Mediation with a small “m” or Mediation with a capital “M,” and what’s the difference?
It’s a matter of style and paradigm. Read More
It’s a matter of style and paradigm. Read More
Mediated divorce is not the same thing as divorce mediation! This article explains why.
The term “mediated divorce” describes a process in which a skilled, neutral mediator helps the parties make all the decisions they need to make and reach agreement about the terms of their divorce BEFORE DIVORCE PAPERS ARE EVER FILED IN COURT. The term “divorce mediation,” as used by attorneys and the general public, in contrast, generally refers to a settlement conference held as part of a lawsuit, AFTER DIVORCE PAPERS HAVE BEEN FILED IN COURT AND JUST BEFORE TRIAL. The differences in paradigm and process result in two creatures that are as different as a horse and a zebra.
Just as a zebra and a horse both have four legs and run, mediated divorce and divorce mediation both (a) involve use of a neutral mediator, and (b) can be used to arrive at settlement terms of your divorce agreement. There, the similarity ends.
To understand why the rest of the processes are so different, one must first understand the basic issues and process involved in divorce.
Divorce has many legal aspects, but there are also many aspects of divorce that are more practical than legal. Many aspects of divorce involve changes that occur gradually over time. Some of these aspects are legal, but most of them are not. Most of the process of divorce includes separating and detaching emotionally, financially, and establishing two separate, independent lives once again.
Thus, the process of divorce involves separating and re-establishing boundaries, reshuffling of parenting plans and schedules, rearrangements of finances, re-titling of property. If one were to draw a list of steps, it might include: Increase in emotional and physical separation or distance -> A decision to separate ->
Following through on this decision by:
(a) physically moving apart,
(b) separating emotionally,
(c) separating finances, figuring out how to support two separate households utilizing income that used to support just one,
(d) reaching a fair property settlement,
(e) reaching some sort of solution with regard to how to parent children -> and then …
(f) creating a new legal status that is “divorced” rather than “married.”
As you can see, Items (a), (b), (c), (d), and (e) listed here are not really “legal” issues per se. They are practical issues with regard to deciding “what will the new arrangements be?” The difference between “mediated divorce” and “divorce mediation” has to do with how these middle items are decided. Will you decide, or will lawyers direct a process that disempowers you and places the lawyers and judge in charge of those arrangements and decisions?
This is why it is so important for people to understand the difference in paradigm. In a true, mediated divorce, the Mediator will direct the process, but it is designed to keep the parties in control of their own decisions, applying their own values, to reach their settlement agreement. Once this agreement is reached, then the last step is the legal part, to ask a judge to review and approve the divorce settlement for fairness and to grant the divorce on the appropriate legal grounds. Now that the difference in paradigm has been exposed, what is the difference in process?
If a person goes to see an attorney and tells that attorney they want a divorce, the attorney likely will assume that the parties want a judge to decide most of these issues for them, particularly (c) through (e), and likely including the terms of (a). The attorney most likely will, as a first step, file legal papers asking the court to decide these issues. This legal paper, called a Complaint, creates a lawsuit which is set up as Party A versus Party B. This is what is called a “litigated divorce.” When someone serves or says they have been served with papers for divorce, the “papers” they are referring to is the Complaint and its accompanying paperwork. This initial filing of a lawsuit sets the parties up as adversaries in a battle that is played out, ultimately, in a courtroom and which asks the judge to make the decision as to how all the issues will be decided.
A mediated divorce follows a different process entirely.
Mediated Divorce: In a mediated divorce, parties hire a neutral mediator who guides them through discussions and factual investigations designed to help them understand the issues, know their options, and reach agreement on every single one of these issues voluntarily. The mediator seeks to empower the parties to make their own, best decisions and reach authentic agreement, so that there is no need to ask a judge to decide their personal affairs for them. The emphasis is on joint problem solving and on finding solutions that both parties feel are fair and sustainable for both parties and for the children. After agreement is reached, a contract is drawn up which lays out the terms that have been agreed upon. Only after those terms are agreed upon do the parties file papers and go to court to ask the judge to review their agreement and finalize their divorce. The resulting court action is adversarial in name only. The court system requires one person to file papers and be the Plaintiff, but after the terms of a divorce have been fully mediated and both parties are in agreement as to the terms of their settlement, there is nothing (or very little) that remains in contention.
When the parties use a mediator to arrive at the terms of their separation, this is called a “mediated divorce” (in contrast to a litigated divorce). When the parties ask the judge to decide (using “litigation”), then it is called a “litigated divorce.”
Some may ask, “Why is a mediator needed?” The answer is that a mediator is needed because most people don’t understand all the issues that need to be decided. Additionally, most people need some help from a neutral person to act like a referee and help facilitate communication. (After all, if the parties got along perfectly they would probably not need the divorce.)
