Post image for Has New York’s No-Fault Provision Increased the Divorce Rate?

The NY Post recently reported that since the new no-fault divorce provision took effect, divorce filings in New York State have increased 12%. Some people are pointing to this as an indication that no-fault laws make people more inclined to divorce. This isn’t necessarily true.

An important factor in the fluctuations in divorce filings may be the economy. Many divorces were put on hold when the recession hit. As confidence in the economy began to improve, those who waited to get divorced for financial reasons finally felt they were ready to file. A University of Oklahoma study conducted back in 1998 also found that a state’s no-fault laws impacted the rate of divorce filings.  However, the study went on to show that in those no-fault states where the rates of divorce had increased, the increases were significantly linked to gains in family income, showing that as a family has more money to spend, separation and divorce becomes more possible.

Where To Point the Finger?

I believe, as the Oklahoma study points out, a variety of factors come into play when a couple decides to postpone or give the green light to filing for divorce.  I’ve spoken to numerous couples who stated, for example, that given the New York City real estate market, they couldn’t afford to divorce and sell their property so had to wait until the market turned around.  Others say that they simply can’t afford the cost of childcare and two New York City apartments, so they’ll tough it out until rental rates drop or their incomes increase so as to permit one of them to move out. And many couples chose to stay married, although separated, simply so that one spouse can maintain healthcare coverage under the other’s company family health plan.

Just prior to the very recent economic shakeup in Washington, Americans were sensing a mild improvement in the economy and confidence in the market was improving.  Some suspect that couples were beginning to feel financially safe enough to make the move towards separation or divorce.  Coincidentally, the recent changes to the New York Domestic Relations Law passed in October 2010 law providing for no-fault divorce also make divorce more accessible and more affordable for many couples. By allowing couples to choose no-fault or ‘irreconcilable differences’ as the grounds for their divorce, there’s no longer any need to debate or prove grounds such as adultery, abuse or abandonment, which used to consume a significant portion of a lawyers’ time. Any divorce attorney will tell you that he or she spent hours prior to this change in the law wading through the various options for grounds for divorce, passing the tissues as they extracted the information from the clients, trying to construct a well-organized complaint that would be legally sufficient. If the issue went to trial to prove the grounds for divorce, it was extremely costly. Couples who found divorce too expensive in the past now have an option that is a little more streamlined and budget-friendly.

The recent change to the New York statute providing for legal fees has also made it more possible for spouses of lesser means to take the initiative to file a petition.  Under the new law, the spouse making substantially more money may be required to shoulder the cost, or a portion of the cost, of the divorce.  The intention is to make sure that the lesser earning spouse does not stay trapped in a bad marriage just because he or she can’t afford to file for divorce, and to ensure that both parties have access to competent legal counsel or mediation.

There are always a multitude of reasons why a couple decides to divorce and it’s unlikely a change in the law actually encourages people to go out and get a divorce if it wasn’t something they were already considering.

What’s your take on the recent increases in the divorce rate?

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Post image for Standoff on the Debt Ceiling:  Is There a Mediator in the House, Please?

 

As Congress misses its deadline once again for an agreement to raise the debt ceiling, shattering the confidence of even the most cynical of economic analysts, we have to wonder why the White House has not considered using a different strategy to settle this impasse: Mediation.  The recent debate in Washington about the debt ceiling and the budget have offered a window into the importance of mediation, says a recent article in the Pittsbugh BusinessTimes. The article makes some good points about how mediation could help move the process along quickly toward resolution.  As anyone who’s been involved in an intense family, business or neighborhood conflict knows, mediators can be highly successful in getting the parties to focus on the heart of the problem, and helping them brainstorm creatively about solutions in order to achieve a ‘win-win’ agreement.  Let’s take a quick look at how a mediator could be helpful in the White House as the clock is ticking ever closer to the August 2nd budget deadline.

