Divorce mediation is an alternative process to divorce litigation and is an important option to consider when a couple decides to divorce. Mediation is not for everyone. It is important to understand, many divorcing couples are not “good fits” for the mediation process. But, Mediation can save time, money and alleviate some of the emotional and physical tolls of the divorce for you, your spouse, and your children.
Your divorce mediation will likely proceed through 5 stages. Each stage is designed to move you closer to a successful agreement between you and your spouse, on custody, child support, equitable distribution, spousal support, and counsel/professional fees.
Stage #1: Laying the Foundation
In Stage 1 of a mediation, your mediator will discuss what mediation is, what makes it successful, how participants are expected to behave, and the approach that will be taken to reach a fruitful resolution. Properly laying the foundation is all about setting proper expectations.
Your mediator will discuss the importance of a constructive and clear line of communication and identify the roles that each participant (including the mediator) will play in the process.
Stage #2: Discovery
In the discovery stage, your mediator will work to understand the relevant facts and financials of your case. Think of this stage as you and your spouse playing catch up with the mediator on key aspects of your life. Your mediator will ask detailed questions about your financials, children, assets, taxes, insurance, etc. You may not know the answer to some of these questions, and that’s ok. For example, your mediator may want very specific information such as your life insurance policy number. You will most likely leave these discovery sessions with homework, or a to-do list.
The discovery stage is critical to the mediation process because these are the many variables that will be “in play” as you negotiate a resolution. To this end, you must share everything with your mediator. Leave no stone unturned.
Most importantly, the discovery stage is not about “litigating” you or your spouse’s wants. That is for later in the mediation process. The discovery stage is simply about verifiable facts.
Stage #3: Framing
The framing stage lays the groundwork for the negotiations that come in Stage 4. Framing allows you and your spouse to identify and express your vision for what a successful divorce looks like. For example, what is your vision for the custody of your children? How should your debt be divided? In expressing your vision and goals, your mediator will identify areas of friction that will need to be addressed through negotiation. Conversely, you will also find where you and your spouse’s interests overlap.
In this process, the focus is only on the expression of your goals and vision. Not those of your spouse. This is a safe space for you to express yourself. It is preferred to hold framing sessions jointly so that both spouses are on the same page and have proper expectations for negotiations. However, spouses may not always feel comfortable sharing their goals openly with their spouse. So, as a result, framing sessions can be held separately.
Remember, the art of mediation is “compromise” so as you frame your interests, understand that you will not get everything you want. Make sure you have a clear priority of what interests matter most to you and which ones you can compromise on.
Stage #4: Negotiation
It’s important to approach negotiation with the mindset that you and your spouse are going to work together to solve a problem. You are not two opposing parties working against each other. Otherwise, you’d be litigating your case in divorce court. To that end, understand that you will have to compromise. Everyone will not get everything they want.
Mediation fails at this stage if spouses do not approach it with the correct mentality. If the mentality changes to that of opposition, it’s the role of the mediator to quickly change the tone of the conversation. Expert mediators do this swiftly and with great tact.
At the end of the negotiation, you and your spouse will have reached a verbal agreement on the core interests that were discussed.
Stage #5: Settlement Agreement
Now, it’s time to put it in a binding agreement. This formalization of your mediation takes the form of a settlement agreement. If a mediation has been conducted successfully, most spouses sign the settlement agreement without undue delay.
Be sure to take your time to review your settlement agreement with your trusted advisers and your attorney. Once you’re ready, you can sign, knowing you’ve successfully mediated your divorce and saved your family time, money and the emotional toll of litigation.
Learn and Understand the Intricacies of the Divorce Process
This 6 part video series will help you understand the intricacies of the divorce process, end-to-end. We’ll cover various topics with the goal of making you informed about your divorce and prepared for the road ahead. The topics covered in this series include Fear, Divorce Psychosis, The Children, The Players, Financials, and Moving on to Your Happily Ever After.
[Introduction] The Anatomy of Divorce
[Part 1] Facing the Fear
Divorce can generate a fearfulness in us that we may have never felt before. But, you can overcome that fear! I share my tips for facing the fear that comes with divorce.
[Part 2] Divorce Psychosis
I discuss the temporary mental and emotional states that sometimes afflict parties when they’re going through a divorce.
[Part 3] The Children
Listen up parents. It’s not the divorce that causes emotional and psychological harm to your children. It’s the continued animosity between you and your spouse that your children must witness. Part 3 of Attorney Mia Poppe’s series on The Anatomy of Divorce she discusses the three ways you can do to reduce the psychological and emotional impact of divorce on your children.
[Part 4] The Players
Divorce is not a game, but just like chess, there are specific players that have specific rolls. Some are obvious and some not so much. In this video I’ll discuss the players in your divorce proceeding; including the one player that NO ONE ever considers, but that may be the most important.
