Who are A Friendly Divorce clients?
Generally, clients are drawn to our practice because of their desire to avoid the destructive aspects of the traditional attorney-driven divorce. These couples are committed to moving through the process of divorce without retaining divorce attorneys because they want to avoid the chaos associated with the traditional process. Typically, couples come to us before any divorce paperwork has been filed with the court.
Our clients come from a wide variety of backgrounds. While almost all of our clients are married and seeking a divorce, we also work with (a) unmarried couples who share a child or children and need to create a paternity (time-sharing, parental responsibility, and child support) plan; (b) married couples who are not ready to divorce, but need a plan to guide them during a transition period and through a possible divorce; (c) divorced couples who want to modify their original divorce agreement; and (d) couples who want to negotiate a pre-marital plan or a marriage pact for handling finances, in-laws, and other arrangements.
Many of our clients are middle income people, unable or too overstretched to invest in two retainers and the legal discovery process that is part of a traditional attorney-driven divorce. However, we also see people who have amassed substantial wealth and don’t want to divide it three ways – yours, mine, and the lawyers.
What is mediation?
Mediation is an informal and confidential process of assisted problem solving and negotiation. The mediation model that we use at A Friendly Divorce is a co-mediation model – with two mediators.
Mediation can be conducted with or without attorneys. Typically, at A Friendly Divorce there is no attorney participation. However, you may stop the process at any time if you wish to consult with or retain an attorney.
Typically, divorce mediation at A Friendly Divorce takes between two and seven hours, depending on the issues and the personalities involved. We mediate many divorces in a single session. And, sometimes the process occurs over time, in two or more face-to-face sessions, which may be combined with some individual telephone or email consultation.
The desired outcome of the mediation process is a complete Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) which reflects a couple’s future plans for their children and their finances. Following each mediation session our clients receive a draft of their customized agreement. Once the Marital Settlement Agreement is complete they come back to our office to read and sign the agreement.
In general, mediation is often faster, cheaper, simpler, and more private then other options. Additionally mediation offers participants an opportunity to process their anger, address future events, and create a customized resolution that meets their individual needs.
What does the mediator do?
A mediator is a neutral (as to the participants) and impartial (as to the outcome) facilitator. Mediators have no decision-making authority. Instead, the mediator creates an environment for collaboration, communication, and problem solving; provides analysis, information, and options; and facilitates discussions between the parties in order to help them identify, define, and re-frame their needs and issues.
The mediator may use a combination of joint and individual conferencing. Occasionally the mediator may make suggestions, ultimately however the parties make the final decisions. Once a resolution is reached the mediator puts the parties’ agreement into writing.
What subjects/topics/issues will be covered during the mediation process?
Anything you both agree needs to be discussed can be discussed in mediation. The mediator will help you create the agenda for your dialogue.
In the case of divorce this agenda should include how you will divide your debts and your financial resources. If there are children involved a time sharing and decision making plan, as well as the details regarding child support, must be included.
What about all of the other forms the court requires?
We can fill out the other necessary forms you will need to obtain an uncontested divorce. Our standard forms package includes a petition for dissolution, an answer, two financial affidavits, various other paperwork that the court requires, notarizing these forms, and courier service to the Clerk’s Office in order to file the document package. However, other options also exist. You can purchase form packets at the courthouse or find the forms on-line and fill them out yourself. Or you can hire an attorney to prepare them for you.
Don’t I need an attorney to get a divorce?
The majority of our clients do not use attorneys during the divorce process.
We are all aware of the negative consequences of a traditional attorney-driven divorce. However, the traditional attorney-driven divorce model is still the right model for some families. An attorney is necessary when one spouse needs legal protection. So, for example, if one spouse does not know what the marital assets are or how much the other spouse earns, s/he may want an attorney to investigate all of these details before agreeing to any financial arrangements. Additionally, if one spouse feels intimidated as the result of domestic violence or other coercion, negotiating without a lawyer is not a good idea.
At A Friendly Divorce, we cannot offer legal advice, protect either spouse’s legal rights or investigate in order to find hidden assets. If that is what you need you should seek guidance from an experienced attorney. On the other hand, if that is not what you need, you can use our service and supplement the process (if you choose to) by consulting with an attorney or CPA before or during the mediation process so that you can obtain a legal opinion as to your worst and best case scenarios.
We encourage all of our clients to consult with independent legal counsel and an independent CPA prior to signing any documents. Additionally, as you go through the mediation process you may find it helpful to read Chapter 61 of the Florida Statutes and/or consult with other experts such as a Forensic CPA, Tax Attorney, Business Appraiser/Valuator, Real Estate Appraiser, Real Estate Attorney, Antique and Collectible Appraiser, Financial Planner, Child Development Specialist, and/or a Psychologist or other mental health professional.