Mediation can span the complete life cycle of a couple or family. Mediation can be utilized for the following issues:
Sibling Mediation can effectively resolve disputes between children, as well as between adult-children, and the process can also train children to mediate their own siblings’ disputes and prepare their own written agreements.
Parent-Teen Mediation can be a fruitful experience for parents and adolescents who are beginning to assume adult roles and attitudes but aren’t quite there yet. This is a more structured intervention than family therapy, with written contracts recording the agreements made.
Mediation of Pre-Marital (or Pre-Nuptial) agreements is frequently a good idea. In fact, couples contemplating marriage are well-advised to have the discussions that might lead to an agreement, even if they don’t need to follow through and complete a written agreement. Formal mediation of premarital agreements is not just for the wealthy anymore. If a young couple truly has nothing to start out with, they may not need a formal pre-nup, but they could certainly benefit from some discussions about how they plan to manage their finances, including acquisition of assets and debts. If one party has financial obligations from a previous relationship, there are many angles to consider. When one is in love, it can seem cold and distrustful to even mention the possibility of divorce, but it is better to plan and not need the plan than to be stuck later with unresolved expectations. Couples could include non-monetary issues in their discussions, such as the effects of one party staying home, or working part-time to care for children or elderly parents, or how to handle move-away decisions, where one party might have to leave the area to remain employed with the same company. Gifts from family, filing taxes (jointly or separately), retraining for a new career, or issues related to business ownership by one spouse but not both, might all be considered.
Mediation of Marital Agreements: Sometimes, there is a large, thorny issue within a marriage that is ripe for a settlement agreement, even though divorce is not desired. A marital agreement could resolve the issue and prevent a divorce.
Mediation of Registered Domestic Partners and Unmarried Couples may also offer significant benefit. Thanks to domestic partnership laws of some states, same-sex couples may avail themselves of some of the perks previously reserved for traditionally-married couples, such as inclusion of a partner on insurance coverage or retirement benefit plans. However, even with new law, and sometimes because of it, there may be traps for the unwary. Registered domestic partners and unmarried couples in committed relationships would be well-advised to mediate a comprehensive living-together contract, and then be sure to follow through with actions necessary to give effect to their agreement, such as executing wills, powers of attorney, and “five-wishes” end of life documents.
New domestic partnership laws provide for dissolution through the family courts. Because such law is new, it will be years before there is a well-settled body of law pertaining to domestic partner dissolutions. A full-blown, litigated “divorce” between registered partners is no more desirable than a divorce between traditionally-married couples. A comprehensive mediated agreement can provide the certainty that would otherwise be lacking in a litigated process. Mediation for domestic partners or unmarried couples provides the same benefits as for traditionally-married couples: confidentiality, control over the shape and terms of their agreement, convenience, lower cost, and generally better follow-through with agreements.
Divorce Mediation (including modifications to existing divorce decrees) offers couples a way to move forward with dignity, to an agreement that meets their needs for parenting plans, child and/or spousal support, and division of assets and debts. When circumstances change, parenting plans and support may be modified through mediation rather than through litigation.
Eldercare Mediation is a new and growing field. As parents age, conflicts can erupt between parents and their children over living situations, driving, or the need for more help with daily activities. In addition, conflicts may spring up between siblings about their parents’ aging, such as when it is time for more in-home care, assisted living, or which sibling is responsible for what aspects of a parent’s care.
Probate Mediation can bring “outside-the-box” problem-solving to inheritance disputes. Formal will contests are expensive, and the trial process is lengthy. Frequently, after meeting with all concerned, a skilled mediator can help those who are disappointed with the provisions of a will to develop a compromise within the overall framework of the will that would avoid the stress and expense of a will contest. For example, siblings could make adjustments within their overall share of an estate that would better meet their needs. Mediation is a consensual process that is well-suited to resolve many of the typical issues found in inheritance disputes.
Georgia Daniels, M.A., J.D., is a professional family mediator in Pasadena, CA. She first heard about divorce mediation in the late 1970s and decided to enroll in law school so that she could become a family mediator. She graduated with honors (Seattle University, J.D.), got side-tracked into a more conventional legal career path, burned out, taught English in a public high school in California, finally saw the light, and has been offering family mediation in Pasadena since 2006. She has published three articles on family mediation at Mediate.com, most recently “Dear Self-Represented Client,” on December 15, 2017. For more information, visit www.GeorgiaDaniels.com.