In recent blog posts, I have discussed the concept of separation agreements, used both as a way to give couples a break when they’re not sure whether they want to end their marriage and as a precursor or first step in full divorce experience that ensues immediately thereafter. A separation agreement is a document that outlines various answers to questions that a couple might have at the end of their marriage. For instance, your separation agreement might dictate what’s going to happen to your family home when your divorce is final, or who will be responsible for having custody of the children.
Because separation agreements require both parties to agree on what happens when their marriage comes to an end, there is a lot of negotiation involved. As a divorce mediator, I’m able to help parties collaborate during this complicated process and discuss the things that are most important to them. For instance, I can provide a safe environment, where both parties can come together to discuss everything from equitable distribution to visitation or parenting time agreements. Acting as a mediator, my job won’t be to provide any legal counsel or guidance, but to provide instead a neutral space where decisions can be made about your future after marriage.
Discussing the Complexities of a Separation
Often, when couples come to me looking for mediation to help them make decisions about their separation agreement, it’s because they’re not yet ready to get a divorce. Many couples try to mediate a separation agreement before they continue with the full divorce procedure. This allows them to figure out whether divorce is the right path forward for them. In these cases, couples may want to preserve as much of their relationship as possible. This means that they need to be able to discuss their issues without getting into complex fights and arguments. Although the mediation procedure doesn’t eliminate the possibility of any arguments, it can create a calmer space for negotiation.
In a mediation environment, there are rarely any attorneys and lawyers to argue on the behalf of each client in the mediation room (although it is a possibility). Instead, individual parties usually see their review attorneys outside of the mediation sessions. In most cases, the couples I work with will come to me together to discuss their separation case. However, there are circumstances wherein I might allow for clients to engage in preliminary planning sessions too. During these “planning” sessions, we can discuss what they want to cover during the mediation agreement. We can also have a conversation about what mediation is like, and what they need to know about separation going forward.
Some feel that preliminary planning sessions allow them to feel more confident as they discuss their future. This is because they can build a rapport with me as their mediator before we get started.
Addressing Separation Agreements Via Mediation
Usually, divorce mediation in which we make Separation Agreements is intended for the full process of divorce. It allows people a method of alternative dispute resolution so that they can come to terms about their future after marriage without involving the courts for the majority of the process. We use the guidelines of mediation when it comes to establishing a separation agreement too. Usually, I’ll offer this option if my clients have a lot of complicated things to discuss when coming to terms on their separation agreement. For instance, you might find that it’s easier to address concerns like child custody and visitation in a mediation session, rather than arguing through points with attorneys.
During a separation agreement mediation process, we’ll discuss a wide range of different things, including equitable distribution, maintenance and child support, and even who will be able to continue living in the family home, while the separation is in action. We may also need to discuss how bills and finances will continue to be managed with both parties living apart. This is often a common concern if one member of the household has been responsible for looking after children up until now, and thus has not had a full-time job or source of income.
A separation agreement doesn’t necessarily have to lead to a divorce (although, statistically, most couples that I work with are there to get divorced). If the couple that I’m working with decide that they want to give their marriage a second try, then they can withdraw their agreement and go back to living together. However, if they do decide to follow through with their divorce, then they might find that having a separation agreement in place makes their lives a little easier. Agreements open the door for an uncontested or no-contest divorces, which are a lot more straight forward than a typical litigation. Once we come to a consensus on everything that will be included in the agreement, I can draft the Separation Agreement and afterwards draft and submit the uncontested divorce package to the court. This allows the couple to progress the separation to a full divorce. Most couples do this with me without delay, but some stop at legal separation indefinitely or for some time.
As both a divorce attorney and a trained mediator I offer a number of options to my clients when it comes to ending their marriage. In some cases, couples will complete their separation agreement and then decide to get back together. In others, they will find the mediation process as a valuable way to continue with their divorce.
To find out more about separation agreements, mediation, and divorce procedures, browse through the additional blogs on this website. If you want to discuss your case with me, Mr. Darren Shapiro, then you can contact my office via the online contact form we have here, or over the phone at (516) 333-6555. I offer free initial consultation of up to a half hour. Mediating couples that want to utilize me as their neutral divorce mediator (instead of representing just one of them as their review attorney) can schedule a time to come in together for their free initial consultation.