Mediation Resolves Disputes Quickly

There’s no argument that, when it comes to the current budget crisis and the bill under consideration to raise the debt ceiling, time is of the essence.  And mediation is always the speediest way to help parties cut through the posturing, the politics and saber-rattling, to reach an agreement that will stick. Waiting to go to court often takes months. Mediation, on the other hand is an immediate solution that allows the parties to sit down quickly and start to find solutions before the problem becomes larger. The debt ceiling is a pressing problem, and one that needs to be resolved quickly, something mediation could handily do.

Mediation Helps Parties Problem-Solve More Creatively

The debt ceiling has proven to be a persistent point of contention and the parties continue to circle around the same topics and offer up the same solutions. In disputes like this, a mediator can often step in and help the parties think about the problems in new ways. Mediators don’t offer solutions, but they do guide the parties to look at the problem in a new way, thereby helping them develop alternative solutions. Having a non-invested, neutral third party in the room can change the tone of the conversation and make it more productive, thoughtful, and creative.

Mediation Keeps the Debate Focused

It is also important to remember that a mediator does, in fact, mediate.  That is, a mediator’s job is to keep the conversation on point and on target. In family mediation, elder care mediation, and business mediation, parties have a tendency to wander and to pull in topics, situations, and associated problems that are not helpful in resolving the issue on the table. A mediator guides the talks in a focused way, moving the parties from point to point, helping them move towards solutions and also helping them see the interrelation between the problems at hand so they can be solved in a cohesive manner.

Mediation is Private and Positive

The mediation room is a positive space, where parties are not allowed to speak harshly and posturing is discouraged. Mediators work to keep parties focused on constructive conflict resolution rather than rehashing the past. In addition, mediation is a more private process, where parties are urged to keep the issues in the room – unlike the talks in Washington, which take place very much in the public eye (or at least are reported to the public after the fact). The privacy of the process can be helpful in resolving sensitive and complex conflicts where multiple agendas are at stake.  By allowing parties to lay their cards on the table honestly and openly, they can ‘cut to the chase’ more quickly if they are not having to worry about the  public perception of each position and argument presented.

Mediation offers a multitude of benefits for settling conflicts – from marital squabbles, inter-family conflicts, business problems, to cross-border disputes.  Maybe it’s time that the lawmakers in Washington try a new approach to ending the deadlock on the debt ceiling debate and bring a neutral into the room to help them move swiftly toward resolution.

 

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Divorce Mediation and the Gen X Family

by Petra Maxwell on July 20, 2011

Post image for Divorce Mediation and the Gen X Family

 

A  recent Wall Street Journal piece focused on Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980) and divorce.  As the author points out, this is the generation defined by divorce: nearly half of Gen Xers grew up in split households, and roughly 40% were latch-key kids. It’s no wonder, then, that  Gen Xers, now married with their own families, are more determined than ever to get it right.

Learning From the Past, in Marriage and Divorce

Contrary to popular belief, children of divorced households aren’t necessarily headed for a failed marriage themselves.  The article points out that, for the first time in over two decades, the divorce rate has dipped.  Recent census data shows that the early wave of Gen Xers married in the early 1990’s have stayed married past the 10-year mark.  Gen Xers are loathe to put their kids through what they themselves have endured as neglected children, shuttled from household to household. But divorce still happens.  Gen Xers, like their parents, lead complicated, dual career lives that present multiple challenges when trying to navigate around the competing demands of jobs and kids. When the marriage breaks down, the Gen X couple, who themselves suffered the pain and emptiness of divorce, is again determined to “get it right”.

For Gen Xers, Mediation Makes for Better Co-Parenting

This generation that has a laser focus on its own children is very attuned to the effect of divorce on kids because they themselves lived through it.  More and more, Gen Xers are turning to mediation to negotiate their separation and divorce to help reduce the negative impact of the transition on their kids. That’s good news for the children since a University of Virginia study has shown that divorce mediation does what mediators have long been saying it does – it fosters better communication between the parents, allowing them to stay actively engaged in their kids’ lives as parents co-parents.  (Also read our previous article, Divorce Mediation Makes Better Parents).

