Seven Myths About Divorce Mediation

From Arnold and Maria to your newly divorced neighbor down the street, why does it seem
like everyone these days who is contemplating divorce or separation is also considering divorce
mediation?

When a divorce is privately mediated rather than litigated, you and your soon-to-be former spouse
meet with a neutral third party, the mediator. With the mediator’s help, you will all work through
the issues needed to be addressed in order to end your marriage in an amicable and cost-effective
manner. But does divorce mediation really work for everyone? And what about child custody
agreements–are these addressed during the mediation process?

If you have done any online research for answers to your questions about private (non-court
mandated) divorce mediation, chances are you have come across a great deal of conflicting–and
just plain false–information. So to clear the air, we decided to address the top seven myths about
mediation and give you the facts about what this divorce process really entails.

1 – Myth: Mediation is for Everyone

Fact: In order to move forward with divorce mediation, both parties must agree to participate.
Unlike being served with divorce papers, you cannot be served a summons to show up for a
private mediation session (be aware that the rules for court mandated mediation are different).
If your former spouse asks you to participate in mediation, you and/or your lawyer should strongly
consider the merits of this process if conditions such as the following are present:
• a history of physical/emotional abuse
• substance abuse or mental health issues that lead to impaired judgment
• you suspect that your former spouse is hiding assets

Because mediation requires both parties to actively participate in deciding the terms of their
divorce, the emotional impact of lingering abuse issues, impaired judgment, or a former spouse who
is hiding something are concerns that just do not fit this model of “amicable divorce”.

2 – Myth: Mediation Means I Will Settle For Less Than What I Deserve

Fact: Because divorce mediation can be less expensive in the long-run than a litigated divorce,
you may both be able to hang on to more of your money up front in the form of reduced legal
costs. When it comes to dividing the assets of your marriage, remember that New Jersey is an
equitable distribution state–marital assets, property, and debt that have been accumulated during
the course of a marriage are divided fairly and equitably in a divorce. Whether you work with
a mediator or go before a judge, it is in your best interest to have a lawyer with you to make
your case for what is a “fair and equitable” division of assets. Remember, a mediator only works
with the information you provide; a good lawyer can help you prepare and present the necessary
documents to strengthen your claims.

If your divorce law firm has both qualified mediators and attorneys, as we have at Weinberger
Law Group, please be aware that the firm cannot serve you in both capacities. A mediator

acts in a neutral role to help both parties whereas an attorney acts on one person’s behalf in an
independent advocate role.

3 – Myth: Lawyers Want to Litigate Not Mediate

Fact: The American Bar Association has embraced divorce mediation since 1984 when the
ABA put out their own set of standards for attorneys who wished to serve as divorce mediators.
By 2000, the family law section of the American Bar Association collaborated with national
mediation groups to devise the Model Standards of Practice for Family and Divorce Mediation.

You will find that many law firms, including Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group, have attorneys on staff
who serve as impartial third party mediators. Divorce mediators do not have to be lawyers, but
we think it is to your benefit to have someone mediate who is trained in family and matrimonial
law.

We also believe that it is still in your best interest to have a lawyer by your side to guide and help
you during the mediation process. The choice to undergo private mediation is up to you and your
spouse. If your lawyer suggests that ligation in your case is a better way to proceed, make sure
you understand the reasoning behind this–and do not be reluctant to begin the process.

4 – Myth: Mediation Will Not Work Because I Cannot Stand to be in the Same Room as My
Former Spouse, Let Alone Negotiate With This Person.

Fact: We get it. You can’t even make eye contact with your former spouse without an argument
breaking out, so how are you supposed to work together on an agreement? Helping you
communicate with each other is at the heart of a mediator’s job. A good mediator keeps your
conversations productive and focused, especially when you find yourselves fighting the same old
fights. As the mediation process steers you toward making rational decisions you both think are
fair, we find this can often, but not always, lead to decreased animosity between parties. In cases
where mediation is desired by both spouses, but being in the same room is just not productive
at this time, it is possible to schedule separate appointments to work with the mediator, with the
goal of eventually being able to meet together.

