As a Marriage & Family Therapist, what can you do to help divorcing couples?

Most people are familiar with the negative consequences of a divorce — from long-lasting anger and resentment to carrying issues over into future relationships, to poor parenting and the role modeling of destructive behavior for any children involved.

But if a messy divorce can have harmful implications that cycle through the generations of a family, then a divorce that is done the right way can have the equal and opposite effect. The key is to connect your patients with resources that will minimize the negative effects of divorce for everyone involved. A family mediator can help in a variety of ways, and even utilize the mediation process as an opportunity for growth and personal development.

The usual approach only makes things worse.

For many years, the “traditional” or default approach has been to hire an attorney. This puts spouses into an adversarial framework that prolongs conflict and encourages a combative way of thinking.

In a divorce litigation, each person seeks to “prove” their version of events. There is no acceptance of alternative points of view, no insights into why certain issues generate strong emotions, and perhaps most importantly, there is no concern for the effects of divorce on the psychological well-being of the children involved or the spouses themselves. Attorneys claim to “win” while ignoring the results of fractured families, unnecessary stress and financial expense, and resentment that lasts for years.

If divorcing spouses hire an attorney, the first advice they will receive is to stop communicating with each other. Attorneys are trained to gather facts and skew them to cast their opponents in a negative light. Its easy to see how a narrative of “being right” is created in this environment. As defensiveness and contempt settle in, positions become entrenched and the couple gets stuck in a destructive battle where cooperation, agreement, and resolution are all but impossible. Attorneys will continue to bill for as long as the couple is at war.

Family Mediation is a (much) better way.

Family mediation is a non-adversarial process that uses a neutral third party to help people resolve conflicts on their own and stay out of court. Mediation is the fastest and least expensive way to get a divorce. It avoids many of the harmful aspects of litigation.

Mediation can help couples legally untangle without undoing the progress they have made (and possibly continue to make) in therapy. In many ways, family mediation is an extension of the principles and techniques people work on in therapy:

  • Respectful, effective communication
  • Setting appropriate boundaries
  • Emotions identification and management
  • Empathy
  • Empowerment
  • Conflict management and resolution
  • Identifying priorities in life and staying focused on long-term effects

Instead of entering a war of attrition against each other, couples can take a cooperative approach that diffuses conflict and helps them separate amicably.

What is Family Mediation?

Family mediation is an out-of-court settlement process designed to help spouses reach an agreement on the legal issues which must be resolved before a couple can get a divorce. It is defined by the Florida Statutes as:

A process whereby a neutral third person called a mediator acts to encourage and facilitate the resolution of a dispute between two or more parties. It is an informal and non-adversarial process with the objective of helping the disputing parties reach a mutually acceptable and voluntary agreement. In mediation, decision-making authority rests with the parties. The role of the mediator includes, but is not limited to, assisting the parties in identifying issues, fostering joint problem solving, and exploring settlement alternatives. (Florida Statutes Chapter 41.1011(2)) (emphasis added).

Anything that couples could fight over in court, they could resolve through mediation instead:

  • They can divide their assets and liabilities,
  • Create a detailed, realistic parenting plan
  • Calculate child support
  • Determine alimony
  • Modify previous agreements, and
  • Discuss methods of enforcement.

As a voluntary process, family mediation helps couples keep control of their lives in their own hands. People are more likely to follow an agreement they created themselves than one imposed on them by a judge.

What does a Family Mediator do?

Family mediators are trained to help spouses resolve their legal issues by reaching a legally binding settlement agreement. They must have certain credentials, including a Bachelor’s degree and at least 40 hours of specialized training. They ought to have more credentials as well — 5 of them are essential — including being a family law attorney and being well-versed in psychology.

The mediator’s neutrality puts them in a unique position. Mediators keep the best interests of the whole family in mind. They do not make arguments on behalf of one side versus the other in an attempt to “win” the case. Their sole purpose is to diffuse conflict and empower the spouses to reach custom-tailored agreements that work for them.

Mediators can help couples complete the right forms, navigate the laws, and understand the legal implications of the agreements they reach. Mediators can not only discuss the law, but help people understand how the provisions in their agreement can be enforced or modified in the future.

What is Fair & Friendly Mediation?

Fair & Friendly Mediation is a unique blend of law, psychology, and negotiation techniques designed to help people navigate the legal aspects of their divorce by creating a settlement agreement.