Create A Parenting Plan!

If you’re a Gen Xer (and even if you’re not), you want mediation to help you lay the groundwork for cooperative co-parenting, so that you can continue to give your kids a grounded and balanced childhood, even if they have two homes. We are experienced at working with parents who lead complex lives – professional moms and dads with multiple kids and complicated parenting arrangements – and we understand your interest in making sure that your children go on to lead healthy, secure and balanced lives with continued access and support from both parents, despite your break-up.  Contact us for information on how we can help you create (or revise) a co-parenting plan that will help you ‘get it right’ so you can remain actively involved parents for your kids.

 

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Mediation and the LGBT “Divorce” in New York

by Petra Maxwell on June 18, 2011

Post image for Mediation and the LGBT “Divorce” in New York

New York State is getting encouragingly close to the passage of a bill recognizing same-sex marriages. But until we actually see a signature on the page, New York (like many other states) does not recognize GLBTQ marriages and unions. This means that if you were married in another state, you can’t get a divorce in New York (or in other states that do not recognize gay marriages). And if you’re partnered in New York and break up, you have no access to the legal system to resolve the issues of your break up.

Mediation is the solution. In mediation you’re not constrained by what your state recognizes or doesn’t and you’re free to discuss and reach agreements about any conflicts that may arise in your relationship. You and your partner can work with a trained, neutral mediator who understands the issues involved in GLBTQ families and marriages. Your mediator will help you work through all of the issues involved in separating and will create a written agreement you both can follow.

LGBT Financial Issues: Joint Assets and Debt Without Divorce Court

When you end your relationship you may have some or all of the following joint assets and debts:

  • Home
  • Cars
  • Investments, stocks, and bonds
  • Credit card bills
  • Mortgages, car loans, home equity loans, and personal loans
  • Household items
  • Unpaid utility bills
  • Degrees or professional licenses earned during the marriage
  • Unpaid taxes
  • Bank accounts and CDs
  • Retirement accounts
  • Collectibles
  • Season’s tickets, frequent flyer miles, family memberships, and credit card points

Because you are not legally married in New York, these items cannot be divided by a divorce court. This leaves your family on its own, unless you turn to mediation. A mediator can help you negotiate a fair and equitable division of your assets, and then can create a binding contract that addresses how all of these items will be divided. He or she helps you work through the negotiations and discussions involved in the very emotional process of ending a close personal relationship.

Custody: Mediation for Gay Families with Children in New York

Mediation is very important for gay families with children, particularly if you are not both legal parents of the children. In this situation, there are no State regulations protecting the non-legal parent. However, in mediation, you are free to enter into your own contract describing your arrangements regarding custody, visitation and child support. The current state law doesn’t really matter as long as your agreement is reasonable and takes your children’s best interests to heart.

On the other hand, if you are both the legal parents of your children, you can get a New York court to enter an order enforcing your custody and child support issues. However, the best way to handle these sensitive family matters is to go to a mediator first to negotiate your parenting, child support and other asset arrangements yourselves, rather than to leave these decisions up to a judge. Then, have the mediator draft the settlement documents, and have him or her file them with the court on your behalf. Your agreement reached in mediation will be approved by the court and entered into an enforceable court order. Only in mediation are you able to work together to come up with a custody and child support plan that fits your family and includes as much detail as you need.

Alimony

Alimony is ordered in divorces to help one spouse get back on his or her feet, and sometimes as compensation for behavior that happened in the marriage. In New York, you must be in a hetero marriage to qualify for alimony through the courts. However, as before, mediation gives you the room to negotiate any financial terms you feel are appropriate under the circumstances and for the sake of fairness. So, if one of you needs some financial assistance in the wake of the separation, your mediator can help you draft an agreement that lays out the terms of the financial arrangement including a payment schedule. Your mediator can also assist you in structuring this so it does not have income tax consequences.

