“We want to stay married, but our spending habits are so different it’s created a lot of financial stress.”
“My step-son has moved in with us and seems to be the only focus for my wife. I don’t think I can stay in this marriage.”
“My partner wants to use his inheritance to purchase our home, but says if we divorce, he takes it all back – I don’t feel like an equal in this relationship.”
A successful marriage requires understanding, patience, communication, and healthy compromise. Most people struggle with one or all of these skills. That doesn’t mean the only answer is divorce.
What is Marital Mediation (also known as “Mediation to Stay Married”)?
Working with a neutral facilitator, and/or with your own consulting lawyers, Marital Mediation is for couples who are experiencing marital difficulties and would prefer to work through them to stay married. It requires couples who are each willing to learn new ways of communication, focusing on solutions rather than blame.
How does Mediation to Stay Married work?
It is important to understand that marital mediation is not marriage counselling or therapy. Your past or interpersonal psychological issues are not the focus. In marital mediation, couples work to develop concrete plans to help address the specific marital conflict or challenge. Working with an experienced mediator who uses advanced dispute resolution techniques, couples will clearly define the issue to be resolved, gain a better understanding of the challenge, discover underlying interests, and create constructive options for working through obstacles. The mediator facilitates communication between the parties so that they can set their goals and objectives together, resulting in a greater likelihood that both will follow through with them.
What is the difference between Mediation to Stay Married and Marital Counseling?
Marital counseling, also known as couples therapy, both joint and individual, focuses on improving the relationship through interpersonal and communication counselling, usually with a licensed marriage and family therapist. It involves therapeutic analysis and insights. Marital mediation is not a substitute for marital counselling and, while you are in mediation, you should continue your marital counseling. Mediation to stay married is an approach to resolving specific conflicts that is guided by an experienced mediator (typically a lawyer or a lawyer and therapist team). In a mediation to stay married the couple define their goals and their concerns regarding a specific challenge they are experiencing in their marriage. The mediator guides the couple towards a solution that can either be a verbal agreement or a formal written agreement (such as a postnuptial agreement). Before signing any formal agreements, each party must have it reviewed with their own attorney.
What’s the difference between a Family Lawyer trained in Mediation and a Divorce Lawyer trained in Litigation?
Family and divorce lawyers often have similar training. All went to law school and passed the state bar exam. Most have litigation (contested court battle) experience. So what’s the difference?
Marital mediation refocuses a couple towards solutions. This requires an understanding of the source of the conflict and the options for creating a healthier future, be it remaining married or creating a plan, together, to un-couple. Your willingness to devote the time and energy to learn new communication and conflict resolution skills can mean the difference between a marriage that continues and one that ends; or the difference between an uncontested or amicable solutions-focused divorce and a contested or blame-driven divorce.
Should we work with a Mental Health Professional Mediator during Marital Mediation?
Yes. Mental Health Professionals who are trained in mediation and collaborative divorce processes (“coaches”) are valuable members of your mediation team. They allow your lawyer-mediator to focus on legal issues and solutions while your coach focuses on emotional management and communication. A coach will work with you, individually and together, and will educate your lawyer-mediator on how to present information and facilitate the discussion in a way that is most productive for each person – “so that you can hear it clearly” – amid the turmoil of emotions. Your coach may also work with your ongoing/treating therapist, as needed. This collaboration makes for a far more efficient and productive process.
Why work with a Lawyer Mediator rather than a Mental Health Professional?
Why work with a CPA when you can work with a financial advisor? One is not a substitute for the other. They work in conjunction to provide information that is related to the ultimate goal – sound financial decisions that allow you to grow your nest egg. Couples experiencing marital challenges should use all resources available to overcome the conflict and keep their family together, not just now, but for future challenges as well. There is never a guarantee of success – life throws us too many curve balls to be sure of anything these days. If one or both people suffer from depression, addiction, or other problems that may surface over time or after trauma, individual counseling is necessary.
Having a therapist and a lawyer who understand these challenges, working together, can give you a better chance of a successful outcome. While the therapist focuses on managing the emotions, the trauma, and treatment that is necessary, the lawyer-mediator works on the overall goal, the current obstacles to that goal, and provides guided discussions to manage day-to-day finances, properties, and parenting (the daily tasks and overall roadmap) to achieve that goal. Mediation to Stay Married teaches couples long-term conflict resolution skills that can apply to any conflict, in any situation, at any point in time.
Will Mediation to Stay Married actually keep us married?
While this is certainly the goal, there is never a guarantee. Too often we hear from couples who mediated their divorce, or completed a successful collaborative process, that had the skills they learned during their divorce process while they were married, they would not have needed to get divorced. With constant training and new developments in Marital Mediation, couples receive the benefit of learning new techniques to identify and address conflict in their own marriage, and how to problem solve in ways that bring value to each person and, even, the children
There is never a guarantee that you will stay married. Your success depends on the commitment each of you is willing to make to use the skills you learn in meditation, today and moving forward. Unfortunately, at some point, one or both of you may decide it is no longer healthy or productive to stay married. If that happens, you already have the tools to divorce in a healthier way. And you can always return to your mediation team for assistance.
Will we have a Written Agreement at the end of our Marital Mediation?
You, with the assistance of your lawyer-mediator, decide if your agreements should be put into writing. Some couples feel that a verbal understanding is sufficient and that a written agreement would be too intrusive. Others prefer having a written understanding that they can refer back to after their Mediation. The lawyer-mediator can explain the benefits of a “postnuptial” agreement. The choice to have a postnuptial agreement is exclusively yours. If you do elect to move forward with a postnuptial agreement, your mediator will prepare a Memorandum of Understanding for your individual lawyers to draft the postnuptial agreement, or you may both instruct your mediator to prepare a draft postnuptial agreement. As a legally binding document, in order to be enforceable, you must both have independent legal counsel review and advise you both before signing a formal postnuptial agreement.