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Scenes from the orthodontist’s office

I was waiting at the orthodontist’s office during my child’s appointment. I was seated next to the office door of the financial administer which was closed and I could only hear muffled conversation.

Someone opened the front door which caused the financial administrator’s door to pop open slightly. She did not realize the door had opened or she certainly would have closed it. Honestly, I should have closed it myself and in hindsight I would have. I was so saddened by what I heard.

I entered the conversation right after the phone rang;

“Yes, X has an appointment today at 2:30.”

“No, the bill has not been paid.”

“Yes, I understand this bill is your ex-husband’s responsibility.”

“Yes, I have made many attempts to contact him regarding the balance.”

“Yes, I understand it is not your responsibility.”

“No, I will not try to collect from you.”

“No, I do not know when he intends to pay the balance.”

“What? You want me to instruct the front desk to turn X away?”

“No, I would never refuse scheduled treatments to X.”

“Why not? X needs to have the braces adjusted in a progression. We would never delay or refuse treatment.”

“Well, I am sorry you feel that way.”

“Hello? Hello?”

The administrator was compassionate and caring. She was the lone voice of reason. Poor X, what must her interactions be like when her parents really need to cooperate and support her? I cannot imagine.

Sheila-Marie Untiedt

Rule 114 Qualified Mediator, Parenting Consultant PC and Early Neutral Elevator ENE

Clean Slate



Is there such a thing as DIY ( Do It Yourself) divorce?

Years ago stationery stores carried racks of legal contracts such as leases, sales agreements, financial contracts and even divorce paperwork. The forms were boiler plate agreements with blanks left to be completed with your names, information and specific information. The internet now has similar forms available for downloads and customization.

Is a DIY divorce a good idea? Every divorce is different, every situation has it own quirks and twists. Divorce agreements are agreements that last forever and are very difficult to alter or change. Divorce is a more serious process than assembling a desk from IKEA, although sometimes the desk assembly can be pretty painful.

Mediation is a method to design and plan your own divorce settlement. Mediation clients have self determination and more control over outcomes. In many cases it can be a hybrid of DIY divorce and also include all the good and helpful elements of the legal system.

I help clients plan their divorce agreements, child custody arrangements, financial considerations and related concerns. Once both parties are comfortable with the agreements I refer them to attorneys who continue with the spirit of collaboration to review the agreements and prepare the paperwork for court and finalize the divorce.

Mediation clients have an opportunity for self determination and control in their divorce, almost always at a much more reasonable cost than traditional adversarial divorce.

Mediation allows parties to plan a hybrid DIY divorce, without all the extra parts or tiny screwdrivers.

Sheila-Marie Untiedt

cheap divorce · divorce · family law · mediator



Taboo $$$$

When a server narrates a special entrée or a featured dish but does not state the price I have an internal cringe moment. “How much does it cost?” I want to ask but I dread asking. My younger daughter just got her first job. I asked her what she would be paid and I saw in her the same cringe moment. “I did not want to ask, it felt too weird.” she replied.

The cost of a meal, a car or a service matters and is a factor in our decision-making process. Price is an element of the cost benefit analysis we all perform many times a day. We all do this but rarely talk about it. I know this is a taboo subject for many potential clients considering mediation. They are often very emotional, sometimes desperate, scared, tired, weakened or angry, just to start a list. How do you weigh the potential savings of mediation while wondering where your kids are or if the joint savings account is suddenly empty?

You certainly may retain an attorney before, during or after you begin mediation or not at all. I always create a written summary of the mediation session and forward that exact same email with the attachment to both parties. You may then forward that on to your individual attorneys or a drafting attorney.

A working estimate of mediation sessions schedules would be an initial two-hour session to review the working arrangement you have in place, identify and review issues or unaddressed areas and create goals and expectations. A second two-hour session would be financial arrangements and considerations. I encourage people to also consult an accountant or tax attorney. A $ 35,000 car does not equal a $ 35,000 IRA in the eyes of the IRS and I really believe professional financial advice is helpful and necessary when settlements with property or tax exposure are involved.