Dissolving a Marriage from Another State

In order to dissolve a marriage that may have occurred in another state or country, you have to follow the divorce procedures set up by that state or country. Most states have residency requirements that you must meet to be able to file. Your mediator can discuss with you how you can meet those requirements and get the marriage dissolved.

Clearly, under New York’s current system, those in GLBTQ relationships face numerous challenges when contemplating a break-up. Until New York State legislation catches up with real life, mediation offers the only compassionate and flexible way for couples to resolve the unique circumstances of their relationship outside of the courtroom.

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Post image for Keeping Aging Couples Together: mediating your family’s eldercare options

As the elderly population grows, one segment of that group is bigger than ever before: married seniors. 45% of men over the age of 85 still live at home with their spouse. Another 10% of senior men are married, but are living apart from their spouse (who is most likely in a nursing home). As senior couples and their concerned family members confront caregiving decisions, the couples’ desire to continue to live together is a huge challenge. There are a number of living arrangements to consider and holding a family meeting to consider them may be the best way to sort out the pros and cons.

Most senior couples prefer to continue to live together at home. But when one spouse is in need of extra help, it places the healthier spouse in a care-giving role. Remaining at home may be the goal for many, many couples, but doing so without the right support can mean injury for the healthier spouse. When families are faced with the important question of how elderly loved ones can enjoy their time together without compromising the health and safety of each partner, it makes sense to hold a family meeting – sometimes with the aid of a mediator – to weigh the options. Here are a few to consider:

Aging in place at home may seem like the best option for elderly couples. They have the chance to stay together in a familiar environment and if they can manage to hire an in-home care professional, the couple will get the care and support they need. On the other hand, families must keep in mind that constant contact with caregivers can lead the healthier spouse to feel intruded upon, and round the clock in-home care can be pricey.

Moving together to an assisted living facility is a also a popular option, but rarely do both spouses stay at the same activity and health level. One spouse is likely to fall into a caregiving role in this situation as well, when the facility does not have the services the weakening spouse needs. Moving together to a facility that provides the higher level of care the less healthy spouse requires ensures that health needs are met, but can result in the healthier spouse feeling trapped in a place that doesn’t offer the opportunities he or she needs to remain active, and can result in the healthy spouse deteriorating.

Living separately at different facilities (assisted living and a nursing home) or one spouse remaining at home while the other moves into residential care are options, but is usually distressing for both spouses and can negatively impact their health.

Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) have been stepping up to the plate lately to fill the void. These residential centers offer a wide array of services and care which can be customized to each spouse’s needs. This may be the perfect solution for a couple that can’t remain at home together, however it can be cost-prohibitive. Most CCRCs require a buy-in fee and then monthly payments (which can be comparable to live-at-home costs). And the sliding levels of care may only be offered in specific buildings on the grounds, meaning one spouse might need to move to receive a higher level of care.

Clearly, there are a number of options available to aging couples – some of which have not even been touched upon here. There are no perfect solutions, but understanding a couple’s need to remain together is the first step in the process of making long-term care decisions. Holding a family meeting, either with or without the help of a mediator, is a great way to put everyone’s needs and concerns on the table so they can devise the best possible strategy.

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Post image for The “New” NY Divorce Law:  What it is and how it impacts your decision to mediate

Late last fall, New York became the last state in the nation to offer something akin to ‘no-fault’ divorce. After years and years of debate, a few new provisions were added to the NY State Domestic Relations Statute that impacts the grounds by which you can get a divorce, the payment of fees to get a divorce, and the provision of maintenance (or alimony) for the lesser earning spouse while the divorce is being negotiated.   I am asked all the time about what the new law entails, whether it’ll make getting a divorce in New York easier or more complicated for couples, and what it means for a NY mediated divorce.