[Part 5] Financials
Let’s dive into the financial aspects of your divorce. I’ll talk about the 4 critical components of your finances, 3 financial items to have an increased awareness of, 2 tips to improve your outcomes, and 1 thing I recommend taking action on ASAP.
[Part 6] Moving on to Your Happily Ever After
Attorney Mia Poppe shares three tips from her experience as a matrimonial attorney on how to get to your real “happily ever after” post-divorce.
The Three Pillars to Operating Our Law Firm in the COVID-19 Pandemic
“COVID-19 took everyone by surprise, but as New Yorkers and Americans, we’re resilient, adaptable, and are determined to win,” says Mia Poppe, Esq. from the Law Firm of Poppe & Associates, a boutique New York City Matrimonial and Family Law Firm.
“This is just another part of our story,” quipped Mia.
Mia Poppe, a female business owner who founded and manages her midtown Manhattan Firm, has certainly faced challenges and adversity over the last decade of building her successful law practice. What small business hasn’t? But, now to the Firm and to Attorney Mia Poppe, the stakes seem even higher.
“In February and even most of March, it seemed as though COVID-19 was so far away, but one day, suddenly, we were in crisis planning mode,” Mia shared. The Firm quickly sprung into action to audit and adapt their existing business technology and continuity plan to meet the needs of their clients. Time was of the essence as New York City had become the epicenter of outbreak in the United States.
“We looked at every single piece of technology from how we communicate with clients to how we maintain and access case information. Many of our clients are going through divorces with custody at issue, and custody and access issues, as we anticipated, would require new strategic methods given the impacts to the courts. We had to make sure that we could continue to advocate for our clients, in particular when both physical safety and parental access were both compromised in the time of the uncontrolled pandemic. We had to continue “business as usual” despite the challenge confronting us,” expressed Mia.
The Law Firm of Poppe & Associates evaluated and simulated every scenario to ensure that working remotely would have no impact on the day to day client advocacy, at a time when courts had sharply limited operations, or were closed to filings, except for emergencies.
“There are a lot of tips and tricks on ‘what’ you should do to operate a law practice remotely. We looked past “band-aide” temporary fixes; rather we engineered new processes that could, for the long term, accomplish serving our clients relentlessly in the office, or in remote home-based offices.
As a result, Mia and the Firm arrived at the following pillars to how they would continue to operate their firm in the midst of COVID-19:
Over-communicate with Clients – Keep clients abreast of their matters real-time.
Test server and backup systems regularly – Every business has back-up systems – interval testing should be a regular part of the workflow to ensure continuity.
Reinforce daily the Firm’s core value of ‘Relentless Advocacy’. – A firm’s core value is it’s guiding light. It’s the lens through which decisions are made. In times of crisis, it’s critical to remember your core values.
1. Over-communicate with Clients
“We exist to serve our clients, helping them navigate through what can sometimes be the scariest time of their lives,” says Mia. “As a group, we knew that we had to focus on the lifeblood of our business, our clients, making sure that we were in constant communication with them about changes to court dates, firm processes, and updates on their case.”
This means that the Attorney Poppe and her team are touching base with clients on a weekly basis. In addition to this, the firm sends out COVID-19 updates and helpful blog posts regularly to ensure that their clients are always in the know.
2. Test Server and Backup Systems Regularly
“We implemented regular “stress tests” on our various firm platforms to ensure that we could continually meet the needs of our clients,” says Mia. “We follow Murphy’s Law that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Our goal is to catch it before it does.”
Regular system checks help The Law Firm of Poppe and Associates ensure that they are able to deliver on their promise to be relentless advocates to the clients that trust them with their family and matrimonial law matters.
3. Remember Our Firm’s Core Value of “Relentless Advocacy”
“Our firm is built on our core value of ‘Relentless Advocacy’,” explained Mia. “This is our north star when it comes to how we operate professionally and personally. Relentless advocacy means that we are constantly in pursuit of our client’s best interests, day or night, pandemic or not.”
“It is important now more than ever to remember this core value,” says Mia.
And with that in mind, the Firm continues to be relentless advocates day in and day out for their clients, even in these extremely trying and uncertain times.
Our Lives and Relationships Have Drastically Changed
These are unprecedented times; living through a pandemic. Everything has changed. In New York, things changed in March when Governor Cuomo issued a “stay at home order”. We’ve seen changes from personal grooming and cleaning our apartments and homes to work and raising our kids. We’ve also seen changes in our most personal relationship, our marriage.
How we approach and live our lives has drastically changed. Time has not stopped, but it has certainly slowed down for the vast majority of us. Social media is flooded with quips regarding happy hours or after-work drinks taking place at 10:00 AM and the like.
This time, for many, has also created an opportunity for serious self-reflection and self-assessments. For the first time in a lot of marriages, couples are truly acquainting and re-acquainting themselves with the person they married.