Litigated Divorce: As soon as legal papers have been filed, the parties have already been placed into the adversarial mode of “A versus B.” In approximately 95% of litigated cases, the parties reach agreement prior to going to trial. Because the case is being prepared for trial, the lawyers (who are experts in the trial process) must manage the gathering and presentation of reliable, probative evidence to present to the judge. The lawyers must also anticipate what evidence should be excluded from the trial. After the lawyers prepare their case for trial, they use a creature called “divorce mediation” to negotiate a settlement. A more accurate description would be to call this a mediated settlement conference, which is the term most mediators use for it. A mediated settlement conference uses a neutral mediator to facilitate negotiations between the two sides of the lawsuit, both of whom are represented by attorneys in the negotiations. The emphasis is on “settlement of a lawsuit,” rather than a process of exploration of options and working together to find a sustainable resolution. The lawyers manage the mediation, with the mediator going back and forth with settlement offers. Much depends upon the negotiation style of the attorneys, as well as the fact that with many more professionals in the room the cost per hour is much higher. Divorce mediations in the context of litigated divorce, therefore, tend to be high intensity, high stakes negotiation sessions rather than brainstorming and problem solving sessions. With their professional emphasis on preparation for trial and being focused on the impending hearing before a judge, attorneys naturally also place emphasis on “what would a judge do,” rather than allowing their clients to engage in a co-operative quest for mutually satisfactory solutions. After all, the attorneys are focused on “winning,” and they are eager not to let their client lose any potential trial advantage. Additionally, because judges only have a limited range of options available to them, the focus tends to be on those options rather than on the many other, creative types of arrangements parties might choose if they were to think “outside the box.” For obvious reasons, the attorneys prefer to inject significant management into what their clients say and do in mediation, in an effort to avoid prejudice in the event of an additional trial. These differences in process and in focus change the entire flavor of the mediation, making it more like a zebra and less like a horse. You may be able to ride a zebra, but it is not the same as a horse.
There will be some who take issue with this characterization. Certainly, just as there are variations between types of horses and types of zebras, it is not completely fair to say that this brief description is true for every case. Yet, for the most part, in a truly “mediated divorce,” the parties are not pitted “against” one another during their divorce negotiations. It is fair to say that in most cases that are already in court the parties clearly are already adversarial. The difference affects almost every aspect of the case.
In an earlier blog post, I described the mediator in a mediated divorce case as being like New York City taxi cab driver, helping to guide the parties through a confusing landscape to get them from point A (married) to point B (divorce) with as little collateral damage as possible. In a case guided by a mediator before the parties have filed divorce papers, the mediator will seek to empower the parties to cooperate, will encourage them to share information, and will help them act as a team to find solutions that feel fair and w hich will work for everyone in the family. Thus, even though the parties are divorcing, use of a mediator can act as a bridge to help the parties formulate the best possible solutions available for their family in the changed circumstances. This does not mean that the question “what would a court order” is irrelevant. What a court would order is a good measure of what is objectively “fair.” However, there are other ways of measuring fairness, too. In many cases what a court would do is a very appropriate measure of fairness. However, sometimes the parties themselves also decide that there are reasons to justify doing things differently.
There also are cases where mediation is not appropriate. Mediation is not a way for one party to get their way at the expense of the other. Both parties must demonstrate a commitment to principles of fairness. If one party doesn’t care about fairness, then the other party will need the protection of the Court to enforce those principles.
The different role of lawyers in mediated divorce also does not mean lawyers are not needed or are not involved. In a mediated divorce, parties are encouraged to consult with their attorney for advice and feedback. After all, lawyers are experts in what the law is, and what the law says is relevant. The difference is that, in a mediated divorce process, lawyers are consultants rather than stage managers or directors who manage and control a case. Additionally, after the parties have arrived at a settlement they both feel is fair, there will still be a need for that settlement to be reviewed for fairness and completeness by attorneys. The settlement will need to be drafted into the form of a written contract. And then, after this contract is executed, attorneys will be needed to manage the legal process that is necessary to get the settlement reviewed and approved by the court and to have the divorce finalized.
Some readers might ask, “why use a mediator when I’ll need to use an attorney anyway?” The answer, hopefully, is apparent at this time. The role of the mediator is different from the role of attorney. The attorney focuses on the legal process. The mediator’s role is not legal, but rather to help the parties to reach a full and fair agreement, hopefully prior to the start of the legal process. The cost-effective side of divorce mediation is that the mediator is focused on reducing conflict. The adversarial process, in contrast, sometimes can increase it.
If you’re interested in scheduling an initial consultation to learn more, fill out the form below. The charge for an initial consultation is $200.