Two two-hour sessions with hardworking and focused parties can yield an incredible amount of progress. If you have no minor children that eliminates an often large area of conflict. Many separating couples can finish the process in two sessions.

Mediation sessions are “Pay as you go”. I collect my fee of
$ 250.00 per-hour ($ 500.00 total) at the beginning of the session. The fee includes the summary report of the session, all my time outside of the session and any additional correspondence necessary. I do not collect a retainer nor invoice you additionally. I do have both parties sign a mediation agreement which creates a privacy shield for the mediation process. What is stated in mediation stays in mediation.

If appropriate for your situation, I do have different attorneys I refer clients to who prepare the actual court papers and petitions. They charge only for their time to prepare the paperwork. You can represent yourselves in court confidently.
Attorney fees typically range from a $ 500.00 to a $ 1,000.00 fee depending on how complicated the settlement is.
Here is the math- 3 sessions of 2-hours each total $ 1,500 + attorney fees of $ 500.00 to $ 1,000 is a range of $ 2,000 to
$ 2,500 total plus the court fees. Your mediation process may be a bit lower or higher but certainly very reasonable.
Honestly it can be the cost effective. Every case is different obviously. I had a couple with over a $ 3,000,000 net worth finish in 75 minutes and I have seen couple go for three sessions. It all depends.

You have a high quality and supported settlement because both parties designed it and understand why it is sustainable.
Mediation fees should never be an internal cringe moment.

Sheila-Marie Untiedt
Rule 114 Qualified Neutral, Parenting Consultant PC
Early Neutral Evaluator ENE
Clean Slate

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I recently attended a lovely wedding of a couple in their mid twenties. At the reception one of the groomsmen’s toasts to the couple caught me completely by surprise. He toasted the bride and groom that they might enjoy many happy years together, just had their parents have enjoyed. “You two are the only couple I know that both sets of parents are still married to each other. I hope you both know how lucky you are to have examples for successful marriage”.

Really? Could that possibly be true? Well, assuming the divorce rate in the United States is around 50%, plus the fact that the birthrate to unmarried mothers is around 40%, and then yes, it could be true. I had never thought of that possibility before. Young couples, and older couples too, often marry without anyone ever modeling how to be successfully married.

Marriage is an intricate series of exchanges and conversations, under good and bad circumstances. Often stressed and fragile, marriage is easily chipped away at exposing a structural weakness that eventually may topple the union.

Maybe the best wedding gift to a couple would be a Marriage Mentor…but that would be hard to gift wrap.

Sheila-Marie Untiedt

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I am always very cautious my blog posts details are vague enough so clients do not recognize themselves or feel their privacy has been violated or a trust broken.

I met with these clients over a year ago and I will not identify the parents as either Mom or Dad, simply as parents. I also will refer to the child as X only.

They had been married almost twenty years and found themselves contemplating divorce. They were still living together and co-parenting their three children. Over the years they had drifted along in their marriage, busy with family demands and work demands. That happens frankly in most marriages with kids. They have not had enough time to focus on their relationship but that does not mean divorce is the best solution in most situations.

I was not picking up a clear sense of their specific relationship challenges and they were very businesslike in all their discussions and exchanges. Separating property and assets was easily worked through with an accountant’s precision.

As I asked about their children I was met with a stony silence. Finally one said simply “We do not agree”. Not agree on custody? Child support?
I asked what did they specifically not agree on. “X claims they are transgender”. The other parent shot back “X is transgender, X is not just claiming it”. It did not improve from there.

The exchange continued with allegations of propping up teenage “fads”, being too close-minded, caring too much what other people think and on and on. They never mentioned their two other children.