5 – Myth: The Mediator’s Goal is to Save My Marriage

Fact: Mediators are not family or couples therapists. Their job is not to offer marital counseling
or somehow patch things up. By using mediation, both parties are agreeing that the issues in
a divorce need to be addressed and decided. Mediators are there to focus only on helping you
come up with a way to separate that you both think is fair and workable.

6 – Myth: Mediation Will Not Work If Child Custody Issues Are Involved

Fact: Research supports the notion that when families go through mediation rather than a waged
custody battle in court, children tend to have better long-term relationships with both parents.
What is behind this? As parents hammer out an agreement in mediation, it is often a time when
both parties face the fact that they will have an ongoing relationship as parents. It is also an

opportunity for spouses to realize that when it comes to the kids, they can be on the same side:
putting their children first. This is not to say that all child custody agreements should be handled
by a mediator. In instances where mediation is appropriate, however, we find that when parties
come up with a parenting plan they’ve jointly agreed on and gain tools to communicate with each
other about their children, it benefits the whole family.

7 – Myth: Determining Who is a Good Mediator is Like Finding a Needle in a Haystack

Fact: Currently, no state requires a private mediator to be licensed or certified, including New
Jersey. As a result, there is no shortage of people who have simply hung out their shingle
as a divorce mediator, some with questionable credentials. How do you find a good divorce
mediator? Look for someone with a strong knowledge of the state’s divorce laws (mediators are
not supposed to give legal advice, but can dispense legal information), a graduate degree in law,
at least 60 hours in mediation training/experience, and a commitment to following the ModelStandards of Practice for Family and Divorce Mediation.

At Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group, we provide private divorce mediators as well as divorce attorneys
who are experienced in all aspects of the divorce process. For your personal consultation on
whether our services match your needs, please call us at (973) 520-8822 or use our Contact Us
form where you will find that we are currently offering your first initial consultation free of
charge
.

10 Back to School Tips for Divorced or Separated Parents

The kids are back in school. Lots of things are in transition as we start the new school year. As parents, we have school obligations to help our children stay safe, feel secure and be happy. In the case where parents are divorced or separated, there can be a lot in question.
Who signs the permission slips?
What about parent conferences?
And what happens in case of emergency?
No matter what your child custody arrangements might be, and whether your divorce was years ago or the split just took place over the summer, we know there’s no “easy A” when it comes to co-parenting during the school year. But we do think it can be much less stressful!

How? Here are ten top, tried-and-true tips for making this school year a successful one for your child in the case of divorce or separation of parents and, believe it or not, maybe just maybe a good one for you and your former-spouse, too.

Tip 1: Pre-School Pow Wow

Once you have the coming year’s school calendar (typically available on a school district’s website starting in early summer), schedule a meeting with your former-spouse at some neutral locale and make sure you each BRING A CALENDAR. Map out the school year schedule from September to June, making visitation plans and custody arrangements for school breaks, long weekends, and/or early release days, keeping in mind your child custody agreement. Things may change as the year progresses, but having a basic plan in place is a good starting point.

Tip 2: Keep School Contact Forms Current & Complete

When that huge stack of forms comes home with your child on the first day of school, make sure contact information is filled in for both you and your ex-spouse, including cell phone, work numbers, physical address and email addresses. Again, it might be easy to meet in some neutral place to fill out the forms together, but however you obtain this information, make a photocopy before returning forms to school to make sure you have these numbers too! If things aren’t so amicable with your ex and he/she filled in the forms separately, call the school to request a copy for your own records.

Tip 3: No Panic Pick Ups

While filling in forms, make the following items very clearly understood: the child’s primary physical residence, who is responsible for picking the child up from school on a daily basis, which adults are allowed to pick up children from school, and which parent to call first in case of emergency. Often, there is a box to check off or fill in with this information for divorced or separated parents. Make sure your former-spouse understands and agrees to the responsibility of picking up the child in case of sickness–or if an emergency on your part prevents normal pick up.

On the other hand, there may be custody issues, such as a parent not being allowed visitation with a child, which should be noted. If so, school forms usually provide a space to write in who is NOT allowed to pick up a child, so don’t overlook naming names, even if the person is no longer part of your lives. In the event a parent without child visitation rights shows up at the school, this documentation can be very important.