First, let me give you a quick and dirty summary of how the law has changed since the new provisions went into effect last October:

1.  Grounds for Divorce – Before October 2010, a spouse who wanted to divorce was required to prove that the other spouse had committed a serious marital transgression such as adultery, cruel and inhuman treatment, imprisonment or abandonment.  At best, couples could agree to legally separate for a minimum of a year and, thereafter convert their separation agreement to a petition for divorce after the full year was up.  But as of last October 2010, couples were given another option.  Under the new law a spouse need only show that “the relationship between husband and wife has broken down irretrievably for a period of at least six months.”  When the divorce petition is filed in court the couple will be asked to file an affidavit stating that the marriage has broken down irretrievably for a least 6 months and that there is no possibility of reconciliation.  However, in order for the court to approve the petition, all other outstanding matters such as child custody, child support and distribution of property and maintenance, must first be resolved by the parties before the court will approve the petition and the marriage can be dissolved.

2.  Fees for Divorce – Last fall, Gov. Patterson also signed another bill favored by no-fault divorce advocates which may require the payment of counsel and experts’ fees to the “non-monied” party in a divorce action.  NY State law has always attempted to balance the playing field by forcing a higher earning spouse to pick up the tab or pay a portion of the divorce costs for the under earning spouse.  However, these costs could not be recovered until the divorce was finally settled in court.  Now, under the new law, those who earn less are permitted to recover their costs, or a portion of their costs, while they incur them, throughout the course of the divorce process.

3. Temporary Maintenance While Divorce is Pending – Finally, the Statute includes a provision for a more formulaic approach to the award of temporary maintenance payments to non-monied spouses as their divorce proceedings are pending and move toward finality.  As in all cases of maintenance, however, several factors are still taken into consideration by the courts when determining whether maintenance is appropriate.  For example, the length of the marriage, the education and earning capacity of the parties, professional sacrifices made by the non-earning spouse, what each was doing prior to the marriage, whether the couple has children and their ages and abilities, are all factors that the court will still consider when determining whether maintenance is appropriate.  There is never a hard and fast rule when granting an award of maintenance and a request can be denied altogether by the court despite the adoption of the formula.

So, let’s say you’re thinking about mediation.  How do the new NY Divorce rules stack up when you’re thinking about a mediated divorce?  Actually, I think you always do better in mediation – whether you have a complex case or not – for several reasons.  First, as you noticed, NY courts will not consider your petition for divorce unless they find that all other relevant matters such as child custody and support, property division and maintenance (if applicable), have been resolved.  In mediation, you will be asked to work together with your mediator on each of these issues, one by one.  Mediators are trained to help you brainstorm and resolve complex and challenging disputes around custody and parenting arrangements, property splits, pension plan and banking account assessments, real estate moves, and maintenance.  When all is said and done, your Lawyer/Mediator can draft a legally acceptable Stipulation of Settlement for you that will outline for the court all of the terms you’ve agreed to.  This will show the court that everything has been resolved; that you’ve dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s and are ready for divorce.

What if you’re earning less and need financial help while the divorce is underway? Again, my bias is for mediation.  First, mediation is a much faster process – and more cost effective too.  Both parties save time and money while participating in mediation then when hiring separate attorneys to litigate their divorce.  I have found that because of the significant cost savings, higher earning spouses are sometimes more willing to help in ways that they might not have considered because they no longer feel that they’re being “taken to the cleaners” by a “vindictive” spouse.  Further, a good mediator will draw out their clients’ top concerns very early on.  If temporary maintenance or help with mediation fees is foremost on your mind and is causing you stress, then your mediator should help you both review your finances, your household budgets and help you create an Interim Agreement that outlines how one can help the other manage until a more permanent solution is worked out.

If you have more questions about the new rules for divorce in New York, or how mediation can work for you – please give us call.  We’ll be happy to help point you in the right direction or match you with a screened and qualified mediator that fits your needs.

