Getting Others on the Team
So far, we have only talked about working with mediators. Some couples are able to keep it that simple. However, many people choose to have other members on their “family’s planning team”. Again, this is not a bad thing. Simpler is not necessarily better and getting the right help can make all of the difference. So, let’s look at each of the other possible team members separately.
Lawyers to Support Your Mediation
Many couples choose to have lawyers help them through mediation. In fact, for reasons described below, we recommend some lawyer involvement in almost all cases. However, as always, the choice is yours. Here are ways that lawyers can help you find your best outcome.
Drafting (creating a document that you can send to the judge): Mediation, when successful, usually ends with a Mediation Memorandum that describes all of your agreements. While this memorandum completes the mediation process, the next step is getting your agreement (and the divorce) approved by a Minnesota judge. This means drafting a separate legal document to be filed with the court. Under Minnesota rules, the mediator cannot draft that document. Therefore, the final legal papers will need to either be drafted by one of the parties or by an attorney.
For people that want to draft their own papers, the Minnesota Supreme Court and many of the local counties provide forms and other resources. In addition, our Mediation Memorandum will be prepared in a manner that makes it relatively easy to convert to a final legal document. Consequently, it is possible for parties to prepare their own papers and an increasing number of people are choosing that option.
However, if your case involves minor children or significant financial issues, we strongly recommend that you consider having an attorney prepare the final papers. The final documents that are submitted to the court could affect your lives, and the lives of your children, for many years. Making sure that your paperwork accurately reflects your intentions could save you money, and anguish in the future. It is important to know that you can find an attorney to draft your paperwork at a fairly minimal cost.
Reviewing: Even if the papers are drafted by your spouse, or your spouse’s attorney, it is almost always a good idea to have an attorney spend at least an hour or two reviewing the papers on your behalf to make sure that the final document accurately meets your expectations. While there is often a fear that an attorney will take an aggressive stance or attempt to talk you out of an agreement, there are many attorneys who will simply guide you about your alternatives without putting pressure on you to change the agreement.
Advising: The other role that attorney can have it to advise you about the agreement. There are legal details in most agreements that may not be familiar to you. Having a “mediation-friendly” attorney with experience and knowledge to advise you can help you reach an agreement that works and, if you reach a sticking point, can provide assistance in reaching an agreement during the mediation process. In fact, in some instances, it is helpful to have the attorneys appear at the mediation. Again, the important point is to adapt the case to meet your individual needs so that you get just the help that you need.
Concerns regarding attorneys:
Many people are reluctant to have lawyers involved in their mediation at all, out of fear that lawyers will add to the conflict or attempt to take undue control of the case. While these feelings are understandable, based on common perceptions about the role of attorneys, there are many competent attorneys who will act as wise counsel and can actually improve the tone of the mediation. A part of what we do is help you find the right kind “mediation-friendly” attorney to aid the mediation process.
Mental Health Professionals
If you have minor children, your mediation will involve creating a parenting plan which will involve addressing crucial parenting and communication issues. While most mediators have some background and experience in those issues, there are mental health professionals who may be able to make sure that your decisions are based on the true needs of your children. For example, there are child specialists, who can make sure that the voice of the children is being heard as you develop your parenting plan. In addition, there are mental health professionals who can work with you as a “coach” to help with communication and the development of your parenting plan. As mediators, it is our job to help you understand all the choices available and, if appropriate, to help you select mental professionals for your team.
While mental health professionals can be crucial in helping you reach better agreements, particularly where your children are involved, during the mediation, it is equally important to think about implementing your parenting plan. The mental health professionals on your team can help you after the divorce to make sure that you develop and sustain the co-parenting and mediation skills that are crucial to the future wellbeing of your children.
While most mediators are skilled in helping you resolve financial issues, it is often helpful to have a financial specialist on your mediation team that can help you address more complex financial issues and to make sure you can achieve the best financial outcome. The financial experts can help on a wide range of issues from tax planning, to budgeting, to business valuations or real estate decisions. Having financial expertise on your team may be a crucial ingredient in creating a sound financial agreement and in making sure that you are able to adapt your financial plan to changing circumstances. As part of our meditation, we will help guide you in thinking about the financial expertise you may need.
Real Estate and Mortgage Experts
If you and your spouse own real estate, one of many issues that will arise during the divorce process is what should be done with that property. While you and your spouse may have a general idea about how you want to handle this issue, we have found that it is often helpful to meet with a real estate and/or mortgage expert to discuss the multiple facets of selling a property, buying one spouse out of the property, and refinancing if necessary. As part of your mediation process, we will assist you connecting with the appropriate individuals to guide you through this portion of the process.