Top 12 Things Your Need To Know About Divorce in Arizona

Top 12 Things Your Need To Know About Divorce in Arizona

How To Choose The Best Mediator

Divorce is usually sad, but it need not be emotionally and financially devastating. So, when choosing a mediator, make sure that your questions include the following.

What are your qualifications?
Having a law degree and courtroom experience are important qualifications. But high-quality mediators also have the education and background to handle the emotional and financial aspects of divorce.

How many years have you been an Arizona divorce mediator?
Like any other profession, it typically takes at least five years for divorce mediators to competently guide clients to complete settlement as quickly, inexpensively and caringly as possible.

Do you still handle contested divorces?
Contested divorces require lawyers who have a combative ”win/lose” mindset. Mediated divorces require mediators who have a collaborative ”win-win” mentality. These conflicting attitudes make it difficult for lawyers who handle contested divorces to be consistently collaborative instead of combative.

Can I mediate and still involve a lawyer?
Skilled divorce mediators don’t insist that lawyers be involved. However, they encourage consultation with lawyers if and when clients want additional guidance.

How long is each mediation session?
Experienced mediators limit each mediation session to two-hours. With the heightened emotions and numerous financial matters common to divorce, they recognize that this limit typically maximizes productivity.

Will you give us a written time and cost estimate?
Knowing each case is different, reputable mediators give prospective clients a written estimate of the time and cost involved in mediation and preparing court documents.

Are your fees on a pay-as-you go basis?
Trustworthy mediators are paid as services are rendered. They do not require a substantial upfront fee and guaranty that any unused fee will be refunded.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is divorce mediation?
Mediation is a proven method for settling everything involved in divorce or legal separation without resort to attorneys and prolonged court proceedings. High-quality mediators:
• Help divorcing couples communicate and negotiate effectively;
• Offers various options and alternatives for resolving differences regarding division of property (for example, real estate, retirement benefits and bank accounts), allocation of debts (for instance, credit card balances, auto loans and student loans), child and/or spousal support, and co-parenting arrangements for minor children; and
• Provides legal, financial, tax and other pertinent information.

How does mediation differ from court-based divorce?
In mediation, divorcing couples decide what’s best for them, rather than surrendering control to lawyers or a judge. They reach agreements based on their particular relationship and circumstances. This takes place in a collaborative environment, significantly less stressful than the adversarial, win-lose procedures involved in using two separate adversarial lawyers.

Are there times when it’s not appropriate to mediate?
Yes, it is inappropriate when one spouse is in physical danger or unwilling to participate in good faith.

What if we already agree on lots of issues?
That’s terrific! These agreements can serve as a foundation for resolution of other issues and overall agreement, expediting the mediation and further reducing costs.

What if we don’t reach agreement?
Should you be one of the few couples who do not fully agree, under Arizona law anything said or prepared for mediation is strictly confidential, barred from being used as evidence in court.

What Should Happen At A Pre-Mediation Consultation

High-quality divorce mediators offer divorcing or legally separating couples a free pre-mediation consultation. During this consultation you should be able to:

• Get to know the mediator.
• Evaluate your comfort level with the mediator.
• Have your questions answered.
• Get your concerns addressed.
• Obtain more in-depth information about the mediator’s qualifications.
• Determine if the mediator has a systemized mediation method.
• Learn about whether the mediator uses rules and procedures that, for example, ensure full disclosure and an atmosphere of mutual respect.
• Discover how the mediator deals with custody, time-sharing and child support for any minor children.
• Learn about how the mediator handles spousal maintenance (“alimony”) if and when it is relevant.
• Determine the mediator’s viewpoint about using lawyers during mediation.
• Receive a written time and cost estimate.
• Determine if the mediator’s fees are on a “pay-as-you-go” basis and, if not, whether any unused upfront fees or deposits are refundable should mediation be unsuccessful.

How Mediation Works

Divorce mediators have differing backgrounds and experience. As a result, not all mediators approach mediation in the same way.

Lawyer-mediators typically employ an ”evaluative” or ”directive” approach. This approach is patterned after court-based settlement conferences and calls for the mediator to conduct a series of separate meetings with the parties and/or their attorneys to evaluate each party’s legal strengths and weaknesses. Here the goal is to direct di­ vorcing couples toward settlement, with heavy reliance on persuasion by the mediator and court-based rulings.

Other mediators use a ”facilitative” approach to mediation. This approach calls for the mediator to meet with the parties together in a series of joint sessions. Here the mediator facilitates settlement by clarifying each spouse’s concerns and goals and offering various options for resolving disagreements. They only using separate sessions if and when highly emotional or sensitive matters arise.

