The Advantages of Co-Mediation for the Divorce Process – Written by Ellen Feldman

The Advantages of Co-Mediation for the Divorce Process

Mediation is gaining popularity as a strategy for divorcing couples.  Mediation provides the opportunity for resolution of all of the issues required to be decided under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution Act in a neutral setting, with the assistance of an objective impartial mediator.  Once the couple has come to agreement, their attorneys file a Petition with the Court and draft the Marital Settlement Agreement memorializing the decisions the couple has reached.  The case is set for prove up and there is one court appearance.  Spouses are more inclined to honor their obligations than if a Judge had imposed a parenting plan, division of assets and financial commitments based on arguments by attorneys.  Couples who participate in mediation during the divorce process are less likely to experience post-decree conflict as new issues arise, leading to fewer court appearances and lower attorneys’ fees.

When the couple has children, mediation keeps parties focused on what is best for their children.  One benefit is financial, since the money saved by participating in mediation can be used for children’s activities, schooling and to fund college accounts.  In addition, parenting schedules, sharing of holiday observance, choice of activities and custody arrangements decided in mediation are generally upheld and observed.  When couples learn how to communicate with each other and commit to the agreements they make in mediation, they stand a better chance of honoring those decisions and being the best parents they can be their children going forward.

My partner, Brian James, and I offer our clients co-mediation.  We work together as a team, reviewing the clients’ documents, attending every mediation session and providing guidance as each of the issues is addressed.  Once resolution of the issues is achieved, we draft the clients’ Memorandum of Understanding and submit it to their respective attorneys.  Co-mediation enhances the mediation process by providing multiple advantages.  First, we come at the mediation process from different professional perspectives.  As an attorney with fifteen years of commercial litigation experience, I understand the expense, time and emotional burden of resolving disputes in court.  Even if all is going smoothly in a lawsuit, I know that selecting witnesses, responding to discovery requests, and testifying at depositions and in court can be extremely stressful and financially draining for clients.

My partner’s background includes the mediation of cases for victims of domestic violence in the criminal justice system for ten years, and a private mediation practice.  Our different professional backgrounds enable us to hear and understand the clients in different ways.  Together, we have a rich understanding of the practical and emotional issues facing every divorcing couple, and an enhanced ability to help them through the process.

Second is the advantage of cost and value.  Although my partner and I are with the clients at every stage of the process, we charge only one hourly rate.  This affords divorcing couples the benefit of receiving input from two experienced professionals for the price of one.  Third, as a man and a woman, we set an example of effective communication for the couple.  We listen to each other present creative ways to handle each issue and respond with respect.  This dynamic tends to encourage the couple to do the same.

We are often asked if, as co-mediators, one of us aligns with each spouse.  To the contrary, we both remain neutral to give the couple every possible advantage so that their views are heard, processed and incorporated into their agreements.

When our clients have children, our goal is to help the parties be the best parents they can be as they move into their new lives.  My partner has two young boys and my two daughters are almost grown.  We have different parenting styles, as any two people do, and we draw on our experiences to present alternatives to the couple.  Better communication means that there will be less fighting in front of the children and there will be more time to focus on the children and their needs.  Happier children are those who see their parents getting along, even though they are going through the divorce process and ultimately living separately.  Our goal as mediators is to help the couple focus on the future, instead of the past, and direct their energy toward the best interests of their children.

The advantages of co-mediation for the divorce process are many.  Our different professional backgrounds, saving money by making the process more efficient and focused, charging only one hourly rate, and having a man and a woman mirror good communication for our clients all make divorce a more positive experience.  At this intense emotional time in their lives, shouldn’t people have every possible advantage?

Ellen Feldman is a Divorce Mediator with C.E.L. & Associates, Inc.

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