Getting from Here to There: You Have Choices
The divorce process, even mediation, can feel like an adversarial battle. Or it can feel like two people working together to sort out a shared problem. If the latter approach appeals to you, you have come to the right place. As a divorce mediator and divorce attorney, my focus is on using collaborative approaches to help people going through divorce make often big decisions that affect the future of their finances, their children, their living arrangements, and, often overlooked, how they feel when it is over.
Most people don't realize how critical it is that, before they embark on the divorce journey or as early as possible in that journey, they fully understand their non-court options for resolving the major issues in divorce. Mediation and lawyer-assisted negotiation are the two main choices most couples have for keeping control over their and their children’s futures. Sure, you want a “settlement” since the alternative is having a judge decide key issues about your money and your children, but a process whose primary objective is a “settlement” — typically, a signed “Custody and Parenting Plan” and/or “Property Settlement Agreement” — is not what most people facing the challenges of divorce need or, when they think about it, what they want. For most people ending a marriage there needs to be more than getting two signatures on a custody agreement or property settlement agreement.
Purely settlement-driven mediation and negotiation, which is what happens in most divorces, might get the divorcing spouses to an agreement (and it might not!), but it may also leave them unsatisfied with both the result and the process, and leave them with more negative feelings toward each other. My years of experience as a Virginia certified family and divorce mediator and a Virginia and DC family-law attorney have repeatedly shown me how important it is for couples and families in conflict to have the option of a process rooted in dialog, understanding, and respect. That is what I strive for in my work.
I believe that the best mediations are ones in which the parties work together, viewing the decisions that need to be made not as a battle to be fought and won or lost, but as a joint problem or set of problems to be tackled together. I try to follow the words of Roger Fisher, author of the classic book on negotiation, Getting to Yes: “Be soft on the people and hard on the problem.”
A foundational principle of my practice is for the process to be one of informed self-determination. By this I mean:
- I help people have the information they need to analyze and understand their situation and the options they have and make decisions; and
- I help people recognize, embrace, and exercise the power they have to make decisions on their own behalf about their own future.
I do not make decisions for my clients, I help them make confident, well-informed decisions for themselves. In mediation, while I do not provide professional advice, such as legal advice, financial advice, parenting advice, or mental health advice, I do provide legal, financial, and other useful information when appropriate and when I am confident the information is accurate. I also help people identify when they might need to consult other professionals and, if appropriate, can bring other professionals into the mediation process.
In short, I facilitate the conversations that make informed self-determination possible.
I do not represent people in contested court cases. I help people avoid having contested court cases. Mediation, discussed above, is one way I do this. When I am serving as a mediator, I am not serving as an attorney representing anyone. In contrast, if you hire me to be your lawyer, I can and do help you understand your situation in the legal framework, I do advise you how the law applies to your situation, I do advise you about what process to pursue and what steps to take, either directly or through me acting as your legal representative. As your lawyer, my goal is to help you achieve your objectives in a cost-effective way through negotiation and collaboration. I may talk to you about your objectives and even challenge you when I see things differently. Still, as with mediation, my overarching philosophy is to help my legal clients’ experience be one of informed self-determination, a concept I explain above.
Are you facing a divorce or need help resolving conflicts or disagreements?
Schedule a complimentary 30-minute conversation so I can help you:
- Get clear on what’s really going on in your conflict,
- Learn about the options you have for how to proceed from here, and
- Gain (or regain) a sense of choice over your own destiny.