Guest post by John Butler
The decree is final and the divorced couple breathes a sigh of relief. They believe the issues are settled, the divorce is official and they are ready to get on with their lives. Then months or even years later, they are often taken aback to discover that new issues arise; unexpected circumstances bring new potential for conflict. Couples who initially hired attorneys and went to court during their divorce dread the cost, time and expense of trying to litigate in Court solutions to their new challenges. Couples who’ve used mediation to reach agreement in their divorce proceedings and never had to appear in court may not dread the process quite so much, but it still catches them by surprise.
As with the divorce process itself, mediation can greatly reduce the time, cost and effort required to resolve the issues that can arise compared hiring attorneys and taking these issues to Court. As a mediator, I have helped couples work through many after-divorce situations – sometimes face-to-face and sometimes through what I call “Virtual Mediation.” The benefit of virtual mediation is that the parties needn’t be together in the same room to work out the issues effectively. They utilize conference calls, email/electronic communication and modern technology. Virtual mediation helps in cases of geographic distance, difficulty in scheduling time to get together physically or when the parties would much prefer to never be in the same room again after their divorce has been finalized.
Here are some recent examples from my mediation practice of “after-the-divorce” situations in which mediation has been very effective.
Parenting Schedules And Shared Expenses
Couples with minor children will often have important issues to resolve due to circumstances not anticipated at the time of the divorce. One parent may have had a significant change in job/income requiring a revision of support levels. Sometimes the details of holiday and vacation plans need to be sorted out quickly though the couple is not in a mindset of cooperation. Perhaps the divorced parents need to decide how they are going to cover the cost of their child’s senior prom or what they’ll do when a teenage child wants to buy their own car.
Some divorced couples may be able to sort these and other issues out informally and others they may decide to utilize professional help. For instance, I recently had a case where the couple’s teenager wanted to change her primary household by moving from her mom’s house to her dad’s house. This created enough upheaval on its own that the parents felt the need for mediation to resolve it without any additional stress or drama.
Some post-divorce issues are more complicated and usually require expert help; for example, a “move away” case where one of the parents has a major job relocation. In these situations, their whole visitation schedule needs to be expeditiously revamped. Another example is when one party remarries; occasionally there can be a need for a professionally facilitated three-way discussion with the new spouse about expectations in child-rearing or the custody and visitation schedule.
Changes To Spousal Support
Even divorced couples without children have situations where mediation is warranted; for example, I recently helped a couple deal with a major reduction in the husband’s income which was the result of an industry-wide slowdown. He could not pay his spousal support and they both realized it might be a long while before he got another good job. They needed a very prompt resolution without spending a lot of money on attorney fees. Virtual Mediation was the perfect forum to resolve this as they were now living in different states.
Sale of The Marital Home
Then there are those couples who finalize the terms of their divorce but also have some actionable items left open even after their divorce decree is final. For example, I recently hosted a mediation for a couple who agreed in their divorce decree that the wife could remain in the family home until their youngest child graduated from high school at which time they would sell the home and split the proceeds. They needed my help in mediating
- the final division of property during the move out,
- the repairs and upgrades which would be needed to sell the house,
- the logistics of physically moving the wife out of the home, and
- selling the home.
They also needed to resolve the new level of spousal support for wife once the wife left the family home.
Resolution of Tax Issues
In another instance, I mediated for a couple who had filed taxes jointly while married for many years. Unfortunately, they also had not filed any taxes at all the last year of their marriage nor after they separated. They needed to work together to make sure their tax liability was minimized and used my confidential mediation services to help them work together to get their tax situation straightened out.
Vacation Home Ownership
Another example where mediation is helpful even after a divorce is final is for those couples who agree in their divorce decree to split access to a timeshare or retain for family use a vacation home which they owned jointly while married. After their divorce, they may need mediation to address various unexpected issues which can arise concerning how to divvy up the timeshare or how to schedule holiday visits. In these cases, the couples do not want to incur the cost of lawyers to negotiate for them but have been unable to settle it themselves.
As we all know, change happens. The marriage may be over and the divorce may be final, but new issues may need to be worked out with your ex-spouse. Bear in mind that mediation, whether traditional or “virtual”, may offer you the resolution you seek. It truly is a timely, cost effective and confidential way for a divorced couple to solve problems and get on with life.
About John Butler: After 20 years as a mediation attorney, I’ve found a novel way to help my clients called “Virtual Mediation.” It’s a less costly and less painful process which allows parties to reach a settlement without having to meet face to face in an office or even talk with one another at the same time. They do not even need to appear in Court. We work together using phone and internet and it’s all confidential. This approach removes much of the friction and difficult emotion that can hamper effective discussions. Having spoken on conflict resolution at a number of seminars, trained other attorneys in mediation, and worked intimately with many hundreds of clients, I am convinced this is the leading edge of mediation. Contact us at 408-502-1348 or email at john@virtualdivorcemediation. We’re also on Facebook.