The year 2008 brings with it a host of unsettling happenings. The real estate market continues to decline; the stock market is on a downward spiral marked by violent swings; the cost of living is inching upwards; contenders for the U.S. presidency slug it out in public; and not least, the rest of the world evinces similar economic uncertainty.
Couples who are contemplating separating or are in the throes of it, are becoming increasingly confused by their own fear of change and the disturbing national and international events surrounding them. In particular, they worry about how the current economy and the uncertainty of the future will influence their ability to reach an agreement that provides for financial security and independence. Perhaps, more to the point, separating couples are increasingly perplexed with the prospect of dividing up a shrinking monetary pie. Whereas in the past they might have felt more secure about guaranteeing support payments based on job security, now job security seems more elusive. The cost of health insurance keeps escalating even as doctors leave the state for greener pastures. Individuals re-entering the job market face a marketplace replete with downsizing and jittery employees skeptical of “new” dollar commitments. And that’s not all – the price of education for their children keeps climbing, currently at a rate that equals or exceeds the amount of return on any dollars saved for schooling. And so worries abound and keep revolving in different directions as the national changes raise new concerns and issues.
In the midst of this turmoil, the separating, or about to be separating, population has become more concerned about whether they can afford to divorce. For those who feel this is not an option to be determined by finances, their focus changes to the actual cost of the divorce. Some couples decide that do-it-yourself divorces are the answer to their problem. Others look for low cost or lower cost routes.
Mediation, long touted as a divorce cost saver, emerges as an economic decision. Couples who feel the imperative of saving funds look to mediation, as do those who believe mediation will produce the best agreement for them, not just the least expensive one.
The question emerges: Does mediation save money? There is no one short answer. Mediation almost always is a cost saving route. However, in selecting the mediation alternative, couples need to be quite sure of the mediation product they are buying. Like different models of automobiles or brands of food, mediation, as a process, is not uniform; one size does not fit all.
At the Centre for Mediation & Dispute Resolution (CMDR), we believe that separating or divorcing couples deserve an agreement that will address their present needs and serve them in the future. We do not believe the faster, cheaper route of a “here-and-now” agreement saves money, at least not in the long run. It is foolhardy to assume that if you craft an agreement today that provides only for today, there will be no renegotiation, no returns to court, no future disputes.
As such, we believe, based on over a quarter of a century of experience, that the least expensive route to divorcing, over the long term, requires attention to current details that are affecting your present as well as those that will (or may) affect your future. Incomes may increase or decrease over time. The children will grow up and probably will attend college. And on and on goes the list of concerns. To ignore the possibilities of change is to spend less now with the almost certainty of facing disputes, change and cost in the future.
And so we approach the question again. What is the least expensive route to divorce? We believe that it is the route that produces an agreement reached by problem solving and focuses on the security and safety of all family members now and in the future. Although the words are easy to express, the process is by no means simple. Make no mistake; a problem solving mediation with short- and long-term goals is very hard work. The end product, however, will be a long-term agreement forged by participants who recognize that tomorrow will arrive and it just might be very different from today.