What Is Divorce Mediation?
For many couples, the divorce process is extremely challenging, from both a financial and emotional perspective — there may be a great deal of tension between the couple regarding the divorce itself, and the high-conflict atmosphere introduced by some attorneys can lead to the provision of legal assistance that is not actually constructive for either party.
Fortunately, since the introduction of no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania (married couples have the option of mutually consenting to a no-fault divorce), people have generally become more willing to forgo traditional litigation and try mediation instead for resolving arguments relating to spousal support, division of marital property, child support, visitation rights, and more.
What Is Mediation?
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that avoids the lengthiness, emotional difficulty, and potential expense of traditional divorce litigation. In a Pennsylvania divorce mediation, the couple need not go through litigation — it is not legally required. Instead, a specialized divorce mediator will supervise the mediation, engage in constructive dialogue, and help ensure that each party negotiates compromises that are fundamentally positive for all involved.
Mediation typically takes place over multiple sessions. Having been given information on assets, budget, wants, needs, and more, the divorce mediator is well-equipped to guide these sessions.
In a mediation, all decisions are made as a result of negotiation between the couple (and executed in a marital settlement agreement). The courts are not involved in the nitty-gritty details of the mediation process. Further, the mediator has no power to make decisions for the couple. All decision-making power lies with the negotiating couple.
Common Issues to be Mediated
There are certain topics that are more commonly negotiated during mediation then others, as these topics typically involve heightened emotional sensitivity. Parties often recognize that minimizing conflict through mediation is a superior approach.
The mediation topics include, but are not limited to:
Parenting Plan Terms
A parenting plan generally describes the compromises reached by the couple regarding custody and visitation for their children. If the parties harbor any animosity for one another, it can make successfully negotiating the parenting plan terms much more difficult. A skilled mediator will help the parties navigate their parenting concerns and reach an acceptable compromise on the terms.
Child support may be a source of some tension if one parent believes that the other parent has excess disposable income that could be put towards child support payments instead. A skilled mediator should not only help come up with a reasonable support payment based on the actual data (i.e., each party’s total income and asset information), but should introduce the prevailing “legal” standard to serve as a framework for negotiation.
Division of Marital Property
The division of marital property is not always straightforward, particularly Pennsylvania, where the division of marital property is done based on “equity” — in other words, the courts generally divide property based on principles of fairness, not based on principles of equality. This can lead to conflict in negotiation since it can be difficult to predict what a court would award each party in the event of divorce litigation. A skilled mediator will be able to smooth over any conflict by guiding each party to assess property division according to similar fairness principles.
Spousal support is a common issue at mediation, but can be worked through, especially since Pennsylvania spousal support is not guaranteed. In Pennsylvania, spousal support is a purely discretionary issue. As such, proper negotiations — if friendly — can lead to a compromise based on fairness and understanding, and not on pre-conceptions of what should or would be awarded by a court.
Call our office today to discuss your situation with an experienced Pittsburgh divorce mediation attorney here at Pollock Begg Komar Glasser & Vertz LLC. We will help you find a solution that best fits your needs and protects your future.
Candice L. Komar, founding partner of Pollock Begg, is a strong litigator, trained mediator and collaborative law attorney who often deals with divorces involving closely held businesses, complex issues and high net worth individuals. A fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and recognized by local and national awards programs for her business sense and family law leadership, particularly in collaborative law, Candice is also often tapped by media to discuss hard-hitting custody and divorce cases.