Once they had burned off that energy I asked them about their marriage. When had is stopped being supportive and positive? They both looked at each other and gave the same answer. “When X announced they were transgender it soon felt as everything shifted and morphed because we see the issue so differently. It is one thing to have a discussion in general about an issue but an entirely different experience when it is your own child”. Both parents were now crying.

We took a short break and when we all sat down again I asked them if possibly their marriage was not the challenge but rather X’s transgender status and how to parent such an issue, especially when they had very different responses and belief systems.

I suggested they try meeting with a marriage and family therapist before they continued with the divorce. I told them they were always welcome to return to mediation and I would be glad to continue working with them if that was their final decision. I never have heard back from them in over a year.

Parenting is so hard. I have seen couples come almost to blows over whether their child should play traveling hockey, I cannot image trying to parent a delicate and major decision when the parents are so divided. Clearly both parents wanted the best for X, they just had very different ideas of what “best” was.

Sheila-Marie Untiedt
Rule 114 Qualified Mediator
Parenting Consultant PC
Early Neutral Evaluator ENE
Clean Slate

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Recently I was speaking with a new client to schedule an initial mediation session for a divorce.  “How about February 14th?” I suggested. “Hmmm, no, that is just too sad.” she responded. It took me a moment to realize I had suggested they begin divorce mediation on Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day is fraught with peril for many individuals, especially the recently divorced or separated. For many their divorce feels like a failure of their marriage and they are ashamed the marriage did not last. Failure is a harsh word but it is the word I often hear used by clients. A Valentine’s Day newly alone can be very lonely and isolating.

As humans we naturally focus on the one bad event or experience and instead we forget the all the other good events or experiences. After a mediation session I often think of what I should have said or a better question to have asked instead of the discussions that went well or the progress that was made.

The same tendency to view events as negative applies to divorce. Obviously divorce creates challenges and consequences no one ever anticipated when they were planning their wedding. Divorce also though creates new opportunities and chances for change and growth that were not possible in the spiral of a deteriorating marriage.

After a separation and divorce both parties have a chance to challenge themselves and explore new opportunities. Some clients find solace in support groups, others mentor new divorcees, some focus on their work, some on their children if they have children and others take up new hobbies and sports. Money can be tight after a divorce but so many options have no or very little cost. A cup of coffee and a conversation with a supportive friend at a coffee shop is affordable. Some people begin to date and many eventually enter a serious relationship.

All of these new and positive possibilities exist precisely because of their divorce. New possibilities and positives to focus on exist because they did get divorced.

And no, I will not being mediating a divorce on Valentine’s Day.

Sheila-Marie Untiedt

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Divorce can be a terrifying and confusing process. Everyone has an opinion as to what are the best options for you to pursue. Should you try to mediate first, retain an attorney immediately, move out, stay put together in the same house? Empty out joint bank accounts, take only half the funds? Everyone has a sister, a brother-in-law, a neighbor, a co-worker, someone with a horror story to share.

It appears to be a giant chess game of strategies and positions. Individuals can feel as though they truly are just a pawn in a winner-takes-all chess game.

Every situation is unique. Every couple has unique challenges and strengths. No two divorces are alike, as no two medical treatments are alike. Results may vary- the same disclaimer as every pharmaceutical commercial on television.

Let me share some reliable information to consider in two major elements of divorce- child support and spousal maintenance. Both issues are emotionally charged and fraught with well-meaning “advice”.

Child Support– Minnesota has a Child Support Calculator which is used to determine the court ordered amount of child support to be paid when minor children are involved. The calculator collects the same information from every divorcing couple- income- if any- of each spouse, number of children, percentage of time the children will spend with each parent, children from previous relationships and other sources of income. The calculator runs the provided numbers through a matrix model and calculates the amount of child support paid to be paid by a parent. The calculator is straight-forward and accepted by the courts. The challenges come when the percentage of parenting time is straddling a step up or down on the calculator, and when there are large swings in annual income or other unusual circumstances.

