Georgia Daniels, J.D., Mediator in Pasadena
The Scope of Family Mediation
Contact a Pasadena Family Mediator at (626) 441-1900
Mediation can span the complete life cycle of a couple or family. Children can be trained to mediate their sibling disputes. Parent-teen mediation can be a fruitful experience for parents and adolescents who are beginning to assume adult roles and attitudes, but aren't quite there yet. Pre-marital (or pre-nuptial) agreements are frequently a good idea. In fact, couples contemplating marriage are well-advised to have the discussions that might lead to an agreement, even if they don't need to follow through and complete a written agreement. Sometimes, there is a large, thorny issue in a marriage that is ripe for a settlement agreement, even though divorce is not desired. A marital agreement could resolve the issue. Then, of course, there is divorce mediation, (including modifications to existing divorce decrees), followed by, perhaps another pre-nuptial agreement, and eventually, mediation of eldercare issues and then probate mediation. Finally, for non-traditional families, adequate planning, including mediation of living-together contracts, is absolutely essential. Non-traditional families include same-sex couples, with or without children, and domestic partners, with or without registration under California's domestic partnership laws.
---- Premarital agreements, also known as prenuptial agreements, are not just for the wealthy any more. If a young couple truly has nothing to start out with, they may not need a pre-nup, but they could certainly benefit from some discussions about how they plan to manage their finances, including acquisition of assets and debts. If one party has financial obligations from a previous relationship, there are a number of angles to consider. When one is in love, it can seem cold and distrustful to even mention the possibility of divorce, but it's better to plan and not need the plan, than to be stuck later with unresolved expectations. Couples could include non-monetary issues in their discussions, such as the effects of one party staying home or working part time to care for children or elderly parents, or how to handle move-away decisions, where one party might have to leave the area to remain employed with the same company. Gifts from family, filing taxes (jointly or separately), retraining for a new career, or issues related to business ownership by one spouse but not both, might all be considered.
---- Divorce mediation offers couples a way forward with dignity, to an agreement that meets their needs for parenting plans, child and/or spousal support and division of assets and debts. When circumstances change, parenting plans and support may be modified through mediation rather than litigation.
---- Eldercare mediation is a new and growing field. As parents age, conflicts can erupt between parents and their children over living situations, driving, or the need for more help with daily activities. In addition, conflicts may spring up between siblings about their parents' aging, such as when it is time for more in-home care, assisted living, or which sibling is responsible for what aspects of a parent's care.
---- Probate mediation can bring the “outside-the-box” problem solving to inheritance disputes. Formal will contests are expensive, and the trial process is lengthy. Frequently, a skilled mediator can, after meeting with all concerned, help those who are disappointed with the provisions of a will to develop a compromise within the overall framework of the will that would avoid the stress and expense of a will contest. For example, siblings could make adjustments within their overall share of an estate that would better meet their needs. Mediation is a consensual process well-suited to resolving many of the typical issues found in inheritance disputes.
---- Registered domestic partners and unmarried couples may also benefit from mediation. Thanks to California's domestic partnership laws, same-sex couples and heterosexual couples of the appropriate age may avail themselves of some of the perks previously reserved for traditionally-married couples, such as inclusion of a partner on insurance coverage or retirement benefit plans. However, even with the new law, and sometimes because of it, there may be traps for the unwary. Registered domestic partners and unmarried couples in committed relationships would be well advised to mediate a comprehensive living-together contract, and then to be sure to follow through with actions necessary to give effect to their agreement, such as executing wills, powers of attorney, and “five-wishes” end of life documents.
The new domestic partnership law provides for dissolution through the family courts. Because the law is new, it will be years before there is a well-settled body of law pertaining to domestic partner dissolutions. A full-blown, litigated “divorce” between registered partners is no more desirable than a divorce between traditionally married couples. A comprehensive mediated agreement can provide the certainty that would otherwise be lacking in a litigated process. Mediation for domestic partners or unmarried couples provides the same benefits as for traditionally married couples: confidentiality, control over the shape and terms of their agreement, convenience, lower cost, and generally better follow-through with agreements.