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Posts from the ‘Mediation’ Category

Why Mediation?

. . .why not just “ask the judge?”

  • Mediation is a confidential process for resolving disputes. A neutral professional mediator assists the parties to reach a mutually acceptable resolution of their issues. The mediator does not take sides or make decisions, but assists people in sharing information, identifying goals and discussing options. Mediation offers a very cost-effective and less invasive alternative to the traditional litigation process. For most families, there is nothing of value to be found in court. The people in the conflict are far more familiar with the problems to be solved, and better able to clearly communicate what each needs to feel heard, respected, and treated fairly.
  • Mediation is sometimes described as facilitated or assisted negotiation. This option works best when the parties are able to sit together and, with the mediator’s help, develop problem-solving solutions on their own.  Of course, some families will require more support than mediation provides (see “What is Collaborative Divorce?” page).
  • Bridges professionals are available to help parties mediate their family disputes, in a private, neutral and safe process. We have extensive training in negotiation and conflict resolution techniques. Our role is to ensure that the process remains respectful and works to develop win-win solutions that might not otherwise occur within the families.

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    Does an over-worked guy like this REALLY know what’s best for YOUR family?

  • Finally, the judge is the just the “decider.” The courts are crowded, rigid and public. Even if you insist on “seeing the other side in court,” rules of evidence and time pressure usually won’t allow you to satisfy your desire to be heard. A mediated solution is a hand-crafted solution.

Mediation as an Option

Is Mediation a good alternative for us?

Mediation is a way of resolving a dispute with the help of an impartial person (the mediator). The neutral mediator helps both of you discuss personal concerns and, if possible, reach a voluntary agreement. The mediator helps you both think about your individual needs and interests, clarify your differences with the other person and find common ground.

In mediation:

  • You are the decision-maker: the mediator has no authority to make decisions.
  • You determine the issues that need to be addressed: the mediator guides the process and maintains a safe environment.

    Family Mediation

    Formal, adversarial, public OR thoughtful, cooperative, private: Which approach works for you?

  • The mediator uses and helps you to use active listening skills.
  • The mediator does not give legal or other professional advice to either of you. The mediator may help you think of options to consider, possibly with the help and advice of another professional.
  • Mediation is usually private. If not, the reason why is explained before beginning mediation. You have a right to quit mediation at any time.
  • Agreements are reached only when you both agree.

Mediation is sometimes described as facilitated or assisted negotiation.  This option works best when the parties are able to sit together and, with the mediator’s help, develop problem-solving solutions on their own. Of course, some families will require more support than mediation provides (see “What is Collaborative Divorce?” page).

Bridges members are available to help parties mediate their family disputes, in a private, neutral and safe process.  We have extensive training in negotiation and conflict resolution techniques. Our role is to ensure that the process remains respectful and works to develop win-win solutions that might not otherwise occur within the families.

FAQ – Fall 2016

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  • I’m worried that my spouse might not be fair to me in the divorce process. How can we try to work together in a peaceful process but still make sure I am taking care of myself?
Forrest Collins

Forrest Collins, Attorney-Mediator, dedicated to resolving your case outside of court in a respectful, cost-effective way.

Divorce is stressful and scary so your question is a very typical one. You (and your spouse, if he/she is willing) could schedule a consultation with any Bridges professional and learn about your options for working together on a peaceful divorce that takes care of the needs of all family members (especially children). Bridges members are all very experienced in helping individuals and couples find the best option to fit the unique circumstances of their family and, after consultation, will advise you whether it seems like your situation is a good fit for a non-court process.

  • If there has been a major breach of trust (such as an affair) is it even possible for a couple to work together on their divorce?

Yes, it is possible for couples who start with a low level of trust in each other to work together in a process that will be both sale and transparent. While such work is not always easy, it is usually much less stressful and expensive than using the court model.

  • How can we decide whether mediation or Collaborative law fit our situation best?