Parties in non-traditional, but committed, relationships have special needs with regard to legal planning and resolution of conflict when needed. Non-traditional families do not presently enjoy equal protection of the law in South Carolina with regard to marriage, divorce, adoption, intestacy, or guardianship, just to name a few areas where protection of committed relationships can be important. I cannot “fix” the law, but I am happy to help LGBT and transgender people plan preventively and implement measures designed to provide some protection for your loved ones. Advance planning is important for everyone, but it is especially critical for nontraditional families!
There are many areas where documents can be drafted which provide some of the legal protections which do not exist as a matter of statute. These include
Not only is there a lack of legal protection for your spouse with regard to financial and property matters, but also because sometimes outside or estranged family waits until your most vulnerable moments — a time of death or disability — to try and come in and upset the apple cart. There are nightmare stories of spouses being ejected from hospital bedsides on account of their not being “next of kin.” A long term spouse ejected from a family home because the law of intestacy provided for the home to go to someone other than the spouse. Death and disability are traumatic enough to endure, without the added nightmare for your loved one of dealing with hostile or unjust legal battles.
In addition to planning that protects your spouse, gay and lesbian couples also at times deal with the same issues as other families. When gay and lesbian couples break up, they have no recourse to the courts for protection of property rights, child custody matters, or spousal support. This is when divorce and child custody mediation can be especially valuable, because it works no matter what your family composition. The transformative mediation approach I use in my practice is based on your commitment to principles of fairness rather than reliance on legalistic arguments about what the law requires. While the loss of a relationship is a painful life event, my goal is to make this difficult event less traumatic for everyone. I help you work together to meet several key goals:
I also offer legal services to facilitate the legal and paperwork aspects of gender transition.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 803-414-0185 or fill out the form below:
There are many reasons to mediate to resolve a family conflict or to attempt mediation prior to filing papers in a court action. First and foremost, mediation does not pit parties against one another as adversaries. Whether parties are seeking a divorce, a change in child custody, or a viable solution to meeting daily needs of an elderly family member, mediation offers an opportunity for the people affected to work as a team, on the same side of the negotiating table, to address the challenges their family will face as they transition to a new way of being or living.
When parties file papers in a lawsuit, they effectively are removing themselves from the position of authority and asking a judge to decide their case for them. Mediation, in contrast, keeps the parties in control. It empowers parties to clarify their own values and priorities, reach agreement about these values and priorities whenever possible, and implement solutions that are based on those values. A good mediator will also help the parties expose and face the monsters in the closet, in an effort to ensure that solutions agreed upon are workable and sustainable.
Mediation also opens the door for a world of creative possibilities in addition to the standard solutions that could be ordered by a court. When you hear of divorced parents who are able to seamlessly parent their children, or of a family that has all come together to manage care for an elderly family member, or a church that has done a great job balancing the competing needs and interest of various interest groups within the congregation, it is likely that the positive relationship has been made possible by good conflict resolution mechanisms (as opposed to not having a conflict mechanism and then fighting in some positional, adversarial mode of conflict such as court).
A good mediator is a skilled professional, using conflict resolution skills and coaching the parties as they meet, to help neutralize the negative and awkward aspects of communicating during conflict and to build upon and emphasize the positive. In a real sense, the mediator acts like a bridge, helping the parties get through the swamp of conflict to reach authentic, sustainable agreement that everyone can live with.
Almost every conflict professional, even seasoned trial lawyers, will admit that voluntary agreements are usually better overall for every one, provided that all parties to the mediation are committed to principles of fairness.
To make an appointment to discuss your individual needs and circumstances, please fill out the contact form, below, or call for an appointment 803-414-0185.
I. The Decision to Divorce
If you’ve definitely decided to get divorced, proceed to step 2 below. If you aren’t sure, however, then you really should consider professional marriage counseling. Marriages can be returned to health, if both parties are willing to do the hard work to address root causes. As a professional who has been involved in divorce processes for many years, I have observed that credentials of a marriage counselor are very important, and also so is finding a counselor who feels “right” for both of you. Seek someone who is, at a minimum, professionally licensed as a marriage and family therapist (will have the letters LMFT after their name) or has a Ph.D. in counseling or psychology. This is a bare minimum. Unlicensed or unskilled counselors can do more harm than good. A good pastor is one who knows and adheres to their own professional limitations and boundaries.
Going to counseling is not a sign that either of you has an individual “problem.” Nor is it a sign that either of you has “mental illness.” Rather, licensed professional marriage and family therapists and psychologists have many skills and techniques that really can help. Additionally, even if counseling is not able to “save” your marriage, professional counseling can assist with both the decision to divorce and the adjustments that will occur as a result of this major life event. Most people find the assistance of a mental health professional extremely helpful during this painful episode in their lives.