As with therapy, family mediators can have very different styles — some are more heavy-handed with their suggestions, some emphasize the legal aspect of the negotiations, while some do not have law degrees at all. Fair & Friendly Mediation is differentiated by our qualifications and by our process:

Our qualifications set us apart:

We have extensive academic qualifications and a skill set that draws from personal experience. The founder of Fair & Friendly Mediation, Joshua Kraus Esq. is a Florida Supreme Court Certified Family Mediator and a family law attorney licensed and in good standing with the Florida Bar. His academic credentials include:

  1. A J.D from Emory School of Law
  2. An M.B.A from the University of Miami
  3. A Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Massachusetts

Josh also speaks from the unique perspective of someone whose parents divorced shortly after he was born. Josh recognized that divorce is one of the most important and difficult moments of many people’s lives, and that most were going through it in destructive ways. The fundamental question he asked was, What is it that divorcing couples really need, and why are they not getting it?“ The answer was that people commonly use lawyers to help them fight each other in court. And while they spend a lot of time fighting, and expenses get quickly out of hand, they ultimately have little to show for it. Mediation is often successful, and it saves people from the time, money, and harm of a litigation.

Our process sets us apart:

We use a flexible approach centered on the creation of a comfortable environment that facilitates communication and cooperation between spouses. Our mediations work because we put in the effort to make sure every possible option is explored. Our clients can tell from the beginning that we care about helping them. When they commit to the process, there is no issue they cannot overcome.

Our credentials as an attorney give us the ability to provide straightforward answers when the law is clear. When judicial outcomes are uncertain, we can help clients generate agreements based on what they decide is fair.

Few mediators also have a degree in Psychology. This allows us to understand how emotions influence the decision-making process, and to help clients reach agreements that achieve the goals which are most important to them. We help them focus on overlapping goals and with the logistical planning of their lives going forward. Our process also applies negotiation techniques borrowed from a wide variety of other disciplines to assist the spouses with the “give and take” aspects of their settlement discussion.

In a Fair & Friendly mediation, initial consultations are free. Follow-up phone calls, e-mails, time the mediator spends preparing for mediation including legal research and planning the discussions are all free. Clients pay one professional, and only for the time spent during the mediation.

Pricing

We have a competitive hourly rate, which is flexible based on need. We understand divorce can put pressure on people’s finances, and clients can be reassured that they are getting the fastest and cheapest possible method of getting a divorce.

We are not motivated to get every last dollar out of a case. We want to help the largest number of people possible, and our rates reflect that.

Please contact usfor more details.

Availability

We are available nights and weekends in addition to regular business hours. Clients often have rigid work schedules, so we do our best to accommodate them.

Location

We prefer to use the informal environment of a conference room located at 1721 Southeast 17th Street in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We also have a more formal office setting available on Las Olas Blvd.

Free consultation

We offer a free consultation to help couples decide on their best course of action and to answer any specific questions they may have. For more information, please check out our answers to commonly asked questions, and browse our divorce guide.

Do we offer online mediation?

Yes, we offer online mediation via Zoom or Skype. This is a great option for clients who:

  1. Have already relocated to another state or face a long commute
  2. Do not have the time in their schedule for a mediation
  3. Are not comfortable being in the same room as their spouse, or
  4. Simply prefer to negotiate from the comfort of their own home

All of the rules regarding confidentiality apply just the same to online communications. Documents can be signed and even notarized online before being e-filed with the court.

What is “Collaborative law”?

If mediation sounds like it might be too difficult without the use of an attorney, or if a case involves a high degree of financial complexity, some might benefit from using a “collaborative divorce” process.

“Collaborative” divorce is a noun, not an adjective. It does not mean cooperative or amicable. It is a specific process that is governed by the Florida Statutes and includes the use of an attorney on each side, and also a mental health professional, who facilitates group discussions.

By requiring a team of at least 3 professionals – or more if using a financial expert — at a series of meetings, the pricing of a collaborative divorce can get out of hand pretty quickly. Collaborative law is an effective process, but not very efficient. At $1,000/hr or more, it is often more expensive than necessary. One of the important benefits of mediation is that it is more flexible – the spouses can use attorneys if they choose, but are not obligated to do so.