All of the Bridges professionals are experienced in both mediation and Collaborative law and a consult with them to discuss your family’s specific situation is the best way to determine which of these peaceful options are the best fir for you?

Relationships / Feedback

Negotiation requires listening to different perspectives that often conflict with how we see ourselves and our world. This is feedback. It’s hard to give and hard to take.

Why is feedback so hard? Because of our insecurities.

Why is feedback so important? For the mutual benefit of understanding, to make positive changes in how we behave and to grow.

What can we do to overcome the pain of feedback? The only way to face our fear of feedback is to engage in a process that fosters safe dialogue, including both deep honesty and empathy.

How can we safely engage in conflict (including giving and receiving feedback) in order to grow and improve our relationships? Relationships continue after divorce, especially if there are children. Learning to resolve conflict is an ongoing process for us, and our abilities positively or negatively affect our lives and the lives of those around us. People must feel safe to discuss their concerns and interests. Once fear of vulnerability is removed, people can aspire to their higher good and find excellent solutions.

How do we apply this to feedback? What’s required is a change of heart – from negative, evaluative feedback to appreciation. Try to find new truth in what is being said. Know it’s a process of understanding that each person is a culture and sees things differently. Build trust by buffering individual differences with feelings of appreciation, seeing the innocence and insecurity in others and understanding them. Take feedback with a mind open to change, new information, curiosity, and wanting to get better.

What are the tools?

  • Positive Affinity George Pransky in his Relationship Handbook says compassion is our innate, personal lubricant that helps us get along with others. When we feel compassion we are in a healthy state of mind and have the wisdom to know how to respond. It’s a blanket of warm feelings that protects us from the rough edges of personalities. It protects us from harsh self-judgment and raises our spirits. It allows the other person to regain a sense of security. We can bring out the best in others if they feel safe.
  • Trust Trust in oneself. Innate trust is defined by Philip Moffit as “the understanding that if you live mindfully moment to moment and have the intention to act according to your values even in difficult or confusing situations, your life will unfold in the most harmonious manner possible.” Innate trust is unconditional. It allows us to engage in feedback with understanding, empathy and compassion as well as the confidence to express our needs and set boundaries.
  • Non-Defensive Communication We know feedback is important for our relationships, our growth and our development. The key is to be able to deliver and accept feedback in a way that doesn’t provoke defensiveness. Sharon Strand Ellison, author of Taking the War Out of Our Words – The Art of Powerful Non-Defensive Communication, says we reduce defensiveness by using basic communication tools: asking questions, making statements and making predictions.

    Dona Cullen

    Dona Cullen, Collaborative Attorney / Mediator / Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA)

  • Questions: Asking questions with real curiosity and authenticity for the purpose of gathering information. A “safe question” is one that establishes the subjectivity of each person’s viewpoint and assists us in remaining separate from someone else’s judgment.
  • Statements: Making statements that are open and direct, being vulnerable and unguarded with no hidden agenda. We state our needs, desires and goals directly. A non-defensive statement is subjective, descriptive and lays it all out on the table. We no longer defend ourselves and try to control how the other person is reacting. It encourages accountability and clarification and results in personal growth.
  • Predictions: These are not threats or manipulations. With predictions we foretell what can be the consequences of certain actions or choices. They must be given with neutrality, be definitive and absolute. The function is to create security for ourselves and others through predictability. Predictions protect us and create clear boundaries.

Mediators and collaborative practitioners strive to create the safety necessary for people to express their interests, listen to the concerns of others and offer common solutions. Compassionate and constructive feedback is what we encourage for ourselves and the families we serve. We would all do well to focus on non-defensive communication and the innate qualities of compassion and trust as a strategy for conflict resolution, personal growth and professional development.

What is Co-Mediation?

Many family mediation matters are handled effectively by a single mediator, but there are also situations in which two professional heads working together are better than one.