If your spouse has asked you to attend counseling with them, do you love them enough or are you committed enough to make this effort to save your marriage? Maybe you don’t see a problem, but that’s not the point. Listen to your spouse’s cry for help. They are extending an opportunity to you to try and fix things. Even if you don’t feel so loving toward your spouse right now, there is a chance that working on your marriage might fix some issues. The feelings might return. Also, if you tried counseling and it didn’t “work,” consider that you might need to try a different counselor. Over the years, I’ve seen many cases where things didn’t “click” with one counselor, but they did with another. There are many styles of counseling. Some schools of thought put more emphasis on “doing” while others put more emphasis on “gaining insight,” and others are a blend. Some styles work better for one person while a different style works better for another. And in some cases, it’s just a matter of personality. Isn’t your family worth the effort, to make a really good try?
But, if you really have tried and the decision has been made, then …
2. The Emotional Process of Separating
Sadly, sometimes counseling cannot save a marriage, or relationships may be so toxic that it really is best if people decide to separate. Separation is not just a one time event. It is a process that involves separation of emotional, financial, physical and parenting lives. As a practical matter, separation happens by degrees and over a period of time. Often, the person who first physically leaves a marriage may not have been the first one to leave in an emotional sense. The process of separating will, eventually, require rearrangement and separation of not only emotional attachment, but also physical living space, finances and bank accounts, property, and parenting arrangements. Other issues couples will face during the process of separation are things like when and how to tell the children and other family members, and timing of the various business and property transitions.
The process of deciding to separate also includes making a decision about that will be used in obtaining a divorce and making this final separation into a legal event, with a complete and legally binding marital separation agreement. In my opinion, it is very important to separate the emotional aspects of divorce from the business and legal side. This is challenging to do, but it is important. Acting upon emotional needs or impulses in the legal process is both counterproductive and expensive. Most people find assistance of an individual counselor more helpful in dealing with divorce than the financially expensive and emotionally unsatisfying alternative of playing out these issues through the court system.
3. Deciding on a Process
The legal and business side of divorce is divided into two stages.
A. In the first stage, a couple negotiates how they will separate their joint lives to create two separate and independent lives. This involves emotional adjustment, physical changes in living arrangements, financial adjustments in the family budget, division of property, and renegotiation of parenting arrangements. After these issues are negotiated, most people formalize their agreement by entering into a Marital Separation Agreement (often called a MSA).
B. In the second stage, a court is asked to approve the arrangement. The court is only required to be involved in the decision process regarding the settlement agreement if the couple cannot agree on their own, or if one party is using an imbalance of power (physical, financial, emotional) to perpetrate an unfair situation. If a couple is committed to principles of fairness, on the other hand, it is generally far preferable for them to negotiate their own agreement. Once the agreement is reached, it can be presented to the court for approval. But how can settlement be reached? What should be in the settlement agreement?
4. Negotiating a Marital Separation Agreement
How can you be sure your agreement has covered the things it needs to cover and that it is fair? This concern for fairness is good justification for seeking help from a divorce professional.
A. Mediator A professional divorce mediator has training in the substantive issues of divorce and helps parties reach agreement about their divorce settlement. A divorce mediator may also suggest use of additional professionals who can assist in the process of deciding key issues and also keeping the best interest of the children at the forefront of consideration. After the mediator helps you reach a settlement, then you will still need to go to court to have your settlement approved by the court and made into a final divorce decree. However, use of a mediator to reach the settlement bypasses the sometimes ugly and expensive adversarial litigation process that is involved when you ask a judge to decide how your personal affairs should be divided up. Mediation is not for everyone. For mediation to work, both parties must be committed to principles of fairness and they must have ability to make their own, voluntary decisions for themselves. You are currently visiting the web site of a divorce mediator.
B. Collaborative Divorce Attorney In collaborative divorce, both parties have an attorney who negotiates for them and helps them decide what other professionals may be needed to assist in reaching a fair divorce settlement that also takes into consideration the best interest of the children. A collaborative divorce attorney should be certified by the International Association of Collaborative Professionals (IACP). In addition to being a divorce mediator, I am a collaborative divorce attorney certified by the IACP.
C. Litigation Attorney If one side is not committed to fairness, then the court system will be needed to enforce principles of fairness, using methods such as interrogatories, depositions, requests for production, motions, and hearings. Generally speaking, this is the method that most attorneys are trained in and will turn to by default. This tends to be the most adversarial and expensive method for reaching a divorce settlement. Because I focus my practice on non-adversarial cases, I do not generally accept litigated cases.
D. Do-It-Yourself Parties often decide on a settlement between themselves. If they agree on everything, their divorce is “uncontested” and the legal process to have the settlement approved is relatively simple. However, mistakes can be costly. What if a party does not realize, for example, the extent of marital property, or what if they fail to make provisions for proper distribution of the marital property? What if they do not even realize what the options are? Even when parties think they have reached a full and fair settlement, it is wise to get feedback from a professional, asking them candidly if the settlement has covered all the issues and appears to be even-handed. I am willing to review DIY agreements and papers on an hourly basis.
e. A divorce professional can assist couples in determining which process is most appropriate for their need. For a consultation or initial appointment for a mediated or collaborative divorce, call 803-414-0185.
