TAG | cheap divorce

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
www.cleanslatemediation.net
612-308-9994

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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 Mediation.net
612-308-9994

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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 Mediation.net

612-308-9994

 

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My younger daughter and I volunteer at a food shelf as shoppers. We meet the clients and guide them through the shelves of the food shelf helping them make their selections and making certain they do not miss any categories. The broad spectrum of clients always amazes me; from young single mothers, to singles adults, elderly, physically challenged, large families, mentally challenged, your neighbor, my neighbor, the list is endless. We are to be friendly and helpful but we are not to ask personal questions or make the clients uncomfortable, for obvious reasons. Every once in a while we will have a client “type” we have helped before.

She is in her 50’s or 60’s, well dressed; her intake sheet indicates she is shopping for one adult, often plus a pet. Her eyes are downcast and she rarely makes eye contact. She is very quiet and polite but only answers our questions, never asks any of her own. She selects her items quickly and moves through the “store” as quickly as possible. She has an energy radiating from her of sadness and loss. She thanks us and leaves immediately.

I can only guess but I personally am certain she is separated and waiting for her divorce to be finalized. She has absolutely no available cash while the divorce drags on and on. She does not have money for gas, groceries, even the most fundamental needs. Her husband’s divorce team strategy is to “ice” his wife until she settles for less in the divorce settlement. Generally their kids- if they had children- are out of the house and only his wife is left to wait for the settlement. Sometimes this can last for months and months and months.

Thank heavens there are food shelves, friends, and neighbors to help her through. It all seems so cruel and sad. We all know or have known someone in this situation, or at least suspect it. I need to be clear; it can be a wife controlling money and the settlement too.

These women later, after their settlements and finalized divorce, often volunteer at the food shelf.

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Jun/13

25

DIY Divorce?

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 sprit 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

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Myth #2: A couple can only mediate if they have equal power. There are not many marriages where both spouses have equal advocacy skills. Ideally, both parties have equal bargaining power, but if they don’t which is more often the case, the mediator’s job is to empower the party who may not feel as comfortable in the process. She can see if the couple will agree to bring someone into the process who can help, such as a financial person or the party’s lawyer. However, there is a difference between unequal bargaining power and a situation where someone does not have the capacity to mediate. If someone cannot or will not advocate for himself or herself, whether it be because of personality, substance abuse or domestic violence, then only mediators with special training should undertake those matters, if at all.

If you have questions, contact Sheila-Marie.

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I have decided to start my blog by dispelling some of the myths about mediation. There is a lot of misinformation out there, and I’d like to try to clear some of that up by sharing accurate information regarding mediation and the services that mediators offer.

mediation services mnMyth #1: Only people who agree can mediate. If that were true, there would be no need to mediate. Of course people who disagree can mediate, just like people who are angry can mediate and people who don’t really like each other can mediate. All they have to do is agree to mediate, not agree upon every issue between them. Mediators do not expect their clients to talk quietly and never raise their voices, and a mediator truly has to feel comfortable being in the middle of people expressing anger and frustration, often times loudly. The mediator’s job, through restating and reframing what a party says and asking questions, is to get them to really hear what the other is saying and feeling and then see where they have shared interests to brainstorm resolutions where those interests can be met for both of them.

Common Myths about Mediation
(provided by Clare A. Piro, Esq.)

Only people who agree can mediate. If that were true, there would be no need to mediate. Of course people who disagree can mediate, just like people who are angry can mediate and people who don’t really like each other can mediate. All they have to do is agree to mediate, not agree upon every issue between them. Mediators do not expect their clients to talk quietly and never raise their voices, and a mediator truly has to feel comfortable being in the middle of people expressing anger and frustration, often times loudly. The mediator’s job, through restating and reframing what a party says and asking questions, is to get them to really hear what the other is saying and feeling and then see where they have shared interests to brainstorm resolutions where those interests can be met for both of them.

A couple can only mediate if they have equal power. There are not many marriages where both spouses have equal advocacy skills. Ideally, both parties have equal bargaining power, but if they don’t which is more often the case, the mediator’s job is to empower the party who may not feel as comfortable in the process. She can see if the couple will agree to bring someone into the process who can help, such as a financial person or the party’s lawyer. However, there is a difference between unequal bargaining power and a situation where someone does not have the capacity to mediate. If someone cannot or will not advocate for himself or herself, whether it be because of personality, substance abuse or domestic violence, then only mediators with special training should undertake those matters, if at all.

People who mediate don’t use lawyers so they make unfair agreements. In addition to using a review attorney at the end, parties in mediation may see an attorney both before and during mediation, and in some cases it is beneficial for a party to come to mediation with an attorney. As a mediator, I always tell people from the beginning that they can consult with a lawyer and have suggested it during the process if I thought it would benefit the party.

Mediation ignores the law so agreements will not be upheld. It is part of a mediator’s job to give the couple legal information, but she is not permitted to provide legal advice. More to the point, all couples want to know what would happen if they went to court. In a workshop entitled “What Would a Judge Do” presented by a Nassau County matrimonial judge to the New York State Council on Divorce Mediation, Judge Zimmerman reminded us that judges who conduct trials in matrimonial matters are seeing the worst of the worst cases since those are the cases that have taken years of litigation to get to her without settling. Those are hardly the standards that most people would want to use as a measure of what to do with their children or their money. She also spoke about how judges are human and that there are so many factors that come into their making decisions that she wishes more people would take control themselves and make the decisions. That said, when people learn what the law provides, most mediated agreements will substantially follow the law, and any deviations from well established principles of law should only be made knowingly by the parties.

Only people with few assets and low income can mediate. This is simply not true, and many high income, high profile cases mediate for the very reasons that anyone wants to mediate-it is a non-adversarial process to resolve their divorce in a way that is least harmful to the family, it is private and is not going to cost a fortune. In any event, complexity is not governed by the amount of money involved. It’s as difficult to budget with a family that is overextended no matter if the combined income is $80,000 or $500,000. Most mediators use software programs that can help with addressing some of the financial issues, and would not hesitate to call in help where necessary.

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