 

 

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Post image for Mythbusting Mediation: The Top 10 Common Misperceptions About Mediation

 

Although, more and more, mediation is becoming the preferred way for people to settle their disputes, there are still a lot of misperceptions about it.  Here are the top 10 fears and common concerns that I hear regularly from people that prevent them from taking the wise approach to conflict resolution.

1. Mediation only works if you already agree about most things. The whole point of mediation is to solve problems you don’t agree about. The process helps you find compromises and common ground when before you didn’t believe you had any. Just think of mediation as an alternative to going to court, except that the process is private, less expensive, faster, and you maintain more control over the outcome.  You don’t need to agree on the issues.  You just need to agree to mediate.  From there, each of you will work with your mediator to negotiate and problem-solve in order to develop solutions to your unique set of problems.

2. The mediator makes all the decisions. The mediator is actually there as a neutral third party to move the process along. He or she doesn’t decide anything at all and has no power to do so. Only the people sitting in mediation can make decisions about their situation.  The mediator may help by guiding you in your thinking, offering suggestions, and may point out options to assist you in brain-storming solutions.  But, ultimately, you are in the driver’s seat when it comes to developing solutions that work best for each of you.

3. Mediation is too time-consuming. Mediation almost always takes far less time than a contested court proceeding, when you consider all the hours your attorney must put in to prepare for court. Also, because mediators charge less than trial attorneys, you save money.

4. Mediation is touchy-feely. Mediation is not therapy. To resolve certain difficult issues it can be helpful to talk about the emotions or reasons behind them, but the goal in mediation is not to talk through your problems as you might in therapy. Instead, the goal is to tackle problems until you find a solution that works for everyone.  From there, your mediator will help you draft an agreement that will be enforceable in court.

5. Mediation is not for people with a lot of assets or complicated businesses. Mediation works in almost every situation. As long as parties are willing to sit down together to meet and discuss their conflict, mediation is possible.  Mediators have been used to resolve conflicts in business partnership cases, employment and contract disputes, separation and divorce cases, family conflicts, eldercare matters, landlord-tenant and real estate cases, and a host of other types of cases.  The value or type of assets is unimportant. The same process is used to resolve them. Mediators are trained to work with any type of asset.

6. People who mediate don’t use lawyers. Most mediators strongly suggest that both parties hire an attorney for consultation during the process. The mediator’s role is not to provide legal advice (although legal information is given). Each person may wish to consult with an attorney to discuss strategy, rights, and what the potential outcome would be in court.

7. If there’s a power imbalance in the relationship to begin with, the weaker party won’t be protected in mediation. This concern comes up frequently and is expressed most commonly by women going through a divorce, or employees in conflict with their employers.  The belief is that, without an aggressive attorney by their sides, they won’t feel they can have a voice in mediation.  In fact, mediators are trained to insure that everyone is given an equal opportunity to speak freely and openly during mediation and that everyone is heard.  Mediators often act as ‘interpreters’ for parties to be sure that their messages are being conveyed clearly to the other side. In this way, the process can move forward and everyone’s interests are represented in the final agreement.

8. A mediated agreement is not legally enforceable. The mediation process is not only accepted by the courts, it is now highly favored and encouraged by the court system and any agreement reached by the parties is considered binding and enforceable.  When the parties create an agreement with the help of their mediator, it will be drafted in a legally acceptable form, signed and notarized.  In the case of a divorce, for example, the divorce Stipulation of Settlement Agreement, will be submitted to the court with the divorce petition and attached to the court order.  Once this happens, the agreement reached by the parties will be binding and enforceable.

9. Women are always at a disadvantage in mediation, particularly if the mediator is male. Mediation is blind to gender. The process is not skewed in any way to give either spouse better chances. A good mediator will ensure that both parties have a voice and an opportunity to speak and negotiate. The mediator’s gender is irrelevant because the mediator acts completely neutrally.