5. Getting the Settlement Approved
Most cases, including cases that start out being litigated in the court system, reach settlement without necessity of a full-fledged trial. However, the divorce cannot be finalized until papers are filed in court and the settlement has been approved by the family court. So, regardless of which process is used to decide on a divorce settlement, eventually papers must be filed to ask the court to approve the divorce. The question is, when will papers be filed. In an ordinary, litigated divorce papers are filed at the very beginning, to get the process started and includes asking a judge to decide the issues in the case. In a mediated or collaborative divorce, in contrast, papers are not filed until after a settlement has been reached.
To make it clear, in a litigated divorce, “papers” are filed right away, thrusting the parties into an adversarial posture of A versus B. In a mediated or collaborative divorce, “papers” are not filed in court until after the parties have entered into their own, voluntary Marital Separation Agreement. I do not think that most parties, when they consult an attorney about divorce, realize that “filing papers” immediately is not necessarily the only option!* This may seem like a small matter, but it illustrates a very big difference between litigated and mediated divorce. Litigated divorce assumes the parties will not be able to reach their own agreement and starts out the process by asking a judge to decide. This results in a process that is driven by the need for “evidence” in a “court” and requires the expertise of an attorney familiar with judicial procedures, taking control away from the parties themselves. In mediation and collaborative divorce, although professionals are consulted and direct the process to a large extent, the parties remain in control and all decisions are voluntary. Thus, mediation and collaborative divorce keep private family decisions within control of the parties, while litigated divorce takes that control away and places it in the hands of a family court judge. In some cases that judge is needed. In many cases, the parties are better served by and end up happier with a process that keeps them in control.
6. Obtaining a Final Order of Divorce
When the court approves the settlement and the divorce, it will issue a Divorce Decree. Generally, an attorney drafts this for the judge’s signature and also takes care of filing the needed official paperwork to make it final. When cases have been mediated by other mediators, or in cases where there truly is nothing left that is contested, I am happy to assist in legal representation to draft any separation documents that are needed, file legal papers to obtain the final decree, appear in court, and finalize the divorce decree.
After this, the couple may still have business affairs to finalize, and then the next stage of life begins, which is
7. Post Divorce Life
After the divorce, each of you will have separate physical, emotional, and financial lives. If you have children, however, you will still be tied together not just by your children, but also by grandchildren and a shared hope for all of the future generations of the family you share. The quality of your divorce process will be reflected not just in the sustainability and fairness of your financial divorce settlement, but also hopefully will contribute to the well being of future generations. My personal observation of the processes and of the long term effects of divorce on families is the reason that my practice is limited to the non-adversarial methods of reaching divorce agreement.
If you are interested in a divorce process that you maintain control over, in which you reach your own voluntary settlement, and which enables you to continue to co-parent with as little “collateral damage” to your family as possible, and if you feel both parties are committed to principles of fairness, please feel free to use the contact form on this site to request an appointment to discuss your options in person.
*Divorce law varies from state to state. Information on this web site should be taken with that in mind: it is information designed to be helpful, but it is not legal advice. Learn as much as you can about these topics by researching on the internet, but do not rely on information until you have consulted with a qualified professional who is licensed to practice in the jurisdiction where you reside. Information on this site is specific to the State of South Carolina, in the United States.
What, is mediation, and what makes it such a positive tool for conflict resolution within families? I hope to explain mediation and its benefits in this post. Mediation is often described as a “meeting” in which the parties meet with a neutral mediator who helps them reach agreement. Having a face to face meeting between two parties is common, but it is only one from among a wide range of options for mediation. Sometimes parties to a mediation do not meet together at all. Sometimes they meet numerous times. Some forms of mediation will involve an entire extended family or organization. Using modern technology, mediation can also take place internationally or over long distances. The key element of all these variations of mediation is that the parties utilize a neutral facilitator who guides a process designed to help them reach their own, voluntary and authentic agreement.
Mediation seeks to give parties tools they need to resolve their own dispute, using whatever information they believe is relevant, based on their own values and circumstances, and reaching an agreement that is truly their own and which they feel is fair and workable. Does it sound too good to be true? It’s not. The beauty of mediation is that, if all parties are mutually committed to fairness, mediators have a large toolbox of conflict resolution skills and processes which can be utilized to help parties reach authentic, fair agreements that everyone can live with.