Many collaborative attorney practitioners call themselves “reformed sharks” because they used to do litigation before finding a better process. Many attorneys became disillusioned with their litigation practice as they realized they were doing more harm to their clients than good. One prominent (former) litigation attorney told me that she knew it was time to change her practice, “when winning a case made me feel worse than losing one.” Collaborative attorneys have seen divorce cases at their worst, and they can use that experience to encourage spouses to reach settlements out of court. Fair & Friendly Mediation does offer collaborative law services, and has had success with this method in the past.

Doesn’t the judge know best?

Judges do the best they can given their area of expertise and the structural constraints of the adversarial system. But it would be a mistake to rely on them to make decisions for a divorcing couple. Here is why:

1. Judges do not have the time to focus on one case. Some people anticipate getting their “day in court” where an authority figure, the judge, will take the time to listen to their side of the story. The fact is that judges hear dozens of divorce cases every week—they have very busy dockets where they need to hear and make decisions on countless motions brought before them in various family law cases.

Any judge will tell you that their main focus, their highest priority in the job they do, is to get all the way through that docket. The time to be heard is in an out-of-court settlement process. Only in a mediation will spouses be given all the time they need to explain their thoughts and wants, and to incorporate those into a personalized agreement that works for them.

2. Family court judges do not specialize in family law! The state of Florida requires judges to rotate into and out of family law from other areas such as criminal law, civil tort law, corporate law, and other unrelated fields. When cases get to litigation, decisions are handed down by a judge whose interests and career aspirations had nothing to do with family law. While that doesn’t mean the judges won’t be fair, it would make me question how much attention they’re going to want to pay to the issues that are most important to me.

3. Control of the spouses’ lives belongs in their own hands. When it comes to decisions that affect their family, such as the time they spend with their children, the amount of financial support they need, and the division of their things, the spouses themselves are in the best position to make those decisions.

Decisions imposed on a couple by a judge may appear arbitrary or unfair, and bad decisions leave them little recourse other than more years of fighting through an appeals process. Not only are agreements crafted by the parties more likely to be effective in meeting their needs, but the agreements are also more likely to be followed when both spouses had a hand in creating it themselves.

Are some cases too difficult for mediation?

Mediation is not just for easy cases — some of the hardest cases could only have been resolved in the non-adversarial setting that mediation provides. A divorcing couple’s best shot at resolving issues peacefully is through a peaceful process.

There are 4 main reasons why even in difficult cases, mediation is worth a shot:

  1. Someone with a difficult personality may respond favorably to the mediator
  2. The couple might resolve some, if not all legal issues, which narrows the scope of a trial and saves what could be considerable expenses
  3. The use of mediation does not preclude the use of other options in the future, such as Collaborative law
  4. It might be meaningful to the couple that they know they tried to resolve things amicably. Even if the mediation does not result in a settlement, both of them will know that they are willing to try, and that might be enough to keep the door open to settlement discussions in the future

What if they just need help with the paperwork?

If your patients have few or no legal issues to resolve, we can help them complete the forms the right way, as well as understand the legal implications of everything they sign. They will not waste money buying packets of forms they do not need, and will not make mistakes on the forms and end up arguing about it in court.

Should your patients call a lawyer first?

Their first call should always be to a family mediator who can help them decide whether to use an attorney at all. If they feel its necessary, we can direct these spouses to attorneys who understand the value and importance of mediation and who will help the process succeed. Many divorce attorneys have lucrative litigation practices, and they may be less motivated to allow mediation to settle their issues out of court.

What happens after mediation?

After a mediation, clients have an increased understanding of family dynamics, they have new tools for effective communication, and view themselves as being on the same team as their future co-parent. They are positioned for better relationships in the future based on the lessons they have learned along the way.

Divorce can have a galvanizing effect on people as well, which can cause them to become receptive for the first time to new ideas and methods of managing their lives. These people may be willing to see a therapist who does individual work, perhaps for the first time in their lives. Still other clients may view their negotiated settlement agreement as a logistically detailed option for them to consider while still participating in couple’s therapy.

Mediation and litigation are clearly divergent paths. Mediation is the only process that can achieve the untangling of people’s lives and set them on a path to becoming stronger as individuals. It is an essential resource for Marriage and Family Therapists to have at their disposal.

Where can I find more information about Fair & Friendly Mediation?

Please contact us via e-mail at Josh@Fairandfriendlymediation.com

Or call us at 954-998-FAIR (3247).