10. Mediation doesn’t work unless you have good communication with the other person. Most people are in conflict with one another because they don’t have good communication, so this is definitely not a requirement for mediation. It’s even possible to mediate without ever sitting in the same room or speaking directly to each other.  At Mediationline, for example, we have successfully mediated cases where the parties have not been in the same location and have chosen to conduct their mediation over email and through separate exchanges with a mediator. No matter what the style of communication, mediators are skilled at drawing out shy and withdrawn parties, diffusing tense situations, and bringing balance and equity between the parties so that everyone has a voice in the process.


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Post image for Getting the Most Out of Your Mediation: Do the Homework!

When you sign up for mediation, you might not expect to be given homework.  But homework is an essential part of most effective divorce, custody, or senior care mediations.

What Kind of Homework Should You Expect

Mediators often ask clients to take the time between sessions to think about the issues still to be decided and to generate possible solutions. Your mediator will usually prompt you to try to think about the topic in a way you never have before. For example, if you’re mediating a custody dispute your mediator might suggest you pretend to be your child and come up with solutions he or she might think of. Your mediator may also ask you to gather information from different sources, such as appraisals from real estate brokers or account information from investment advisors. In a senior care mediation, your mediator might suggest you make some phone calls and talk with some visiting nurses, elder care managers, or assisted living facilities. You may also be asked to do some organizational work—gathering records and documents and organizing them or creating a summary that can then be used in the next mediation session.

Why You Should Do Your Homework

If your mediator asks you to think about some issues, generate possible solutions, or gather records between mediation sessions it’s usually so that when you meet again everyone will have made some progress. Homework saves you time (and money) in mediation. Going home and spending some time thinking about the issues and possible solutions lets your mind slowly work through things in a way you cannot in a one-hour session. In the days or weeks between your sessions, you have time to let your active and subconscious mind process everything that was discussed in session and internalize it. This moves you closer to a solution. Gathering information or documents allows you to bring something new to the next session so there are more items to discuss.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Homework

If you approach your homework as something you just need to check off your list, you aren’t getting the complete benefit of it. This isn’t like math homework in high school where you just needed to scribble some answers down on paper to show the teacher you did something. Homework is intended to benefit you. You aren’t doing it for your mediator. You’re doing it for yourself. You committed to mediation and you want it to help you reach an equitable resolution. The only way to do that is to devote time and energy to the process—which means taking the homework seriously.  As you gather your information, think about how it can benefit the settlement process.  Begin to think about creative ways for how you might be able to give and take as a way to reach a fair agreement.

Mediation homework is an integral part of the process and giving it the time and attention it needs will help move your mediation case along more quickly and get you to a mutually agreeable solution as fast as possible.

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Post image for Mediation vs. Meditation: A Freudian slip on the old keypad?

There’s a difference of only one letter between the words “mediation” and “meditation.” It’s very easy to mistype one or the other words since they look almost the same. On the face of it, they seem like two entirely different things, but the two have more in common than just their spelling.

Mediation and meditation both require you to ground yourself in some way, find your center, explore what you really need and want, and take action to get there. They share the need for self-recognition and have the result of creating self-sufficiency. To meditate, you must make room in your life for the daily process, arrange your mind so that you are able to focus, and let go of the outer world as you hone in on your breathing and relaxation. Meditation has many proven benefits, including stress relief and a better ability to focus.

Mediation is really not so different. To mediate your conflict, you must put yourself in the right mindset, one that is not about conflict, but is about conciliation. You must make room in your life to attend mediation and give it your full attention and focus when you are there. You have to really push through the emotional layers to find the solutions that work for you and the other person. Mediation, like meditation, reduces stress, and allows you to move forward with your life. It also teaches you conflict resolution skills so you can reduce future conflict in the same way that meditation helps you learn to control your reaction to future stress.

How about a double whammy, though? Meditation combined with mediation? The two processes are very compatible and supportive of each other. If you’re in a situation that requires mediation, you’re under stress. Meditation can help you manage the stress and be better prepared to mediate. It can also help you practice calmness, which is very helpful in the mediation process, and will allow you to go a bit deeper within yourself to understand what your needs truly are.  Mediation can then help you find solutions to your problem, so that you are better able to relax and meditate deeply and more fully. Mediation helps you feel in control of your own life, which enhances your feeling of being grounded.

