DIVORCE MEDIATION MEDFORD ASHLAND
Theresa A Jensen, CDFA, JD
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
During my work with Divorce Mediation in Medford and Ashland, I have collected these frequently asked questions.
What is Mediation?
Mediation is an opportunity to meet with an impartial third party (the mediator) who is trained to help all participants communicate effectively and negotiate a resolution to their issues. In the divorce or separation context, parties can discuss and reach agreements about custody and parenting issues, dividing up assets and debts, child support and spousal support. The process is cooperative, confidential and informal.
In mediation, the parties themselves retain control over the decisions; the mediator has no authority to tell the parties what they should do. Mediation has several advantages over taking your case to court and asking a judge to make a decision for you. Generally, people comply better with agreements they’ve made themselves, and the literature about children of divorce all points to the fact that children adjust far better to any shared parenting schedule if the parents are on the same page and both support the schedule. Litigation is adversarial, pitting one side against the other, which almost always damages relationships between the parties and has negative emotional and psychological impact on any children involved. Even after divorce, parents will need to continue to work together for the children’s sake, and their tenuous relationship and ability to communicate is often weakened further by litigation. Finally, mediation can be quicker and less costly, both in terms of the cost of lawyers as well as emotional costs. Mediation presents the opportunity to resolve issues cooperatively, while focusing on what is best for the children.
Are there different mediation styles, and how would you describe yours?
Three different mediation styles have been identified, and are described as evaluative, facilitative and transformative. Most of my training has been in facilitative and transformative styles, though I do sometimes offer suggestions of options that could lead to settlement and offer my evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of each side (which are consistent with an evaluative style). The facilitative style focuses on the mediator’s role as facilitator of communication and negotiation between the parties, using an interest-based problem solving approach and providing a supportive structure for the sessions. The transformative style focuses on letting the parties take the lead and maximizing opportunities for empowerment and recognition, which can lead to shifts of perception and understanding, and in some cases, even healing. I see myself as having a ‘tool kit’ that includes strategies from each of the different styles.
What is a mediation session like?
I always meet separately with each party first. The purpose of these individual sessions is to prepare each person to negotiate effectively, to explore each person’s interests and priorities, and to begin to establish trust and rapport between the mediator and each party. Each person comes to the process with different levels of skill, readiness, information and hope. My role is to listen and understand what each parson needs to participate effectively, so I can best address those needs and prepare the parties to work together as effectively as possible.
At the first joint session we begin by clarifying the process of mediation as the Agreement to Mediate is reviewed and signed. I then guide the parties in identifying their goals for the process and agreeing on communication guidelines. We establish an agenda or list of topics that will need to be addressed and agree on where to begin. If at any time, parties are not able to be in the same room together, I will meet with each one individually and shuttle back and forth, to keep the process moving forward. Either party can request these individual sessions or as the mediator I could suggest that I meet with each person in turn. Confidentiality is clarified at the end of each individual session.
At the end of each mediation session, I will review any tentative agreements that have been reached, and each person leaves with a list of ‘to-do’ items, which need to be completed before the next session. I will typically write a brief Mediation Summary after each session that is e-mailed to the parties.
How long does mediation take and what is the cost?
The individual sessions at the beginning each lasts between 30 and 60 minutes, depending on the complexity of the case. Joint sessions are typically scheduled for two hours. Subsequent sessions are usually scheduled one to two weeks apart. Some people prefer to schedule the better part of a day, with breaks, and make substantial progress, even complete the mediation, if possible, in one day. This has the advantage of not having to pick up where you left off multiple times, and has been very successful, especially for the financial aspects of a mediation, after all information has been gathered. How much time any particular mediation will take depends in a number of factors: what issues need to be resolved, how far apart the parties are, the ability to communicate both separately and together, whether tentative agreements have been reached already or not, and whether parties come prepared for the sessions having done their ‘homework.’ Mediation can take from 4 to 20 hours or more. In general, the average mediation costs between $2,000 and $3,000. My fee is $175 per hour, and is payable at the end of each session. The mediator’s time spent writing summaries of sessions and drafting the final agreements is invoiced separately at the same hourly rate.
Do I also need to consult with an attorney?
Working with a mediator is not a substitute for obtaining legal advice. Although I myself am an attorney by background, in mediation I cannot represent or advocate for either party, nor can I give legal advice. Instead, my role is to support both/all parties and to promote informed decisions that are reached by the parties themselves. I always recommend that each person involved in mediation consult an attorney to learn about your legal rights and responsibilities, and to hear what the range of possible outcomes is likely to be if you do go to court. I also recommend that an attorney review the draft mediation agreement. Sometimes both parties have attorneys and I keep the attorneys informed of our progress and may periodically ask both parties to consult with their attorneys about specific issues, which are then brought back into mediation to better inform the process. Although generally attorneys do not participate in the mediation sessions in family and divorce cases, this is not always the case. Particularly in a complex case, attorneys’ involvement can be very helpful, especially during the latter stages.
What is the quickest and most cost effective way of getting divorced? Can we do most of the paperwork ourselves and keep the costs down?
If you are able to reach agreement about all of the issues involved, it is possible to file for divorce as “co-petitioners” and include the agreements you have reached, whether on your own or through mediation, waive the 90 day waiting period, and avoid any court hearing. Once you hand in the correct completed paperwork, a judge could sign the final order within a couple of weeks. However, if issues of child custody, real estate, retirement plans or spousal support are issues, I recommend that that you work with some professional (attorney, mediator, (CDFA™ ) to make sure you are receiving accurate information.
What training have you had in mediation skills?
My first 40-hour mediation training was with Bill Lincoln through Antioch University in 1984. I was subsequently trained by Ray Schonholtz’s Community Boards of San Francisco (40 hour trainings in Advanced Mediation Skills, Large Group/Cross-Cultural Mediation in 1984-5). I later became a mediator trainer in my own right; as a partner in Confluence Northwest, a dispute resolution organization is founded in Portland Oregon in 1988, I trained hundreds of mediators from 1988-1994. I also worked with Joe Folger and Baruch Busch, authors of the book The Promise of Mediation, which first articulated the transformative approach to mediation, and subsequently provided basic and advanced transformative mediation training throughout the US. I received training in different aspects of family mediation (child custody, parenting plans, family issues, domestic violence) in numerous briefer trainings between the years of 1993 and 2011. In 2009 the Presiding Circuit Court Judge in Jackson County certified me as having met the statutory requirements for a court-connected mediator resolving custody and parenting issues and the financial aspects of divorce. Between 2006 and 2009 I completed studies in the financial and tax aspects of divorce, which led to my certification as a CDFA™ (Certified Divorce Financial Analyst) in 2010.
As a mediator, I also draw on my trainings with Marshall Rosenberg in Non Violent Communication (NVC), and years of training (and experience) in parenting skills.
I’d like to work with you as a mediator, but I can’t convince my spouse/partner to participate in mediation. What do you suggest?
I offer a free initial consultation to parties, either separately or together, in person or over the phone. This allows people to become more familiar with mediation as a process, my background and approach, and provides an opportunity to ask any questions they may have. You can provide your partner/spouse with my contact information to set up such a consultation, or, I can call if your spouse/partner would like me to initiate the contact.
If you spouse/partner nonetheless decides not to participate in mediation, I can work with one person individually, either as a CDFA™ working in a team with your attorney, or as a Conflict Coach, supporting you through the process.