The Bravest Choice

Over my many years mediating divorces, I’ve found that many of my clients arrive in my office just after sending their youngest off into the world. When I ask when their marriage became “irretrievably broken down,” a date required on the requisite court forms when filing for divorce, these empty-nesters often settle on a date years and years ago. And then, soon thereafter, they often concede that they “probably should have divorced long ago.”

Given all the horror stories of divorce portrayed in TV and movies, one might understand why putting off the inevitable is sometimes easier than making a brave decision to part ways when children are still residing at home.

Regardless of the timing, I believe (and I tell my clients) that their choice to divorce is the bravest of all decisions. To come to a place in one’s adult life where the decision has been made to end an unhappy marriage is profound. We live in a culture that honors marriage and makes a very big deal about bridal showers and bachelor parties and weddings. We have tax codes that endorse the financial benefit of marriage. We have an entire set of language that regards marriage as a special institution: tenants by the entirety, adultery, bastard, and espoused among other marriage-specific words and phrases.

When so much of our culture supports the institution of marriage, to choose to start a new chapter, which is really all about the hope that an unknown future may be better than a known present, is an endorsement that life is short and that continuing to live a life with someone who doesn’t bring out the best person in you is no longer wise.

I’m routinely humbled when working as a facilitator in this process, as it permits me to spend time with incredibly brave people. If you are ready to be brave in this way, please reach out. I’m here to help.

The Dreaded Financial Statement

There’s no getting around the fact that the Financial Statement is by far the most important document required by the Court. Everything flows from the information contained on each parties’ Financial Statement. Asset and debt division, child support and alimony: all of these amounts turn on the amounts entered on the Financial Statements.

And it is no easy task to complete these forms. Believe me when I say that my clients are routinely frustrated by the details required to complete these financial forms and always perplexed by why the Court demands such detail.

As we plod through the intricacies of each amount, my clients have the unique opportunity to carefully assess their income and expenses. For some, this exercise results in the very first time that many have looked at their financial position with such detail. This is a sobering moment for many.

As the mediation progresses, the clients’ Financial Statements are refined, clarified, and provide a touchstone for the various negotiations that the Court expects divorcing people to have.

So, yes, while beastly and unwieldy, the Financial Statement, despite how arduous it is, has always been something we get through together.

It Doesn’t Have to be So Complicated

When people who are looking to get divorced go online to educate themselves about the process, they are inundated by information. Some of what they find is accurate, most is not. Anecdotes of horror stories and gutted bank accounts are easy to find. Essays complaining of slow-moving court calendars and endless legal fees abound.

In working with my clients, I confidently say to them, “It doesn’t have to be so complicated.” And with mediation, it isn’t so complicated.

In my mediation practice, I provide my clients with a checklist that includes all the topics that need to be discussed and reviewed for the court to be able to approve the couple’s separation agreement. Mediation allows the couple to work through their issues and at their pace. We work together on the checklist. Concessions are made; negotiations are had.

It’s a process, but it need not be one fraught with complication. It’s actually pretty easy if you have a guide familiar with the path.

Please reach out if you are ready to map your future on an easier path.

That Very First Mediation Session if You Have Children

Oftentimes, I’m asked, “What do we need to do for the first meeting?” While there is nothing you must do in order to fully participate in that first meeting, you may want to do a few things to prepare.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. In a perfect world, how will the children’s time be allotted between myself and my soon-to-be ex-spouse? Are these notions reasonable when taking into consideration work schedules, school schedules, activities, etc.?
  2. Do I want to stay in the marital house? If so, why? What are the benefits? What are the potential challenges? Is this “best” for the children?
  3. If I don’t stay in the house, where will I go? What are the advantages and disadvantages to a new residence? Are the children relocating with me?

Bear in mind that your initial answers to these will like change and/or take a more defined shape as the mediation progresses. Nevertheless, the themes and realities will be consistent throughout the process. The sooner you begin to grapple with these questions, the more streamlined, i.e., the less costly and time-consuming, your mediation can be.

If you think you might be interested in a mediated divorce, please call Jenna Brownson, Esq. at 978.760.0482.

In-Person? Or Zoom?

At the beginning of Covid-19, I had a handful of clients who concluded their mediations with me using video conferencing, i.e., Zoom. While the communication shifted to something different, the work went on and unhappily married couples became civilly divorced individuals.

Until the vaccines were rolled out, I helped my clients work through the “we’re getting a divorce” list of topics the court wants to make sure were discussed. Pre-vaccine, those clients were exclusively Zoom-based clients.

But now, vaccines ARE available. Now, the best way that I’ve found to decide between “in-person” or “Zoom” is to ask: “What is your vaccination status?”

The answer to that simple question will determine if we meet remotely, in-person, or even in-person with some conditions, e.g., masked or outdoors.

People still need the service and guidance of mediators, even during this (potentially never-ending) pandemic.

If you’re considering mediation, know that I care about your safety and will endeavor to make sure that our sessions are safe. For all of us.

It is possible to go from where you are now (wondering how long you will have to wait before you can make a positive change for yourself) to where you want to be (moving toward a fair and equitable way to end your marriage).

If you’re there, I’m here.

To reach Jenna Brownson, call 978.760.0482 or email to jenna@holisticmediation.org.