Spousal Maintenance– Spousal maintenance (formerly alimony) is very different from child support calculations. There is not a calculator or a recognized guideline. Determination of spousal support is at best “squishy”. Spousal support is intended to help a spouse bridge time to return to the workforce, complete a degree or find childcare. A classic example would be a stay-at-home Mom to three kids 10, 8 and 5 years of age. The husband and wife were married twelve years. She worked until the birth of their first child. She cannot return to work tomorrow and earn enough money to support herself to her previous standard of living. She will need spousal maintenance- how much, how long? Spousal support is the element of divorce where the negotiations really occur. A spouse can waive spousal maintenance; can reserve spousal maintenance in the future or even agree to not claim spousal maintenance in consideration for a more favorable property settlement. Your neighbor’s spousal maintenance settlement will vary from your cousin’s settlement. It is the nature of negotiations.

Every divorce is different. Mediation is a useful, safe and thoughtful opportunity to work though the possible scenarios and settlements. The two spouses understand their working dynamics, especially when children are involved. In mediation both parents work together to craft a settlement that is organic and sustainable because they helped to design and create the settlement.

Sheila-Marie Untiedt

Rule 114 Qualified Mediator, Parenting Consultant PC and Early Neutral Evaluator ENE

Clean Slate



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Secrets fester

He was a bull of a man. Tall, muscled, clearly tightly wound. He preferred to stand during the mediation. He reminded me of a peacock as he preened and strutted. She was quiet, folded into herself, clearly once a very beautiful woman. She had aged and appeared tired and worn out.

They were married 30 years. The children were launched, the house was paid for and their lives should have been grand. They both were working. She was a pre-school teacher; he was a police officer for a large metropolitan department.

Their divorce was straight-forward and almost formulaic. We were working though dividing their assets. One of the last items to work through was his police pension. He had accumulated a sizable pension in his tenure and it would continue to grow.

The rule of thumb is assets, such as a pension, that grew during the marriage are joint property. The value before the marriage is not joint property, nor is the growth after the divorce. During their 30 year marriage his pension had increased by $ 600,000 simply meaning $ 300,000 was her share.

I explained how this typically worked. He looked directly at me while leaning in uncomfortably close to me. “She is not getting one cent of that money. I put my life on the line every day and that money is mine! It is my blood money!”

Silence hung over the room while I processed what to say next. The pension was clearly personal and very raw. I glanced at his wife and she seemed stunned and mute. “Tell me more about your pension, why is it blood money?”

“You know the police shooting last week? And the riots and the accusations? Every day I get in my squad car and think is today the day? Is today the day I shoot a black kid? Is today the day I am in the news? Is today the day my career is over? Is today the day I die?”

He dropped into a chair and began to weep. I asked if he needed anything and he asked to be alone. His wife and I excused ourselves for a few minutes. She poured herself a coffee. She turned to me slowly and said “I always wondered what has happened to the man I married. I never guessed he was afraid and scared. You saw him; he is a big strong man. How did I not know?”

We returned to the conference room. He was composed. “I need to leave. Finish the property division; I know you both will be fair. She can have $ 300,000 more of the house OK? The pension is all mine, I need that OK?”

After he left I asked if she was comfortable with accepting $300,000 more of the equity in their home. She agreed. “If he needs to have his pension that is fine with me. I wished he had shared his fears. I would have tried to understand.”

I sent the mediation agreement to both of them but I wonder if they ever divorced. Now that he had shared his secret would she convince him to see a therapist? Would they see a therapist together? I hope so.

I always give a wave to police cruisers when I pass one now. No matter the ethnicity of the officers, their sex, their tenure and experience they always have silent stress and angst. I cannot begin to imagine.

