From an early age, we learn the concept of a team and how important it is to work together as a team. Be a good team player! Take one for the Team! And when a team member gets hurt, or can’t hold their own, we learn to compensate, – because the team as a whole must survive – and Win! –or at least play the game with honor in the face of defeat.

Facing Difficult Times Together As A Family

Such is a marriage and family – all members of a team with each individual being vital to the survival of the whole. But what happens when the team is threatened with the fall of one of its members? When the main breadwinner loses their job? Worse yet – becomes injured and cannot work, or becomes disabled? One would hope the team can compensate, but that is not always the case. Such a life change can cause an enormous amount of stress for the injured party who can no longer carry their expected load, as well as for the rest of the family who must look to a major change in their lifestyle. Hopefully, the “second string” teammates can step in and help alleviate the stress such as extended family members lending not only financial support, but also badly needed emotional support. Sometimes, the other adult team member steps up to a major role change and enters the working world to pick up the slack, or takes on a second job, which also can be stressful for the little family members who depended on the other parent for home nurturing.

Community Based Solutions

Parents can join networking groups, or support groups going through the same type of life change. For emotional help through these trying times, there is counseling available, many times free of charge. Families can look to their churches for help and many churches provide help through volunteers for re-budgeting or help with financial planning as well as provide emotional support programs. Some look to neighbors and friends for aide. They can look to the community for help through the many programs available to assist families in need. Most county websites provide a host of supplementary programs from energy discounts to food stamps to welfare payments. There are a plethora of community outreach programs to assist those who have fallen on hard times. And hopefully, there is some hope on the horizon while the family awaits the onset of payment of disability insurance or workmen’s compensation, but unfortunately even those remedies leave a shortfall that can take its toll on the family.

In our world, unfortunately, families seem quick to lose the concept of team players. Family stress, and especially family financial hardship, sometimes leads one parent to seek relief through greener pastures, rather than weed their own garden. They give up on the game, or look to switch teams. Marriages disintegrate, and the family unit still struggles to survive and stay somewhat of a team. Should this happen, wise choices need to be made or the entire team will dissolve, crippling each member, but especially the children who still need the comfort, the security and the reality of that family team. There is still hope. There is still help. There are processes available to families in distress that can keep them out of the trauma of a courtroom, and preserve that family unit, while dissolving the marriage in a dignified and amicable manner, while at the same time keep the rising costs of divorce to a minimum.

Mediation: An Alternative Dispute Resolution Process

One of my favorite alternative dispute resolution processes is Mediation. This process places the decision making in the hands of Husband and Wife, Mom and Dad. Who better to know what the family needs and what will be in the best interests of their children? The Mediator’s role is to use their skills to encourage the dialog between the parties, help them listen to and hear the other party, and help them to fully explore their options. The conversation is even more important than the outcome, as through it the parties gain the tools to continue to work out their issues as they may arise in the future. It is through the unfolding of the conflict and the chaos, that come the clarity each participant will gain, and the ability to fashion their own acceptable outcome. For economic reasons, it is not unusual for parents to continue to reside in the same residence during this process and if that is the case, usually one of the first topics on the table is what that cohabitation will look like.

What Happens During Mediation?

Typical topics of discussion are: how will they share expenses and keep the household running; and what do they need from one another to make this Court-Says-Disclaimer-Prevents-Injured-Worker-from-Suing-Employer’s-Client-Imagearrangement palatable until they can decide how they wish to parent their children, meet their family and individual financial needs, and divide their assets and liabilities. The process usually takes a reasonable amount of sessions, depending on the complexity of the issues, and in the long run is quite cost effective. Typically, the Mediator, who is a neutral, cannot be the attorney to process the divorce paperwork. That is another discussion for the parties to have to explore their options and choose what will work best for them and their purse. It is very important to choose a reputable Mediator who has a background in working with divorcing couples and families, and preferable is knowledgeable in family law, although the role the law will play in the mediation is totally up to the parties. The beauty in this process is that the parties can agree to anything that feels fair to both of them, despite what the court might do or what the law dictates. They can choose to include anyone they feel will be helpful to their decision making, which may lead to the involvement of jointly chosen appraisers, experts, or simply other people who may be helpful to meet their needs.

Collaborative Family Law

The other favorite process of mine is Collaborative Family Law. For those who are not totally comfortable interacting one on one with their spouse, this process provides many of the benefits of Mediation but with one’s lawyer by their side. This process is similar to Mediation in that it opens the door for creative and tailored resolutions to meet the needs of the parties and the family. It also empowers the parties to be the decision makers as opposed to any judge or lawyer imposed solution.

The basic tenants of this resolution process is that the parties and the attorneys agree that there will be no litigious court proceedings and that both parties will bring full disclosure to the table, which alleviates all “game playing” that comes with most divorces in the traditional realm. The core of the process are the lawyers and their respective clients, who all come to meetings prepared to discuss whatever is on the agenda and with lawyers and parties freely exchanging ideas and information among them. The lawyers and the clients decide together what other team members may be needed, if any. They have available to them trained collaborative financial divorce planners, child specialists, mental health divorce coaches, experts, appraisers, evaluators, and service providers. The most difficult and sometimes even seemingly contentious cases can be resolved in this manner as long as everyone remains committed to the process. Should there not be full disclosure or should one party initiate contentious court proceedings, the parties lose all of the collaborative team, and must begin anew with different counsel and new experts. This tenant tends to keep all involved totally committed to the process and to working through meetings to full resolution, – again with dignity and cooperation.

Mediations and Collaborations Save Time and Expenses

The beauty of both of these processes is that global settlement is accomplished with full resolution in a relatively short period of time with limited expense. In a court system, everything is fragmented with a different “track” of fact finders or “triers of fact” for each aspect of a divorce – support, custody, and equitable distribution of property and debt. One goes through a series of conferences and hearings before even reaching a judge. Often there are other requirements as well, such as mandatory mediation orientation and a mandatory parenting class before one even starts down a litigious “track”. It is draining on the litigants emotionally and financially which has a trickle-down effect on the children.  Mediation and Collaboration can also be tools for use long before a divorce or any type of litigation rears its ugly head. These processes are available for family disputes, neighborhood disputes, elder disputes, estate disputes, employment or business disputes, and the list can go on and on. All you need is trained professionals and willing and committed participants.

Many thanks to our guest author Maribeth Blessing for this post:

Maribeth Blessing is the owner of Law Offices of Maribeth Blessing LLC and Maribeth Blessing, Mediation and Arbitration LLC. While she is a zealous and accomplished litigator, she is a peacemaker as reflected in her commitment to alternative resolution processes that preserve and protect her clients and their families. Maribeth is a member of the Pennsylvania and Montgomery Bar Associations, where she has been a frequent Lecturer, on the Board of Directors , and Council member. She is a former chair of the Family Law Section and member of the Trial Lawyer’s Section. She has been appointed by the Bench as a Special Master, Child Advocate, and Guardian Ad Litem. Maribeth is a Supervisory Mediator and a founding member of the Montgomery County Mediation Advisory Panel as well as a member of the Board of Directors of the Greater Valley ACR and Advanced Practitioner for the Association of Conflict Resolution. Her many accomplishments can be found on her curriculum vitae on her web site