Spouses have now spent months together, and for many, they’ve reached the point where they’ve started to explore ending their relationship. This is a direct correlation between self-reflection and “quality time” being spent with their spouse.
Whether you’re still self-reflecting or are potentially ready to pursue a divorce, there are a few things you can do to save your marriage or survive your upcoming divorce.
Talk to your spouse about how you are feeling – leverage a therapist or other mental health professionals to encourage you to identify, frame, and communicate your feelings with your spouse. Therapists do wonders for relationships and may stave off divorce.
Ask your spouse the “5 whys” – seek an understanding of how they are feeling. The “5 why’s” entails asking a question about a behavior you’re seeing your spouse exhibit that makes you uneasy with the relationship. Ask 5 followup whys to seek understanding, from their perspective, as to what the behavior means.
Discuss a trial separation post-COVID-19 – consider testing the adage, “absence makes the heart grow folder”. It’s also possible that you simply need a break post quarantine and a trial separation may be the solution.
Consider using a mediator if you believe divorce is inevitable – you and your partner may be candidates for divorce mediation. If you’ve decided to divorce and mediation is an option, consider starting this process during the pandemic. Remember, in mediation you must compromise. Each side must be willing to give something up.
Speak to a qualified divorce attorney regarding a possible divorce – Schedule a consultation with a divorce attorney to get a fuller understanding of the divorce process and how they apply to your situation.
At the Law Firm of Poppe & Associates, P.C. our website chats and phone calls came to a near halt in the weeks following the reality that the pandemic did in the United States. But recently, our website chats are up, and our emails are receiving inquiries daily.
People are starting to explore their options as they are looking to survive their divorce post-pandemic.
In 2005 my oldest son graduated from high school and my gift to him was to spend a few weeks in Europe. While there, I very purposefully enrolled in an economics course at the Graduate Institute in Geneva (IHEID). Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1997 – 2006, studied International Relations at the Graduate Institute so I was excited to study there also. The primary learning tool of this course was a book by economist Hernando Desoto called The Mystery of Capital. In the book, Hernando Desoto opines that all over the world there is “money in the cupboards” or “dead capital” and that the systems of many countries don’t allow this capital to be leveraged.
At the household level, our internal operating systems (our modus operandi or belief systems) likewise prevent us from leveraging the abundant value or capital within our own “cupboards”.
Hernando DeSoto’s macro concept applies to our individual (micro) lives. We have untapped capital in our cupboards! We have immense intrinsic value that’s not restricted to the form of the almighty dollar bill.
With this cupboard capital, we can acquire things that money absolutely can not buy. Cupboard capital can “buy” us autonomy, personal fulfillment, innovative ideas, witty inventions, creativity, and strong relationships.
The issue is, we are not taught how to leverage our “cupboard capital”!
It’s incumbent upon all of us to tap into professionals like Stacy Francis of Francis Financial, life coaches like Nesreen Mamoud of Harbor Light Coaching, and, most importantly, accountability partners. We must tap into our accountability partners (who may also be our professional advisors) to help us look into our own “cupboard capital” to help us figure out how we are going to buy ourselves into our dream lives.
We should all be living our magnificent dreams and not our beautiful nightmares (pigs with lipstick).
We Must Have Accountability Partners in Our Lives
I’ve been running my own business for over a decade and I don’t find myself talking much about work ethic anymore. Although work ethic is extremely important I now find myself talking about accountability. I have accountability partners that I can talk with about money, like Stacey Francis, other matrimonial lawyers, and my many friends.
The other day an accountability partner, who is also a female matrimonial lawyer, asked me point blank – “Mia, how much money are you going to make this year?”. What a question for someone to be able to ask you! My first, but fleeting thought was, “I can’t believe I’m being asked something as personal as how much money I make.”
Don’t be afraid of accountability and the sometimes uncomfortable questions that accountability brings. Also remember, we choose our accountability partners. And most importantly, what a great discussion this question (how much money will you make?) generates to help one uncover their “cupboard capital”.
When’s the last time you had an open conversation about money in pursuit of achieving your life goals?
Accountability partners allow you to talk about something we’ve been taught not to talk openly about. These accountability partners are critical to financial freedom, and living the life of our dreams.
Here are my four tips for finding and fostering a relationship with an accountability partner to leverage your “cupboard capital” in pursuit of your dreams.
4 Tips for Finding and Fostering a Relationship with an Accountability Partner
#1 Solidify their position in your life by inviting them to be your accountability partner. As the universe would have it, your accountability partner is probably already present in your life, because the universe is truly good. Work with someone you trust!
#2Share your goals and dreams with your accountability partner.
#3Meet regularly, and engage honestly.
#4 Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Swallow the tough conversations and don’t throw away the relationship when you hear something that offends you.