Tip 4: Keep Child Custody Swaps Away from School

Even if your child’s visitation with her other parent begins on Friday afternoons, avoid making school the spot where the two of you meet. Because seeing your spouse may be filled with tension or outright anger, and mixed emotions from your child, save yourselves the embarrassment and further stress of putting these issues on display for your child’s school. If your former-spouse lives in the same town, it might be possible for your child to ride the school bus to a stop closer to the other parent’s house (provided the other parent is there to see the child home from the bus). If not, pick a neutral spot like the mall or library.

Tip 5: Participate in School Conferences Together

Back-to-school nights, sporting events, concerts, and parent-teacher conferences are important parts of the school year and you should both make every effort to be there. If there’s still animosity with your ex, make sure the school is aware of lingering family difficulties long before it’s conference time or family fun night. A simple meeting or call to the guidance counselor to explain your family’s situation is all that is needed. The school, in turn, may have a guidance counselor present or on-call during parent conferences or have their own suggestions for how to make the situation work for all parities involved, especially your child.

Tip 7: Non-Involved Parents

If a parent has moved away or is no longer involved in a child’s life, make sure to let your child’s new teachers know this. This avoids embarrassment both for your child and the school when it comes to a “Dad’s Day” type of event and your child has no one to attend. Trust us, your son or daughter won’t be alone in this. If possible, line up a grandpa or uncle to step in at moments like this.

Tip 8: Don’t Make Your Child a Messenger

“Mom says we have an early release day next week so you need to pick me up.” “Our class field trip is an overnight one so I won’t be here next Friday.” It seems easy enough to task your child with letting your ex-spouse know about upcoming schedule changes, but this information really needs to be coming from you. Want to talk to your ex as little as possible? That’s what email is for! Email also creates a written record, so your ex can’t later claim, “but I didn’t know.”

Tip 9: Everybody Helps With Homework

If you are not the custodial parent, still make the effort to help your child with homework. Though this is rarely written into any child custody agreement, the burden of keeping up with homework assignments and longterm projects typically falls on the shoulders of the parent who has custody or who is taking care of the child at the time the work is due. Want to really help your child feel consistency and stability, even as they shift between two homes? Ask them to pull out their assignment notebook and see what you can help with–this works especially well with big projects that can be worked on over the weekend. Have weeknight visitation rights? Instead of going out to dinner, why not go to the library instead?

Tip 10: When There’s a New Spouse in Town

If you or your former-spouse remarry, unless a legal adoption takes place, the new spouse should not be listed on your child’s record as a parent, no matter how close the relationship. It’s fine to let the school know that your spouse is allowed to pick up your child and can be contacted in case of emergency (though in most circumstances, the other parent should always be the primary emergency contact). If your current spouse is highly involved with your child’s life, it is completely appropriate to attend school events together. To avoid any fireworks, and any embarrassment on the part of your child, extend your former-spouse the courtesy of letting him or her know about your plans.

— Jacqueline Tourville, writes about parenting and educations issues for various web and print publications. She holds a Masters of Education from the State University of New York.

Divorce 101 – Live & In-Person Q&A – Paramus, Bergen County, NJ

DIVORCE 101

FACTS AND MYTHS OF DIVORCE DISCUSSION EVENT
Location: The Paramus Corporate Center – Bergen County – New Jersey

Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group would like to invite you to join us for a complimentary local panel discussion.  Learn the basics of divorce and how to begin.

Featured Guest Speaker:
Erin Schneiderman - Associate at Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group
Erin Brueche, Esq.
Associate with Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group, L.L.C.

Gain valuable information regarding many important and misunderstood facts surrounding divorce.
This event will answer critical questions such as:

  • How do I protect my children?
  • How long will my divorce take?
  • Can I refinance my mortgage?
  • Can I sell my home in this economy?
  • How can I protect my money?

Have your questions answered by a team of professionals including a divorce attorney, financial advisor, real estate agent, mortgage specialist and insurance professional.

