Divorce and the distribution of equity: Sample mediation sessions

In previous articles, I have written about different stages of a mediation case: The decision to try mediation, and the consultation (Part 1); discussions on parenting (Part 2); and dealing with income and expenses (Part 3). I continue here as the mediator assists Angela and Bill, a hypothetical couple, in regard to their assets and debts, and child support.

Feb. 16th – Session 3

The next session takes place almost a month after the previous one. Meeting earlier hadn’t been possible or practical, because Bill and Angela had a lot of financial information to gather in regard to assets and debts.

The mediator asks about what has been happening since the last session. Learning that there haven’t been what either party considers significant changes or problems, the mediator asks Angela about the clothing expenses discussed at the last session. Angela gives a new (and lower figure), which Bill accepts as accurate.

With income and expenses taken care of, the mediator works with the couple on their assets, again writing the figures on a flipchart. Angela and Bill both say that the numbers are correct. They quickly agree on how to deal with the bank accounts, retirement money, and other investments. There is a small dispute over the cars they own, which the couple quickly resolves.

The big issue is the house. Angela would like to keep it, but buying out Bill may be impossible. Bill says that Angela can have the house, but she’d need to pay him a fair price. There is some discussion regarding the house.

The mediator asks whether Angela has checked into getting a mortgage. Angela says she hasn’t. Bill suggests that since a buyout may not even be possible, maybe it would be best to go on to the next issue; Angela can do some investigating, and then they can come back to the house question. Angela agrees to Bill’s proposal.

Having reviewed the asset information, and having reached many tentative agreements, the mediator begins helping them share information on debts and liabilities for the remainder of the session.

Feb. 28 – Session 4

The spouses arrive. They continue sharing information on debts, and then review it with the mediator.

They reach a decision on how to handle the credit cards, the biggest debt, aside from the mortgage on the house. They agree on several other debt-related issues as well.

Angela begins to talk about the house, saying that she would be able to get a mortgage. Discussion continues, and then a disagreement arises concerning the value of the house. Two disagreements, actually, dealing with:

• The fair market value of the house.

• What percentage of that value should go to Bill. (Angela had assumed that they each had an equal share, but Bill is asking for more.)

Angela’s surprise quickly turns to anger. The mediator intervenes when it becomes clear that a productive conversation about the matter isn’t possible at the moment. He helps the spouses turn their attention to finding out the house’s value, a task that both agree is necessary. After a lengthy and heated discussion, Bill and Angela agree on how to have the house valued.

The spouses want to talk about child support. They’ve managed to discuss this issue on their own and have a plan. The mediator asks for the details, which Angela and Bill share with him.

The mediator tells them about the Child Support Guidelines. (New York State requires parents to learn what amount of child support the guidelines would require, even if parents decide not to follow the guidelines.)

Bill and Angela decide that their own agreement is better for their family than what the guidelines provide.

Next time: Agreements reached and reviewing the costs

New York City and Long Island-based divorce mediator and collaborative divorce lawyer Lee Chabin helps clients end their relationships respectfully and without going to court. Contact him at lee_chabin@lc-mediate.com, (718) 229–6149, or go to http://lc-mediate.com/. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lchabin.

Disclaimer: All material in this column is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.