Sometimes individuals, families, or organizations wonder how they can possibly reach agreement, if they are stuck at an impasse already. The answer is that your impasse is not the end of the story. When you reach your own dead end and aren’t sure where to turn next, that is your signal that it’s time to call in a mediator, to see if they can help. The mediator is a professional who has many tools to help parties overcome barriers to agreement. Even if the strategies you have already employed have not resulted in a solution, there is a good chance that a mediator has more tools that can might help you.
The signature style of Just Mediation, LLC, is particularly suited to mediation of conflict in which relationships are key and where there are mutual, personal goals. Mediation within the court system is focused on cases already in litigation, involving only two parties, and focused exclusively on settlement of “this” case. While settlement through mediation in these cases is generally preferable (for many reasons) to resolution through courtroom battle, it does dis-service to mediation if it is seen merely as a tool for settlement of an adversarial, litigated case. Mediation offers so much more. Mediation need not be seen as a step along the way in the legal process. Rather, mediation offers a distinctive and different paradigm for addressing conflict, with many benefits. Here is a chart that highlights a few of the differences:
|Empowers parties to make their own agreement based on their own individual values, circumstances, and priorities||Puts decision in hands of a stranger (a judge) who must impose ruling from outside in, and based on general legal principles|
|Is not adversarial. Teamwork and collaboration is encouraged||The parties are pitted against one another as adversaries|
|Parties can decide upon and implement custom tailored, win-win solutions||The judge making the decision in the case is limited to a set range of options|
|Parties can communicate what is important and mutually hear what is important to the other side, without regard to whether evidence would technically be admissible in court||Because the judge can only base a decision on reliable, probative evidence, much effort is made to keep the judge from hearing or seeing “unreliable” evidence|
|Parties may decide mutually to engage neutral experts to assist in formulating solutions||Each party hires an expert to “prove” their case is right and the other is wrong|
The mediators for Just Mediation, LLC, are skilled in many types of mediation, including mediation for extended families and organizations. Our signature style of mediation is deeply committed to the idea of conflict transformation as an integral part of the experience of growing through the painful process of conflict resolution. While there are many aspects of transformative type mediation, a significant aspect is that it is focused not just on “settling” a case, but on helping you — the parties — find solutions that are authentic to your values and circumstances and also which will be workable and sustainable for you in the long haul. Using this approach, mediators for Just Mediation, LLC, help with many types of conflict, including not just divorce and parenting issues but also mediation and conflict coaching for extended families and for business and church organizations.
The principal of Just Mediation, LLC, Alexandria Skinner, trained in divorce mediation with Carl Schneider and Eileen Coen, a therapist-attorney team in Bethesda, Maryland. The training offered by this duo equips mediators to deal not only in legal aspects of divorce but also with the emotional and psychological aspects of the divorce and family transition. It also meets standards promulgated by the Association for Conflict Resolution as the starting point towards seeking certification as an Advanced Practitioner Family Mediator with that organization, a standard that is not met by any training offered in the State of South Carolina. Ms. Skinner also received additional and specific training in mediation of elder care disputes (Zena Zumeta and Susan Butterwick of Ann Arbor, Michigan), church conflict and disputes (Richard Blackburn of Lombard Mennonite Peace Center), special education issues (Cotton Harness through S.C. Department of Education), facilitative style mediation for certification as a S.C. Circuit Court mediator, and training as a community mediator (Beth Padgett through Community Mediation Center). Additionally, as an attorney, Skinner has worked on a wide variety of cases through her former work as an appellate court law clerk and staff attorney and as a lawyer for state government working on civil, criminal, and administrative cases and issues. She is also one of a handful of attorneys in South Carolina who is certified as an interdisciplinary collaborative professional by the IACP.
To request more information or a consultation, please fill out the contact form below.
In collaborative divorce, each party has their own attorney who gives them guidance and assistance in negotiating their divorce settlement. But unlike a traditional, litigated divorce, the parties enter into a formal agreement saying that they will negotiate and reach their own settlement prior to filing divorce papers in court. What this does is ensure that decisions stay in the control of the parties rather than putting decisions in the hands of a judge. It is also the opposite from a traditional, litigated divorce in which the very first step is to “file papers,” which effectively disempowers the parties by asking the judge to make all decisions for them. The collaborative divorce agreement also has safeguards built into it which prevent one party from negotiating with their fingers crossed behind their back, so to speak, which can be a risk of negotiations during traditional litigated divorce proceedings. After a complete settlement is reached, court papers are filed and the couple obtains an uncontested divorce which incorporates their agreement into the divorce decree. By reducing conflict, resources found on the web page of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals indicated that (even with the cost of the consulting professionals)the cost of a collaborative divorce is generally about half the cost of a traditional, litigated divorce. Of course, “cheap” is not the goal. The goal is a quality result that is fair and will be workable for all parties in the long run.
