Thursday, January 8, 2009


What a holler would ensue
if people had to pay the minister as much to marry them
as they have to pay a lawyer to get them a divorce.

-- Claire Trevor

Some of the factual circumstances surrounding real divorces are often so incredible that even a film studio would consider them too far fetched for a movie. Just in one week I have witnessed two extremes. One was a court case in Nassau County, New York where a Surgeon-Husband demanded, that his Wife return to him the kidney he donated to her, or pay $1.5 million in lieu of the "pound of flesh". I wonder if counsel intend to refer to the Merchant of Venice in that case.

At the other extreme is the father who consulted with me yesterday. He and his wife have 3 children, ages 2, 4 and 6 and they live in a rental apartment which costs them $1200 per month. There are no assets, the mother does not work and he earns $50,000. The parties were engaged in constant arguments, and the husband moved out 3 days ago. As he sits in my conference room and describes to me the details of his predicament, I wonder, "How can this family afford a divorce"? If these parties end up in court, they will probably pay each of their lawyers hefty retainers ($10,000 per side). If the mother retains primary custody, the father will have to pay 29% of his $50,000 income in child support and possibly some spousal support to the mother. In addition, he will have to get an appropriate apartment himself, so that he can house his 3 children during his parenting time. Even if the mother agrees to get a job, how much can she possibly earn with no work experience and limited qualifications amid an economic crisis at this time? $20,000? $25,000 if she is lucky?

The only way these cases can be effectively resolved is through mediation, where spouses pay one hourly fee to a qualified mediator who helps them address and resolve their financial and parenting issues. Through a series of mediation sessions the mediator facilitates an agreement that actually works for the parties and then puts it on papers. Then the husband and the wife can review the terms with their attorneys, sign it and go on with their lives. Thus the parties can conceivably only pay 2 consultation fees to their lawyers, plus mediation and agreement fees and greatly minimize the cost of the process. Not to mention that in mediation they also learn to communicate and resolve issues which may arise in the future, thus minimizing the cost of handling post-divorce disputes for years to come.

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