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How It Really Works One Colorado Family and Their Divorce Mediation

By Lawrence F. King, J.D., Colorado Attorney-Mediator

Skeptical re Divorce Mediation? Curious About How Family Mediation Really Works?

It's natural to entertain a healthy skepticism regarding any newer and non-traditional divorce process. For many couples, divorce is a time of fear and loss of control over much in their lives. As consumers, we understandably are reluctant to try newer approaches in matters of extreme importance to us and to our families, especially when we're told we can save money and preserve greater control over our destiny. For some, it all sometimes sounds too good to be true.

As a result, when it comes to divorce and family mediation, potential clients often approach us with concerns of whether this emerging alternative to contested divorce litigation really works. And, if it does work, what does the process really look like?

Although every family is unique (one of mediation's great strengths is its ability to customize mediated agreements), we profile in this article one real Colorado family's divorce circumstances and their story of how divorce mediation worked for them and their family.

Meet our Colorado mediation clients, Jim and Mary.

The Case of Jim and Mary: One Colorado Family

Jim had heard of the alternative process of divorce mediation and urged his estranged wife Mary to consider mediating their Colorado divorce at the outset. Initially, Mary felt it necessary to hire a divorce attorney and Jim followed her lead. But after many thousands of dollars of attorney's fees and an impasse in their case, Mary reconsidered and the couple decided to try mediation.

With their divorce lawyers' support, Jim and Mary chose to work with Larry, a Colorado attorney-mediator and director of our family mediation company, Divorce Resolutions®, Colorado Center for Divorce MediationTM. Jim and Mary saw as their goals: 1) expediting closure of their divorce, and 2) promoting their co-parenting relationship as they moved to the future.

Their Family Circumstances & Divorce Challenges

Jim and Mary had been married more than a decade and had three young children. They held different views about parenting time issues and faced significant income constraints. Mary wished to continue to work part-time (in her at-home consulting business) for the foreseeable future to minimize the impact of her and Jim's separation on their children. Jim had been laid off from his work recently and although he had meaningful temporary employment, he also faced uncertain future job prospects and big economic challenges.

Jim viewed this choice of Mary's (to work part-time) as a luxury they could not afford, and a choice that would unfairly impact on his obligation of child support and even his basic ability to meet his own needs. (Jim worried about his affording housing suitable for his parenting time with the children.)

Similarly, to allow Mary and the children the continuity of continued residence in the former family home would ordinarily mean Mary's securing prohibitively expensive refinancing, in order to "buy out" Jim's interest. At the same time, selling the home would cost both of them significant monies in realtor's fees and related charges, and necessitate substantial additional housing startup expenses.

Shared Parenting Values

In mediation, Jim and Mary achieved some momentum by an early focus on what they both wished for their children in the future. In a detailed inventory of their values as parents, they became clearer that they had a low potential for conflict regarding major upbringing decisions, and good reasons to conserve their emotional and financial resources by avoiding litigation.

Finding An Equitable Financial Plan

With Larry's assistance as their neutral mediator, Mary and Jim focused on their "underlying interests" and abandoned their initial rigid "positions.". As a result, Mary and Jim arrived at some remarkable trade-offs in designing their after-divorce financial plan. They agreed on the amount fairly owed Jim for his share of the marital equity. Mary, however, would not be required by Jim to sell the home or refinance its mortgages at that time.

As a result, Mary and their children would not relocate, but instead, have the stability of remaining in their home and community of many years. At a time when Jim's future income was uncertain and likely to be compromised, he would instead receive a legitimate reduction of the obligation he otherwise would owe Mary for child support. (Mary signed a promissory note to repay Jim monies owed him, by virtue of her receiving the home in the divorce. Jim's child support, premised on his reasonable potential income, would be reduced by an offset of monies Mary owed him and that he might have received had he forced the house's sale.)

Jim and Mary, and Their Children: A Win-Win Through Family Mediation!

It was a win-win. Mediation required some detailed budget work and the use of some specialized planning tools for Mary and Jim to understand each other's available after-tax income, upon divorce. (Indeed, they legitimately characterized a portion of Jim's support payment to Mary as spousal "maintenance," and created more after-tax income to share. Moreover, these savings effectively paid for the entire costs of their mediation!)

Together, however, Jim and Mary affordably and efficiently reached a divorce financial plan that was manageable for, and seemed fair to, each of them. They accomplished in this regard, the first of their two goals: simply moving through their divorce, a process that had been stalled. Moreover, the entire cost of their doing that work in mediation including Larry's authoring their agreement was a third of what they had already spent with lawyers (and remember, they had not been to court for their final divorce hearing)!

Additionally, both Mary and Jim now have the knowledge that they can safely and efficiently reexamine future parenting and child support issues in family mediation, as and if they arise, in their continued shared parenting. They have taken positive steps forward toward the second of their two goals: forging a strong relationship as co-parents of their children.

Success in Family Mediation Unusual?

Jim and Mary's success in creative problem-solving, and their high satisfaction with their family's mediation, are not unusual.

Although no single approach is appropriate for all divorce or parenting disputes, experienced family mediators rarely fail to assist couples to reach their own solutions to their family's real needs.  The risk of family mediation remains low:  its confidentiality is almost always protected as is the case with Colorado mediation laws, and advance monies are limited, if required at all. And, the personal emotional, financial, and co-parenting benefits of mediation can be enormous, as was the case with Jim and Mary.

About the Author
Denver, Colorado family lawyer-mediator Lawrence F. King, J.D. is a full-time divorce mediator with Divorce Resolutions®, Colorado Center for Divorce MediationTM. For more information, visit the Center's award-winning Colorado divorce resources website, with its with free Colorado divorce tools and forms, "Best of the Net" child custody and parenting plans resources, frequently asked divorce mediation questions, and Colorado divorce laws news and information.

Larry can be contacted by phone at (303) 650-1750, or by E-mail.

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