By Dr. Lynne C. Halem, Director of The Centre for Mediation & Dispute Resolution, Wellesley, MA
Daily we are bombarded with articles in the print media, blogs on the internet, and radio and television stories reporting the decline in divorce rates. The reason, all the media pronounce, is a byproduct of the bad economy. As the story goes, when the economy is in trouble, people simply do not have enough money to divorce. And so, they suffer, the reporters tell us, trying to put up with each other in any way they can until there are sufficient funds in their coffers to finance their divorce. Indeed, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers’ survey of its members revealed that 37% of divorce lawyers were reporting a decline in clients seeking divorce.
I suppose this is kind of good news/bad news. Decreased divorce rates are typically viewed as positive by public policymakers. However, in this situation, the publicity is not positive. The inference here is that the bad economy is forcing people to delay important changes in their lives or, in short, putting off their divorce. The media paints the declining divorce rate as just another negative outcome of the poor economy.
At the Centre for Mediation & Dispute Resolution (CMDR), we do not actively follow divorce rate statistics. What we do follow are changes in the reasons why people enter mediation, as well as changes in the population of people who enter mediation. For example, we are seeing more couples who have been married for over 30 years who have decided to divorce, as well as more couples who will be living in different parts of the United States after divorce. Perhaps most relevant is the increase in couples choosing mediation in order to save money. Whereas prior to the economy downturn, cost was a factor in the selection of mediation, it was not the primary reason.
- Mediation is a process that employs one primary facilitator. Even when consulting attorneys are employed, the savings are substantial.
- Mediation is a time saving process. You do not have to depend upon a process in which agreements are reached by going back and forth between clients and attorneys. Moreover, time is saved by being able to confront issues directly without having to filter proposals through clients and attorneys. Problem solving is a process that thrives on direct input and immediate feedback.
- Time and money are saved by the avoidance of the time consuming and very expensive legal processes of discovery and all its connected investigations.It has clearly become apparent that mediation, as a cost-saving process, has an advantage in a poor economy. We need, however, to realize that these upfront cost-saving measures are only part of the story. Important as they may be, they constitute only the short-term benefits of mediation. There are also long-term benefits of a well-structured mediation that have significant payback over the years.
- To learn and maintain enhanced communication patterns that facilitate future interactions.
- To create an agreement with provisions for unanticipated future events which prevent returns to court.
- To establish parenting plans that guide your future ability to parent together in the best interests of the children.
- To create an agreement to which both parties are committed, thereby avoiding repeat filings in court for modification.
Today, in this new world in which so much is unknown and so many concerns and fears abound, mediation clients may well be buying the best of both worlds – a process which is cost effective and an agreement that is more expansive and more thoughtful than agreements undertaken through the more traditional legal negotiation processes. Money is saved, the process is expedited, and the agreement contains provisions for dealing with future disagreements and conflicts. Clients, however, need to be wary; the mediation process differs greatly from practitioner to practitioner. Consumers need to be sure they are going to receive the short- and long-term cost-saving measures. Agreements, after all, are a forever deal!