Archives for Divorce

TELL ME ABOUT FAMILY AND DIVORCE MEDIATION?

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, when 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 means 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, it is likely that a mediator has more tools that can help you.

Divorce mediation is a key component of my practice, but my practice is devoted to all manner of conflict where relationships are key and where there are mutual, personal goals.  I’m certified by the South Carolina Supreme Court as a Family Court mediator, but this is only the beginning of the story where my credentials as a mediator are concerned.  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 far 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:

MEDIATION

LITIGATION

Empowers parties to make their own agreement based on their own individual values, circumstances, and priorities Puts decision in hands of a stranger who must impose ruling from outside in, and based on general legal principles
Teamwork and collaboration is encouraged The parties are pitted against one another as adversaries
Parties can 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

 

I am skilled in many types of mediation, including mediation for extended families and organizations.  My signature style of mediation is called conflict transformation.  While there are many aspects of transformative type mediation, a significant aspect is that I will be 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.  I am skilled in many types and forms of mediation, including mediation for divorce and parenting issues but also in mediation and conflict coaching for extended families and for business and church organizations.

I trained in divorce mediation with Carl Schneider and Eileen Coen, a therapist-attorney team in Bethesda, Maryland, because I wanted the best training available, training which equipped the mediator not only in legal aspects of divorce (with which I was already familiar) but also with the emotional and psychological aspects of the divorce and family transition.  My training also met the standards promulgated by the Association for Conflict Resolution as the starting point towards seeking certification as an Advanced Practitioner Family Mediator with that organization.  (There is no divorce mediation training offered in South Carolina which accredited to meet published educational standard for this training.)  I have 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 (my initial 40 hour training), and training as a community mediator (Beth Padgett through Community Mediation Center).  As an attorney, I have worked on a wide variety of cases through my 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.  I am also one of a handful of attorneys in South Carolina who is certified as an interdisciplinary collaborative professional by the IACP.

The most common scenario for people to consult with me about mediation is when they anticipate getting a divorce.  I would like to say a word specifically about mediated divorce.  There is a world of difference between “mediated divorce” and “divorce mediation.”  Let me explain.  The paradigm of mediation is neutral and non-adversarial.  The parties to mediation are engaged in common search for resolution of their conflict, but they are not adversaries.  The parties to litigation, in contrast, are pitted against one another in an adversarial, “A versus B” mode.  Mediation is used in litigated divorce, but within this already-hostile context, to settle the case.  Mediation in a mediated divorce, in contrast, never pits the parties “against” one another.  The parties can cooperate and act as a team, even though they are divorcing, to formulate the best possible solutions available for their family in the changed circumstances.  The focus of my family practice is not mediation within the context of litigated cases, but rather mediation as a model for helping families address challenging conflict, which may or which may not involve court action, depending on the individual needs and circumstances of each case.   When cases are in adversarial mode already, I am happy to assist in settlement.  However, most people who come to me for divorce mediation are operating in the non-adversarial paradigm.

If this sounds good to you, be aware that a mediated divorce is not going to happen unless you are  pro-active to seek it.   If a party seeking resolution of family conflict consults first with an attorney who tells them they need to “file papers,” this means that the attorney already is in the mindset of asking a court to decide the case for you.   Filing papers in court takes power away from you to resolve your case and places that power in the hands of the judge.  It also sets you up to require the expert assistance of the attorney to manage the process.

If you are considering a mediated divorce, I encourage you to call and arrange a face to face meeting to discuss mediation as soon as possible.  Ideally, both spouses should be involved in this decision process.   (If you have not discussed divorce with your spouse, then you are likely not ready to consult with a divorce mediator.  I suggest that if you have not yet broached this idea with your spouse, a marriage and family therapist is the appropriate professional for you to speak with at this time.  I can refer you to appropriate professionals if you don’t know one already.)   Ideally, parties will get help from a mediator after they have decided to divorce, but before conflict has become overheated and intractable.

In my office, there is never a high pressure sales job to mediate.  My goal is not to convince everyone that they should mediate their case.  In fact, some cases should not be mediated.   My goal is for mediation to be available as an option in cases where it is a positive, powerful tool for helping families achieve healthy answers for tough family decisions.

To schedule an appointment, call 803-414-0185, or fill out the contact form below.

NON ADVERSARIAL FAMILY AND ELDER LAW

Alexandria Skinner

Alexandria Skinner, Attorney and Mediator

My law and mediation practice is devoted to “helping people tackle problems instead of each other.”™   Most clients who hire me as their attorney are seeking help with non-adversarial divorce, adoption, name change, prenuptial agreements, agreements designed to protect LGBT  partners who are in long term committed relationships, and planning for old age or disability.   Once the planning is done or agreement is reached, any needed court action is uncontested.    Because I focus on helping families and divorcing couples who seek peaceable resolution of family conflict and elder law issues, I generally do not accept cases where people plan at the outset on suing each other in adversarial proceedings.  However, I do make exception to my “no adversarial litigation” rule for cases in probate court involving vulnerable adults.   I am also trained as a medical ethicist.  My package for estate planning includes not only a will but also a conference to talk through important business and health care planning decisions and drafting of documents needed to implement your plan in event of disability.

 

To schedule an appointment, please call 803-414-0185, email me, or use the contact form.

TYPES OF LAW

 

FAMILY  LAW :

  • legal representation to obtain uncontested court orders in cases which have been mediated by other mediators
  • uncontested adoptions,
  • name changes
  • uncontested guardianships for children,
  • negotiation and drafting of prenuptial agreements (also known as antenputial agreements),
  • collaborative divorce,
  • contractual legal arrangements between long term partners and never-married parents (including LGBT couples)

 

ELDER LAW:

  • estate planning for middle class families,
  • care planning for elders,
  • planning for disability,
  • estate planning for blended families,
  • legal help for families facing elder care emergencies,
  • adult guardianships and legal actions to protect vulnerable adults or people with disabilities,
  • durable powers of attorney,
  • health care powers of attorney,
  • advance directives and medical ethics consultations,
  • representation in probate court,
  • guidance for guardians and conservators for vulnerable adults regarding compliance with fiduciary duties

 

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.