Complexities Yield Special Accommodations

My experience as a mediator has led me to conclude that, for the most part, couples who seek out mediation are ready to cooperate to get the work done. The bulk of this work involves ensuring that the separation agreement (AKA, the contract for the dissolution of the marriage) has all the contractual language that will permit a judge to find that the separation agreement itself is “fair and equitable.” Contracts like this are what lawyers are trained to draft.

Well, sometimes before a mediation has even begun or mid-process, it becomes clear that the couple’s complexities would benefit from the expertise found in the therapist-mediator and not just from the training and experience of a lawyer-mediator such as myself.

Rob Brownson, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, is a highly skilled mediator when it comes to those more complex situations. So, if and when it seems to me that my clients will benefit from his inclusion, I will share this add-on with my clients. And with their permission, get Rob on board.

Please reach out if you are interested in mediation: Jenna Brownson, Esq. 978.760.0482 or jenna@holisticmediation.org

When Life Feels Upside Down

Most of us are accustomed to life going along at a predictable and manageable pace. We stick to routines, we have appointments, we meet expectations, we go day-to-day with confidence about how life will unfold.

And then, something flips.

For people who find themselves questioning their role in an unhappy, if not painful marriage, the feeling that their world is out of control can go from a low hum to a deafening scream. The stress and anxiety caused by this “place in life” is soul-depleting, sometimes leaving people to turn even farther away from the crisis.

When the day finally comes that the unhappy person can verbalize a need to make a change, that’s when the hard work begins. The couple has choices: stay unhappy, find a way to foster happiness, go in separate directions and seek independent happiness.

(Side note: “happy” and its derivatives is a very broad term used in a general way.)

At Holistic Mediation, I believe that you can be in control of your life.

No one is more skilled in making thoughtful and proper decisions about your life than you are. Imagine how empowered you can feel when you make a choice about your life, rather than a stranger in a long black robe who was given information through “translators,” i.e., lawyers.

Mediation honors your autonomy.

Mediation welcomes your insights.

Mediation respects your decisions.

My role as your mediator is to facilitate your client-led negotiations, and if needed, draft your collaborated agreement. I know that peacemaking can prevail and that civility can be found even in the most emotional and challenging arena.

Call me to learn more: Jenna Brownson, Esq. at 978.760.0482.

Why is it all so costly?

One of the many benefits of opting to pursue divorce through mediation rather than litigation is the cost savings. It is simply less expensive to pay for a series of mediation sessions and the drafting of the separation agreement than it is to hire two attorneys to go in and out of court, hold court-mandated meetings, negotiate the terms of the eventual separation agreement, and then work through multiple drafts to come to final terms. Oh, and then go back to court again to have the judge approve of the work. (Side note: The foregoing description is of a couple that manages to find agreement. If the divorce goes to trial, the costs go up exponentially.)

Ask around. If you know someone who retained a divorce lawyer, what was the initial retainer? How many replenishing retainers were required? What was the final cost? If you can find someone who ended up going through a full-blown trial, see if you can get that person to admit how much money was forked over. Keep in mind that person’s number should probably be multiplied by two as there were two parties using two law firms.

I cannot confidently say that mediation is always less expensive, but I’m willing to bet that it is 99% of the time. So why, if there’s a cheaper and equally legitimate option for divorcing couples, would people go the “litigation route?”

Because of trust.

Mediation requires full disclosure of all financial interests. Plain and simple. While some mediators are lawyers, they are not permitted–when acting as mediators–to use the “power of subpoena” to get to the parties’ bank accounts, retirement assets, stock portfolios, etc. When people come to mediation, they agree to put that all out on the table.

I have seen, time and time again, suspicion and sideways glances that lead me to wonder whether full disclosure is happening. Moreover, when one of the two people state something like “it’s impossible to trust” that everything is being disclosed, mediation can fall apart.

For many people–short of choosing whom to marry–divorce is the most consequential financial move they’ll ever make. In order to use mediation, trust is essential. A promise to work in good faith cannot be forced upon a soon-to-be-divorced person.

At Holistic Mediation, I’m honored to help people get from “unhappily married” to “civilly divorced.” I employ my professional skills to have this happen thoroughly and concisely. If either party cannot trust the other, a mediator cannot produce the required trusting environment. As much as I endorse the non-adversarial process of mediation, it is not for everyone. No need to despair though, there are lots of lawyers happy to help you through a litigated divorce, but it’ll cost you.

Working Together for the Good of the Children

Over the years, I have noticed that for most parents, who are divorcing, the task of coming up with a parenting plan is not the most difficult piece of a typical divorce mediation. When I’ve wondered why this was the case, I reflected on my mediations and came up with a general conclusion:

When two parents are asked what is in their children’s best interests, the parents, AKA “the experts of their own children,” are in the unique and best position to assess what “best” should like with respect to their children. Regardless of their differences about the marriage, they oftentimes “unite under the mantle of the love they share for their children.”

One of the benefits of mediation is the couples’ ability to dig deep and take the time to make thoughtful and evidence-based decisions. Unlike the hallways of family court where there is the pressure to “hurry up and compromise before the judge gets back on the bench,” a couple who uses mediation has the freedom to come to terms on their own terms and in the best interests of their children.

If you’re thinking about mediation, consider Holistic Mediation by contacting Jenna Brownson, Esq. at 978.760.0482 to see if this cooperative approach would suit your goals.