved in the lives of their children. Unfortunately, the assertion of “parents’ rights” can sometimes detract from the most important objective of child custody arrangements; to always do what is in the best interests of the child. Put another way, just because you can do something, does not always mean you should do it.
Here are a few scenarios in which a 50/50 parenting schedule would not always be best for the parties involved:
- Children with Special Needs: For children who have physical and emotional issues, such as autism, ADHD, anxiety, or similar issues, it may not always be best for these kids to transition back and forth between parents.
- Parents who Live a Significant Distance from Each Other: Another common issue that presents difficulty with 50/50 parenting is when children have to travel a long distance between the residences of the two parents. This can become further complicated when deciding which school the kids should attend (when parents live in different school districts), which activities the kids want to be involved in, etc.
- When One Parent Travels A lot: If one parent does a lot of traveling for work, this can make it more difficult to come up with a consistent 50/50 parenting schedule, especially when the traveling parent does not always know when their business trips will be scheduled.
Determining the Best Interests of the Children through Mediation
Though 50/50 parenting arrangements can work well in some instances, there are other cases in which it is not the best approach. For parents, it is important to focus on the needs of their children, rather than asserting their “rights” or meeting their own emotional or financial needs. There is no “one size fits all” approach that is best for everyone, and this is where mediation can be very helpful.
With divorce mediation, parents work together in a cooperative rather than combative environment to reach the settlement that works best for them. This helps eliminate the “I win you lose” mindset, shifting the focus to win-win settlements that benefit everyone. And with the mediation process, parents are in control of the final outcome, rather than the courts. This allows them to come up with more unique and creative approaches that better fit their specific situation.