Tonya Alexander, Collaborative Attorney & Mediator

Co-mediation involves two trained professionals (usually one lawyer and one with a mental health background or financial background) working together with the family as a 4-person settlement team. If the case involves difficult emotions or complex issues, two mediators with different professional backgrounds may assist the couple to reach better, faster and more enduring agreements. For example, financial decisions may be intertwined with emotional or kid-focused issues. Two mediators take turns “in the lead.” and can be better able to observe and keep notes.  Two mediators help ensure that both parties remain engaged and feel heard in the process, even when the circumstances of the case make that a challenge. Co-mediation allows mediators with different backgrounds and varied skills to work together in a complementary way to provide a full range of assistance that many families require. Alternatively, family members may mediate with the professionals in separate sessions, depending on the topic or work needed.

Engaging two mediators will most likely cost more than a session with just one professional.

However, co-mediation can offer tremendous synergy to the family and may result in a more efficient, effective process. Most families using co-mediation remark that the additional expense was value-added and well worth the upfront cost. Families should have access to a full range of peaceful options to help them address their unique challenges. The Bridges professional(s) that you consult with can discuss co-mediation with you and your family to see if this option is one that best fits your needs, or whether another option, such as collaborative method or pure mediation is preferable.

Tips for families to prepare for a peaceful and cost efficient separation.

Finances – Gather information on your monthly expenses, income, and cash flow needs on a monthly basis. To help with this task, there are free sites such as www.mint.com that can categorize spending and help you understand your monthly budget. Many banks and credit unions offer this service as well. It’s also a great time to meet with a financial adviser to better understand your financial situation and how to save and plan for the future.

Kids – Start thinking about your vision for co-parenting and how these new roles will be to help your child or children thrive and minimize the negative impact of divorce. Inquire about parenting classes for divorcing parents offered in each county. Statistics from the court show the earlier each parent completes these courses the greater the likelihood of avoiding litigation and co-parenting with success. I also recommend meeting with a child specialist or parenting coach to optimize communication and ease the transition of your family and children during this difficult transition.

Home – Start thinking about your goals and vision for the future, and whether you agree on selling the family home, buying out your spouse’s share of equity, or continuing to co-own in some manner after divorce. Gather information on value of home, mortgage(s) and any lines of credit attached to the home.

Debts – Run free annual credit reports to better understand any and all debts and liabilities outstanding as well as credit score for possible re-finance or loan. One site that seems user friendly is www.myfico.com but there are many others you can find as well. You may consider closing unused joint accounts and trying to simplify and disentangle debts.

Tonya Alexander

Tonya Alexander, Collaborative Attorney & Mediator

Tip for unemployed spouse looking to transition back into the workforce – I highly recommend meeting with a vocational coach or career services staff at a local college to explore initial steps to develop a plan for re-entry into the workforce and different educational plans and career paths.

Family business – If you have an ownership interest in a family business, it is a good idea to organize your accounting and books to make sure everything is up to date and in order. It’s money well spent to hire a good bookkeeper or accounting firm to help set up QuickBooks accounts or assist in bookkeeping.

Taxes – If you have any past years in which you have not filed taxes, it is crucial to meet with a CPA or other tax professional and catch-up to current year.

Retirement accounts – Try to avoid early distributions or withdrawals from retirement accounts prior to divorce or legal separation. I highly recommend obtaining legal advice for any possible creative solutions to avoid penalties and look at all available options.

Communication – Most importantly, in my opinion, is the ability to maintain open communication and transparency, so there are no surprises or changes from the “status quo” without discussion and agreement. Family coaches and mediators can help facilitate these discussions in a safe and confidential environment. Also, think about using the collaborative team approach if you would like to have more support and advocacy than mediation offers while still staying out of court and meeting family goals. Coaches can be utilized in both mediation and collaborative models.

Bottom line is separation and divorce don’t have to be awful. It takes hard work and compassion to keep the process peaceful, and we have a community of collaborative professionals here to help. We are peacemakers at heart, looking to help families avoid the pain and cost of litigation.