Together, the two processes form a perfect circle and more mediation practitioners may do well to recommend a little meditation to their clients.

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Post image for 10 Tips to Successfully Negotiate Your Dispute During Mediation

No matter what kind of problem you’re going to mediate, you need to have some basic negotiation skills in order to insure a successful outcome. Mediation is a process that encourages back and forth conversations. It is not a situation where you sit at a table and you say I want X, the other person says I want Y, and miraculously you agree to Z. To be able to get from the point where you each demand what you want, to a mutually satisfying outcome that works for both of you takes some skill and forethought.

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind to help you stay on track, as well as keep emotions in check when coming to the mediation table:

1.  Come prepared It’s helpful to begin the negotiation process with a checklist of what you believe the key issues to be, what you want out of the process and what you’re willing to give up.  And be willing to back up your arguments.  Using real numbers, photos, or other documents always lends credibility to an argument and helps focus the discussion.

2.  Put yourself in the other person’s shoes – It pays to try to see things through the other person’s eyes. Not only will it help you understand what a fair compromise might be, but it will help you really grasp what is motivating that person. If you can understand his or her motivation, you can move more quickly to a compromise that answers that concern.

3.  Separate out interests from positionsIf you see that you and the other person have a basic difference in how you view the problem, take some time to figure out what the underlying interests are.  For example, let’s say that your spouse argues emphatically, “I need $3,500 every month from you for maintenance!”  You’re reaction is to argue back about the amount, and then the fight begins.  But, if you were to stop and ask about the underlying need or interest that motivated the request, you might learn that your spouse is fearful about his ability to secure steady employment after divorce and he feels he needs time and resources to get back on his feet after taking a break from the workforce.  With that information, the two of you can craft an agreement that is more economical and satisfying for both of you.

4.  Take a break - If you come to mediation to deal with all the issues involved in a divorce or caregiving situation, it can be overwhelming. Tackle one small issue at a time and don’t try to solve everything at once. All the small decisions will add up to a big solution as you work through the process.

5.  Consider alternatives - If you both sit there and insist only your one solution will work, you won’t achieve anything. You must think creatively and outside the box whenever possible.  Be prepared to brainstorm and consider solutions that never occurred to you before.

6.  Barter for what you wantUltimately, mediation is about honesty and respect, but if you both come to the table with immovable positions, there is nowhere to go. It’s often best to approach a negotiation by asking for a little more than what you what you want so you have some room to negotiate down.

7.  Stand up for yourself Be flexible, be willing to yield, but also know what your bottom line is and remain firm.  The goal is to insure that everyone walks away from the process feeling heard and feeling like they’ve reached an agreement that is fair and equitable.

8.  Don’t be confrontational - Use language at the mediation table that is non-confrontational and invites discussion. If you act and sound like you’re not going to give an inch, the other person will see no reason to waste time trying to convince you. And watch the body language! Use body language that is open and accessible. If you sit leaning back in your chair with your arms crossed, you send the message that you’re not willing to compromise. If instead, you sit upright with your hands on your lap or the table, you make it clear you’re willing to try.

9.  Acknowledge the other person’s feelings This is often the single hardest thing to do when you’re engaged in a conflict with another party, but acknowledging someone’s anger or hurt feelings is perhaps the one thing you can do that will have the greatest positive impact.  A simple acknowledgment or apology, if called for, can often break through an impasse very quickly.

10. Stop keeping score Keep in mind that the process is not about who wins and who loses. Rather, it’s about arriving at an equitable settlement so each of you can move forward in your lives as soon as possible. If you focus on who won this round or that round, you will keep yourselves engaged in a no-win battle.  Focus instead on moving forward with integrity, and everybody wins.

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