 

What is the Best Divorce Process for You?

If you are looking for a caring and competent divorce, family, and elder mediator in South Carolina, you have come to a good place.   My comfortable office in Columbia, SC, is a central and neutral location for clients who come from all over the state — with or without attorneys — for help in reaching divorce separation agreements, parenting and custody plans, elder care plans, and other family issues outside of court.  With help of one of our highly qualified, neutral mediators, divorcing couples and families reach voluntary, fair, and amicable settlement agreements.  The goal of mediation is to help you reach agreement and to make sure it is done in a fair way that does not leave out or overlook any issues or future challenges.  After a complete settlement agreement is reached covering all issues in a manner both parties believe is fair, an attorney is usually hired to manage the very simple process of having it made into an enforceable court order.

But mediation is a relatively new way of settling divorce and family conflict issues.  What if one spouse needs more protection?  How will you know if an agreement is fair?  How can you know if your case is appropriate to settle outside of court, at all?   Do you need a divorce attorney to fight for you?  These are important concerns.  My very first step as a professional divorce guide is to help you gain the knowledge you need to answer all those questions.  You cannot know what is needed in your individual situation until you have learned about the benefits and drawbacks of the four main approaches to divorce:  litigated divorce, collaborative divorce, mediated divorce, and uncontested divorce.  Therefore, my first role will be to assist you in learning about your divorce options and then to help you decide what options might work best in your circumstances. Read More

Can Divorce Mediation Save My Marriage?

Mediation is not the same as counseling.  A couple should not come to divorce mediaton thinking it may save their marriage.  Mediation is not the remedy for saving a marriage.  That is the role of marriage counseling.  The over-arching goal of divorce mediation is to help two parties reach a concrete agreement that addresses the issues that must be decided in order to separate their lives and live as a divorced couple.  Rest assured, a divorce mediator will support you if you want to save your marriage, but they will not pressure you to stay married.

On some rare occasions, however, the process of helping parties build a concrete agreement ends up helping parties develop better communication skills and improved understanding of each other’s needs.  Sometimes, this results in a more peaceable and satisfactory relationship.  In rare cases, enough steam is let out of the pressure cooker that parties might report that they feel they no longer need a divorce.

Read More

Parenting through divorce

Sadly, the two of you have decided to split.  In the old days, the baby would have been split too, in a sense.  Divided between two warring households, children would be shuffled back and forth begrudgingly by parents who put them in the middle.   Fortunately, children of divorce are now adults.  They can now tell their story.   What these adult children say to parents divorcing today is, “Stop! Act like adults!”

The word now is COPARENTING.    When parents split up, they divorce each other but not their children.   Parents are expected to formulate a parenting plan which affirms and supports the parenting role of each.

Read More

What’s Wrong With Old School, Litigated Divorce?

Well, nothing. Nothing, that is, if you really want to bankrupt yourself, make enemies with the other parent of your children, and spend the rest of your life thinking about how you got shafted in your divorce.   Does this ending sound all too familiar?  If you haven’t heard this ending before, you haven’t talked with very many divorced people.  It’s not hard to find people who have been through horrific, painful divorces. Read More

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Mediation: The Future of Divorce?

According to Forrest Mosten, a Los Angeles mediator, family law specialist and the author of numerous books on mediation and collaborative divorce (click HERE for list), mediation is a new alternative to divorce litigation. “As people become disenchanted with our court systems, and as we become aware of the significant impact that a family breakup has on children, more people are turning to mediation.”

Mediation isn’t marriage counseling.  Although feelings about the marriage and the decision to divorce may be relevant and may be discussed during mediation, the goal of mediation is to reach an agreement — a separation or divorce agreement — that will help you, your ex, and your children (if any) adjust to the divorce and agree on how to resolve future issues together.

From “Finding Common Ground” by Diana Shepherd, published in Divorce Magazine and reprinted HERE.

For more information and resources about divorce mediation, see links on this website, HERE

Links to Divorce Resources

COMPARISON OF DIVORCE OPTIONS

  • A slide show comparing divorce options, click HERE
  • An article about cost of litigated divorce, click HERE

COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE

  • My article about collaborative divorce, click HERE
  • Link to International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP), click HERE

MEDIATED DIVORCE

  • My short list, Advantages of Mediation, click HERE
  • My longer article about Mediation, click HERE
  • A video explaining about mediated divorce, click HERE
  • Divorce mediation checklist for issues and documents you will need, click HERE
  • Search for articles about divorce mediation on the excellent site Mediate.com, click HERE
  • Link to resources on web site of Association of Conflict Resolution (ACR), click HERE

PARENTING ISSUES AFTER DIVORCE

  • Brochure about co-parenting after divorce, click HERE
  • Two articles about effect of high conflict divorce on children, click HERE or HERE
  • Internet resource for helping parents work together to develop a parenting plan:  UpToParents
  • Sixty-eight page resource for developing a parenting plan, published by State of Arizona, click HERE
  • Scheduling "wizard" for coordination of parenting issues such as schedules, school records, medical records, etc., click HERE

GENERAL DIVORCE RESOURCES

  • IRS Publication 504, guide to taxes for divorcing parties, click HERE
  • Documents you will need to change after divorce, click HERE
  • Do-It-Yourself Divorce: South Carolina forms for self represented litigants, click HERE

RESOURCES FOR SOUTH CAROLINA CLIENTS

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