 

Disclaimer: Content of this article is not intended as legal advice and it’s strongly recommended that you consult with an attorney licensed in the state in which you reside if you have legal questions.

Collaborating collaborators….

Your Bridges’ professionals took Veterans’ Day away from their offices to honor vets and learn from and with about forty local collaborating professionals. We spent the day engaged and engaging with our peers.

  • 1111151254 (960x1280)

    “May Peace Prevail on Earth.”

    Tonya started the conference with her presentation on What? Why? How? When? The Essential Questions for Collaboration.

  • Dona was inspirational with her talk on The Power of Purpose.
  • Forrest gave the road map of his changing practice, from full service law firm to strictly collaboration and mediation, all without losing his “lawyer-identity.”
  • Gail spoke about her passion for Vocational Choice in Collaborative Cases.
  • Lee gave her own story, Helicoptering into the Fire (or, My Journey Toward Boldness).

Bridges professionals will always keep honing our skills, so your family can achieve the best possible results.

L-R: Randy, Gail, Tonya, Dona, Lee, Forrest & Kelsey

L-R: Randy, Gail, Tonya, Dona, Lee, Forrest & Kelsey

Collaborative Divorce Empowers Stay-at-Home Spouse Re-Entering the Workplace

Increasingly in recent years, couples seeking an amicable divorce have chosen mediation as a way to avoid a nasty escalation into an expensive, attorney-driven legal battle. This works for many families. However, anecdotal research shows that other folks still want more than a neutral mediator: they need an advocate in their corner. In a Collaborative Divorce, a settle out-of-court option, each party has their own specially-trained attorney who advocates for them, but not in direct opposition to their partner. Collaborative Divorce is conducted in the spirit of mediation, with the goal of maintaining mutual respect, safety and hope for the future for both husband and wife throughout the process.

Divorcing has often required financial support for women as they re-enter the workforce, typically after many years at home caring for children. Increasingly, in our modern world, there are stay-at-home dads in the same situation. Unfortunately, fathers may have also experienced a devaluation of their talents and skills, as someone who didn’t receive an outside income for work done during the marriage. This can leave both mothers and fathers feeling vulnerable and “one down” as they enter the negotiation process.

Women and men who are financially vulnerable are supported by the collaborative team, which includes a vocational expert who provides supportive counseling to the stay-at-home spouse, while clarifying their interests, values and skills. The counselor helps the person understand the need for training and evaluates potential earning capacity. The assessment works for both spouses, helping to identity the career path that would be best for the person re-entering the workplace, as well as the amount and duration of financial assistance needed as they transition to being more self-supporting. The thoughts and feelings of the spouse who will be contributing to support payments are also solicited because realistic and feasible arrangements are the goal.

Gail Nicholson, MA, LPC Personal and Career Counselor

In traditional litigation, the stay-at-home spouse is frequently evaluated by a “hired-gun” vocational expert to determine their potential earnings, as both sides prepare to go to court (or typically, settle at the last moment, just before trial). Sometimes, the litigating lawyers for both the husband and wife will pay for an expert to forecast the career path that would be best, or earn the most, for the person re-entering the workplace. These proceedings often do not include the feelings and choices of the person being evaluated and can become quite contentious as the supporting party seeks to reduce their ongoing financial outlay. The vulnerable spouse can experience extreme anxiety, including a sense of having no control over their future.

The vocational coach in a collaborative case seeks to empower the stay-at-home spouse. The client is engaged and supported through career testing, homework and exploratory exercises that develop and reinforce their emerging identity as a newly single person and their choices for the life that is to come. The collaborative process is facilitated by professionals outside the court and usually results in real growth for both sides, compared to the adversarial, litigation system. Personal and career progress is enhanced, as evidenced by a renewed sense of self, self-confidence, purpose, hope and excitement about the options being explored, a true “win-win” for both spouses.

 

 

 

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