Sheila-Marie Untiedt
612-308-9994 Tags:Divorce, Separation, mediation, mediator, family law, divorce attorney


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I was sorting old notes for shredding and I came across notes from a case I chose 
not to mediate. A few years ago I met with a gentleman who was interested in 
mediation for a divorce. He was organized, well groomed and dressed, spoke 
eloquently and was charming.
I asked him if the divorce was a mutual decision between him and his wife.
He hesitated for a moment and said no. He explained his wife has been a 
high-functioning alcoholic for 30 years but in the last years she had 
become very medically fragile due to the alcoholism. She developed neurological 
and balance issues in addition to memory loss and liver function issues. 
She refuses to see her doctor anymore. She does not qualify for disability 
insurance and is no longer working. They have accumulated substantial debt 
because she is no longer able to work.
I asked why now? He recently came home one evening after a work trip and found 
their teenage daughter sitting silently in the kitchen and his wife passed out 
on the dining room floor. His daughter looked at him, tilted her head towards 
her mother and rolled her eyes. “It was an epiphany moment. I knew my daughter 
should no longer have to live in a chaotic co-dependent family system. I knew I 
had to save us both.”
Suddenly, after 30 years, he was pushing hard on the accelerator. He wanted to be 
divorced ASAP. He would walk away from the house, their possessions, anything to 
just to be done and to protect their daughter. He was not being rational.
They are both in difficult situations. Clearly his wife is chemically dependent 
and very sick. Alcoholism is a disease. Treatment did not work for her and she 
refuses to go again. He is likely co-dependent as so many spouses of alcoholics 
become plus he has to responsible for daily details plus their daughter.
I referred him to an attorney I know well and trust. I felt his wife could not 
participate in mediation. She cannot self-advocate or make life-changing decisions 
and I am concerned she needs someone to advise her. I did not get the sense her 
husband would try to cheat her or be unfair in the settlement but she is frankly 
a vulnerable adult. As he currently is too.
I wonder what happened to them. Hopefully she sought treatment and it worked this 
time. Honestly, not very likely though.
Life can be hard.
Sheila-Marie Untiedt


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Every mediator has a different style and tone. In divorce or separation mediation sessions I focus on the outcome and I attempt to mold discussions to be helpful and progressive. I never ask why a couple is separating. It simply does not matter legally, unless of course a crime has been committed or there are concerns around domestic abuse or child abuse. Why the divorce is happening does not matter to the court system. It obviously does matter greatly to the parties directly involved.

I recently mediated for a separating couple. They had been married long enough to have children, raise those children and now were empty-nesters. In my experience generally one of two things has brought them to this point. They either have simply grown apart and find a “stranger” in the kitchen getting coffee in the morning or one of them- sometimes both- has had an affair and the quiet house creates an Elephant in the Room.

I use a simple intake packet for mediation clients so I can collect factual information in advance and not use session time- and their money- to collect addresses, emails etc. That packet does not ask why they are seeking a divorce. I never ask why they are separating because rankly it does not matter to the court why they are separating.

In this recent session we were working through separating their assets and a palpable tension was rising in the room. Finally the wife looks at me, slaps the tabletop and thunders “Aren’t you going to ask what he did?” This is a delicate moment for a mediator. If I acknowledge her desire to tell me I have risked losing control of the mediation but she might feel heard and honored. If I do not acknowledge her desire to tell I have potentially left her feeling invalidated and likely not willing to continue the mediation. Her husband looked as though all the air had been sucked out of his lungs.

I took a deep breath and explained it does not matter legally but it does matter in a personal and relational sense. I made eye contact with her husband, he nodded and looked down. I asked her why they were divorcing. She roared out “He F^@#$%^&&&^^ed her and ruined our lives” and she began weeping.

I suggested we take a 10 minute break. After the break we started again on the list of assets and actually made great progress. After the session I emailed her a list of excellent therapists who could help her process her grief for the marriage and help her develop skills to carry her forward in her “new” future.

Sometimes life hurts. It just does.

Sheila-Marie Untiedt

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