What if the parties cannot make decisions on their own? This rarely happens because of the powerful disupte resolution model employed by collaborative divorce. First of all, collaborative divorce attorneys are specifically trained in positive models of negotiations which are designed to help both parties identify and meet their most fundamental needs and interests. To help in the process or reaching agreement and also to ensure the long term sustainability of the result, the parties also agree to consult (as needed) with neutral experts who are also certified as collaborative professionals. Professionals become certified in the areas of finance (for issues involving support and property division), mental health (including divorce coaches and child specialists), and mediation, as well as in legal representation (attorneys). In general, so long as parties agree, they can use any type of neutral professional they choose for expert feedback and advice. The Collaborative Divorce model is an extremely powerful method for helping families stay in control of their own destiny and it also focuses resources on finding solutions to challenges rather spending resources battling in court.
To become certified as a collaborative professional, individuals who are already licensed in their relevant field of expertise must take an additional training course which equips them to work as a team with other professionals to guide the divorce process. If anyone tells you they offer collaborative divorce, ask if they are certified by the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, as this is an important measure of professionalism and quality.
For help deciding if collaborative divorce is an option in your case, call 803-414-0185 for a consultation, or fill out the contact form below.
Welcome to the family and elder law and mediation practice of Alexandria Skinner, J.D. (located at 3924 Forest Drive, Columbia, SC). Utilizing tools and skills of law and mediation, this practice is devoted to “helping people tackle problems instead of each other.”™ This is a boutique legal and mediation practice devoted to helping individuals, families, and organizations (a) plan proactively to reduce conflict and also, when conflict or divorce is inevitable, (b) to help parties navigate their conflict (and legal issues) peaceably, with as little drama, cost, and collateral damage to their family as possible.
It is said that if the only tool in your tool kit is a hammer, then the whole world looks like a nail. Often, when parties are in conflict their first response is to think that a lawyer can help. Certainly, law is an important and valuable tool for addressing conflict. However, law is not the only tool utilized in this practice. There are many tools available for resolution of conflict, some of which may be objectively better than a lawsuit. Parties are wise to consider all of the tools in the toolbox before deciding which approach to use. Sometimes parties file papers only to find that this action compounded their troubles (and cost) instead of making their situation better. Each individual case is unique and deserves an approach tailored to the needs of the parties, not just a one-size-fits-all, knee-jerk response.
In this holistic, integrative practice, options explored may include conflict coaching, negotiation, multiple forms of mediation (mediation is a term that refers to many different forms of conflict resolution and in this practice includes transformative, narrative, facilitative, and evaluative styles of mediation), preventive legal planning, and also including lawsuits in appropriate cases. The goal in every case is to utilize the entire toolbox in such a way as to meet the unique goals, needs, and values of the parties themselves. An equally important goal is for remedies to be long term, sustainable, and cost effective.
Not every law or mediation practice is the right fit for every client. To see if this is the right practice for you, please request either a telephone, internet, or office consultation, using the contact form below, or call 803-414-0185 to speak with someone.
TYPES OF LAW
|FAMILY LAW :
WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT THIS PRACTICE?
Small and Personal: My clients receive personal attention from me and from my staff. You will never receive a bill for a postage stamp.
Holistic and Forward Looking: My philosophy is to seek solutions that are going to work in the long term and be healthy and happy for both the individual and the family. Documents I draft are prepared with the goal of avoiding issues that can give rise to family conflict later. My clients rely on me for professional guidance and advice, not merely advocacy for a position.
Nonadversarial wherever possible: My philosophy is that families ought not have to engage in an adversarial process to settle family matters. On the other hand, peacemaking does not mean to cave in either. Conflict needs to be resolved fairly and, where possible, in ways that don’t rip the family apart at the seams. I seek to empower clients, individually and as a team, to identify and implement solutions that reflect their unique and individual values and circumstances and which address the underlying causes or symptoms of the conflict. In my practice, resources are channeled into finding solutions rather than fueling conflict.
Interest based: I first help clients identify the underlying issues that are causing distress or which may give rise to problems in the future. Then, I help clients identify wholesome, realistic solutions to those issues. When parties work as a team to address or neutralize causes of conflict, rather than as adversaries seeking to gain advantage over one another, it is more likely that they will be able to find creative solutions which meet more of their underlying needs and interests.
Workable: Ideally, people will be happier with their negotiated or mediated settlement than they would be with a solution imposed by a court after a grueling, adversarial battle. Because of the emphasis on finding solutions rather than building walls, this approach also conserves family and elder resources, and family relationships can be strengthened rather than torn apart by litigation. To ensure integrity of long term result, part of the process will include asking whether the negotiated solution is workable in the long run, not just whether it satisfies the immediate need.