Still other mediators’ practice ”Situational™” mediation. These mediators combine the best aspects of the other two approaches. For example, when dealing with disagreements regarding division of property and allocation of debts, Situational mediators are mostly facilitative but selectively directive. Unlike other mediators who disregard or avoid the anger, sadness and other emotions common to divorce, Situational mediators realize that empathical­ly acknowledging these feelings goes a long way toward helping parties continue to communicate and negotiate ef­fectively and enter into lasting settlement agreements.

Mediating Legal Separation

Legal separation lets married couples define their property rights, financial obligations, and any child-related matters – but still remain legally married. So, for example, neither spouse is responsible for the other’s debt or other financial loss incurred after legal separation.

Is Legal Separation Mediation Different from Divorce Mediation?
While legal separation differs from divorce, the mediation process is the same. Legal separation ends marital property rights and obligations, but the couple remains married until they decide to either reconcile or formally divorce. If later on the couple reconciles, the legal separation can be vacated. If later on the couple decides to formally divorce, the details have already been worked out, making the divorce process go much more quickly and inexpensively.

What Happens in Legal Separation Mediation?
During mediation for legal separation, property will be divided, and debts will be allocated. Child and spousal support can also be determined, and custody/parenting arrangements can be arranged for minor children. Contrary to legal separation with lawyers, with mediation both parties can be heard fully and discuss any issues they want to feel as comfortable and safe during the process as possible. Further, the mediator will protect the interests of both parties as well as any children involved. In court-based legal separation, couples often surrender control of the situation to their attorneys and/or a judge. But, with legal separation mediation, the safe and collaborative environment makes legal separation less stressful, especially if the mediator has backgrounds in both law and psychology.

How Health Insurance is Handled During Mediation

During marriage, many couples have health insurance through an employer. However, after divorce the non-em­ ployed spouse is no longer considered a family member and needs to find health insurance coverage.

Where the non-employed spouse has, for example, been a stay at home parent, that parent has three options.

Option 1. Secure employment that has health insurance coverage as a benefit.

Option 2. Shop for coverage under the Affordable Care Act. https://www.healthcare.gov/glossary/ affordable-care-act/

Option 3. COBRA. The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (“COBRA”) is a law passed by the
U.S. Congress. Under this law, if the employed spouse’s company has 20 or more employees, the non-employed ex-spouse can stay as a dependent on the employed spouse’s health insurance plan for 36 months after the di­ vorce was final. Typically, the cost of COBRA is paid by the non-employed ex-spouse; however, as with everything in mediation, by whom this cost is paid is open for discussion.

How Life Insurance is Handled During Mediation

Divorce makes people face a lot of uncomfortable conversations and make a lot of big life decisions. One big decision that must made is about life insurance.

Life insurance protects loved ones and your estate in the event you pass away. Typically, a life insurance policy would name the spouse or children as the beneficiary. Getting a divorce does not automatically sever your former spouse’s right as a life insurance beneficiary if you have not formally changed the beneficiary with the life insurance company.

Policy Genius explains why determining life insurance in divorce is not always so cut and dry, ”While it may seem callous or strange (or like a red flag to any future detective investigating a murder scene), it actually makes total financial sense and is a common part of many divorce proceedings. Life insurance is, primarily, a risk management tool. Let’s look at a real-life example. Mike is paying Cheryl $1,000 in child support for their

eight-year-old son, Ricky. This adds up to $12,000 each year for the next ten years, for a total of $120,000 to be paid out by Mike. But there’s a chance that Mike may die before that ten years is up, leaving Ricky without some of the money for his health, education and other needs. In this situation, it makes sense for Cheryl to be the beneficiary of a life insurance policy taken out on Mike for about $120,000. This life insurance policy isn’t about making Cheryl and Ricky rich – it’s solely designed to cover what she is legally owed by the terms of her divorce. Life insurance doesn’t just have to cover child support – in fact, it should cover all of your ex’s financial obligations to you such as alimony… lf your spouse already has a life insurance policy, it may become part of the divorce settlement.”

The best and most amicable way to handle life insurance in a divorce is to approach it as a means of guaranteeing payment of financial support to a spouse and/or any minor children. However, although no two cases are the same an experienced divorce mediator can provide the information needed for you to informed decisions about life insurance in your case.

How Mediation Promotes Positive Co-Parenting

For many, the word ”divorce” suggests images of angry interactions, family fractures, exorbitant attorney fees, and months if not years of court battles. Sadly, these images are realities for couples involved in divorce litigation. Statistics show that divorcing couples typically lose a third of their monetary net worth to litigation attorneys and frequently feel physically exhausted and emotionally drained. Statistics also show that the “win lose” mentality intrinsic to litigation increases spousal hostility and tension and diminishes or even destroys constructive communication – which is virtually certain to negatively affect the ability of divorcing couples to positively and healthily co-parent.

