family mediation in NYC

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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