Empowering: The approach of a peacemaking lawyer also is backwards from that of a litigating attorney. In a typical divorce case, the very first thing the attorney does is to file legal papers asking a judge to make a decision in the case. After this, settlement negotiations ensue. My approach is the opposite. My clients reach their settlement agreement before they ever file papers. When papers are filed after agreement has already been reached, the case is uncontested and the judge is simply asked to review and approve the settlement.
Ethical: I am also very clear about my role and my ethical obligations. A mediator is neutral and does not represent either party. An attorney is an advocate and cannot be neutral. A mediator who says they can represent one party, or an attorney who says they can mediate, are both violating ethical standards of their professions. I will wear one hat or the other, but not both. This is discussed in initial conversations. If I am working as an attorney in a case which needs a mediator, or vice versa, I will help arrange appropriate assistance from appropriate professionals.
Transparent: I do not claim to the the “right” lawyer for every client. Clients who want to be told what to do and who want to see the world in terms of black and white, who want to view themselves as “good” and the other side as “evil,” will not enjoy my approach to law. I cannot promise to be perfect, and I cannot promise to “fix” everything that is wrong. What I can promise to do is to do my best to be competent and to know the law, to give the best advice I know how to give, to refer clients to others with more expertise when that is appropriate, to be honest with my clients, to be fair in terms of billing, and to earnestly work for the good of my clients.
WHO IS A CANDIDATE FOR A PEACEMAKING APPROACH TO FAMILY LAW?
Committed to Fairness: Mediated and negotiated solutions for family and elder care issues are not appropriate for every case. I only accept family law clients who are committed to finding fair and workable solutions to challenges that face families and elders. I do accept elder law cases which may be litigated in probate court, because of the important value of protecting fairness to the vulnerable adult. By limiting my practice to the niche areas of non-adversarial family law and protection of vulnerable adults, I am able to focus on quality and sustainability of results for people who care deeply about the long term vision for the future of themselves and their families.
Self Aware: The clients who choose to work with me, and with whom I choose to work, are those who: (1) understand the value of focusing on healing and wholeness in the long term, (2) understand the value of finding solutions that are fair, precisely tailored to their needs, practical, and sustainable, (3) are willing to pay a fair rate for those services; (4) agree to consult with consulting experts when appropriate (financial advisers, appraisers, psychologists and therapists, vocational rehabilitation experts, legal advisers); and (5) have a high level of insight into their most important goals and target solutions that reflect those values, rather than having solutions dictated or imposed by an outside third party.
LOOKING FOR A CHEAP DIVORCE?
Focusing on a cheap solution to family and elder issues can be penny wise but pound foolish. The consequences of poor decisions don’t just last a lifetime. They can affect your family for generations, literally.
I spend quality time with every client to learn their values, goals, and circumstances, to help them carefully consider their options, and then to decide on and implement legal solutions which reflect those individual needs and circumstances. Your conversations with me may involve difficult questions and hard answers. This is because half baked, knee jerk, and temporary solutions that punt the hard decisions down the road six months are just as unwise for families as they are for Congress. The most cost effective solution to a challenge is not necessarily the one that is “easiest” or the one with the lowest up front cost, but the one that will meet the parties’ needs in a sustainable and affordable way in the long run.
While it’s true that mediated and collaborative divorce do tend to cost less than litigated divorce, the difference in cost is due to effectiveness of the process and the solutions. All emphasis is on finding workable solutions rather than perpetuating conflict and arguing. Families tend to keep more money in their pocket overall, preserve relationships and ability to work together as families and as parents, and experience less need for future court action. The investment in a peaceable divorce or quality elder care plan is an investment in a better future. But please, don’t make the mistake of focusing on “cheap” when you think in terms of family legal solutions. If you want a “cheap divorce,” keep looking. If what you are looking for, instead, is a fair and cost effective solution to a complex family issue that has legal dimensions to it, you may have come to the right place.
When a divorce is truly uncontested, then I am happy to take your divorce agreement (if you have one), write it into a separation agreement, and then represent just one party to walk the uncontested divorce through the court process to achieve a final order of divorce. If you think you have an uncontested divorce and just want legal representation to walk it through the court process, please call 803-414-0185 to discuss the process for achieving this in the most cost-effective manner possible. Flat rates for this are available.
In today’s economy, many unhappily married people are seeking the cheapest way possible to get divorced. If you fall in this category, you have come to the right place, but maybe not for the reasons you think. In actuality, an uncontested divorce has the potential to be the most expensive divorce of all.
Uncontested divorce may seem the easiest way out. But, before you seek an uncontested divorce, please answer two questions:
If you get the answers to these two questions wrong, then a “cheap” divorce can turn out to be devastatingly expensive in the long run. Mediation with a divorce professional need not be expensive, and it helps ensure that you are entering into divorce with full knowledge of the issues and voluntary agreement on all of them. Read More