Unlike divorce litigation, divorce mediation is a prototype for positive co-parenting. From the outset professional divorce mediators establish the centrality of constructive communication to the process of mediation. They help divorcing couples buy-in to not make disparaging and otherwise inflammatory remarks, and to otherwise speak and listen to each other with respect. Skilled divorce mediators recognize this centrality of constructive communication facilitates resolution of financial issues not only during the divorce but also opens the way for the mediator to serve as a role model for positive co-parenting both during and after divorce.

During mediation, professional divorce mediators’ model constructive communication in numerous ways. They listen without interruption to gain a better understanding of the content and emotional underpinnings of what is said. They also listen reflectively, responding when appropriate to what is said with a short phrase such as “I hear you” or with a quick nod of the head, to let the speaker know he or she has been heard. Skilled divorce mediators also selectively summarize or paraphrase what’s said, to make sure that their understanding is accurate. Here’s an example:

Speaker: Since she left me, I haven’t been able to do anything I can’t stay on top of the bills, can’t do a good job at work, and can’t be there for my kids.

Mediator: I hear you. You said that being a single parent can be overwhelming and emotionally exhausting, and you’re having a hard time doing a good job at work and at home. Is that about, right?

Professional divorce mediators also act as a role model for positive co-parenting when they reframe hostile and otherwise quarrelsome statements by restating them with neutral or positive words, to decrease or avoid defensive reactions.

For example:

Speaker: He is a terrible father. He spends no time with the kids.

Mediator: So, are you saying that from your perspective the kids are more likely to feel loved if their father spent more time with them?

 Yet another way skilled divorce mediator serve as a role model for constructive communication is when they validate or mirror what is said. Validating lets the speaker know that the emotions underlying what is said are legitimate in divorce situations. Mirroring – when the mediator repeats one critical word or phrase of what is said

– not only lets the speaker know that the emotions behind what is said are valid but also encourages further explanation. Here is an example of validating followed by an example of mirroring:

Speaker: She wants the benefit of my working hard and making lots of money but constantly complains when I’m late to pick the kids up.

Mediator: I hear your frustration and want you to know that feeling that way is common and normal in divorce mediation.

Speaker: He can be so hostile when he talks to the kids.

Mediator: Hostile? 

Finally, professional divorce mediators’ function as role models for constructive communication when they demonstrate empathy. Being empathic makes known that having experienced a similar situation, the mediator can relate to how the speaker feels that way. Being empathic is not, however, the same as being sympathetic; it is not feeling sorry or pitying the speaker. It is a demonstration of care and compassion for how the speaker feels. For instance:

Speaker: I just can’t believe this is happening. I thought our marriage would last forever.

Mediator: I can understand how you feel. I felt very much the same when I was going through a divorce.

 The foregoing constructive communication skills modeled by professional divorce mediators give divorcing parents firsthand experience with ways to promote positive co-parenting. While the adversarial and accusatorial nature of divorce litigation is antithetical to parents having any opportunity to learn how to constructively communicate and promote positive co-parenting, the cooperative and collaborative nature of divorce mediation opens the way for parents to adopt the constructive communication skills required for positive co-parenting.

Understanding How Grief Influences Divorce Mediation

Whether a divorce is amicable or highly contentious, it is an emotional situation for everyone. Most people will grieve the life of which they had dreamed of having, grieve the loss of love, grieve the loss of social standing, grieve the loss of a family dynamic for your children, etc. Grief can be both rational and irrational but either way, grief can cause people to do things out of character or make poor decisions in stressful situations such as divorce. One of the most effective ways to manage the influence of grief on the divorce process is to work closely with an experienced and knowledgeable divorce mediator.

Divorce mediators with backgrounds in both law and psychology are not just compassionate listeners (though they are often that!). These mediators usually have the education and backgrounds to help divorcing or legally separating couples communicate effectively rather than from an emotional, grief-filled place.

It can sometimes feel like showing a weakness to share you are grieving during the divorce process, but it is important to acknowledge grief. Many people may not even realize that the feelings they are experiencing are grief because grief can take many forms. Further, one spouse may be at a different stage of grief than the other spouse, so the stages may not align, making effective communication difficult. For this reason, it is essential that mediators are capable of helping divorcing couples manage their grief so an equitable settlement agreement is reached caringly and inexpensively.

About Oliver Ross

Oliver Ross, JD*, PhD founded Out-of-Court Solutions Inc. in 1995 and since then has mediated over 3,000 divorce and family matters. He is a select member of the Maricopa Superior Court Family Mediation roster