When: Thursday, October 6, 2011
Where: Wells Fargo Bank
The Paramus Corporate Center
95 Route 17 South 2nd Floor
Paramus, NJ 07652
Time: 7:00pm – 8:30pm

*Seating is limited  – Kindly RSVP by Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Call Jeanette at Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group (973) 520-8822

What’s Reasonable for Child Support in Celebrity or High Net Worth Divorce Cases?

What if Linda Evangelista lived in Montclair, New Jersey and not Manhattan? Calculating child support when high net worth parents’ ability to pay is not an issue is the case in celebrity divorce news.

When Evangelista was at the height of supermodel stardom, her face was everywhere. But now Linda Evangelista is back in the spotlight for a very different reason after last month, filing a child support application in Manhattan Family Court seeking $46,000 a month from Francois-Henri Pinault, current husband of Salma Hayek and, as we learned from court papers, the father of Evangelista’s 4-year-old son, Augusten James. In what could turn out to be the largest support request in Family Court history, the New York Post reports the majority of the $46,000 a month in child support would go to cover a 24-hour nanny and personal drivers for the child.

Is this reasonable? According to a Bloomberg Businessweek publication, Francois Henri-Pinault’s total compensation as CEO of PPR (a luxury brand corporation) was roughly $5.2 million in 2010, not counting stock dividends or returns on other investments, with his net worth estimated at approximately $11 million. Evangelista’s exact annual earnings are uncertain, but she is reported to be worth at least $8 million.

Evangelista is far from poverty, or even simply being middle class, but according to a Huffington Post analysis, the law may favor the former supermodel in this case. In New York, child support rules state that in high income cases where parental income exceeds $130,000, an award of child support should be based on the child’s actual needs and the amount required for the child to live an appropriate lifestyle.

Who is setting precedence for these kinds of high net worth conditions in divorce and child support cases? It’s another famous celebrity name with its own twist: Sean “Diddy” Combs. In Brim v. Combs, the NY Appellate Division held that the Family Court made a mistake in basing a child support award on the amount of support Combs was paying for another child from a different woman, and not on evidence of the child in question’s expenses, resources and needs. The court used the custodial parent’s testimony to provide evidence of the child’s actual needs — meaning that, in Evangelista’s case, her request for a 24/7 nanny, in light of her unconventional career, may be viewed as reasonable by a court. And while the request for personal drivers may appear excessive and frivolous to most, a judge may think they are necessary for maintaining Augusten’s lifestyle — and that his father should foot the bill, or at least contribute.

What if instead of Manhattan, Linda lived in Montclair, New Jersey? Under current New Jersey guidelines for child support requests, in situations where parents have a high net worth, she might still be able to get the nanny and drivers. In 2007, a child support claim involved another celebrity — former Giants’ defensive-end, Michael Strahan. His ex-wife’s appeal of the initial divorce judgment helped to clarify how child support is calculated in high net worth cases in New Jersey. According to an Appellate Division decision of the New Jersey Superior Court ruling in the Strahan v. Strahan case, where high-income parents whose ability to pay is not an issue, “the dominant guideline for consideration is the reasonable needs of the children, which must be addressed in the context of the standard of living of the parties. The needs of the children must be the centerpiece of any relevant analysis.”

Bottom line: even in New Jersey, it’s possible Linda could make a case for round-the-clock care for her son and someone to cart him around… but just make sure it’s not in a horse-drawn cart! While child support guidelines are more subjective in high net worth cases, the Strahan ruling also referenced New Jersey’s longstanding “Three Pony Rule”, a guideline that states “no child, no matter how wealthy the parents, needs to be provided with more than three ponies.”

But the question remains: how much will Pinault need to “pony up” for his son’s child support?

Sources:

Rutgers University, New Jersey – Law Library:
http://lawlibrary.rutgers.edu/courts/appellate/a3747-06.opn.html

New York Post:
http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/linda_demands_monthly_from_ex_8lWhicZ0088EQTIU1kouNI

Bloomberg Businessweek:
http://investing.businessweek.com/businessweek/research/stocks/people/person.asp?personId=1061221&ticker=PP:FP&previousCapId=666672&previousTitle=PPR%20SA

Huffington Post:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/evangeline-gomez/linda-evangelistas-stunni_b_922825.html

New York State Law Reporting Bureau:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2005/2005_02660.htm