Low-cost divorce services

Chris” and “Eliza” agreed that it was time to get divorced. Chris, who initially hadn’t wanted the marriage to end and who had been saddened by the breakup, was now angry at his wife. He thought — especially since they had children — that Eliza owed it to them to try and save the family.

But Eliza had made her decision: the marriage was over. Her major concern was avoiding a bitter end to it that would hurt their children and poison the future parenting relationship.

Money was a major concern. Chris had lost his job and was now working at another that paid substantially less. Living apart would cost more and add to the strain.

This couple is fictional, but many real ones find answers at Community Dispute Resolution Centers located throughout the state. Community Mediation Services in Queens is one of them. [Disclosure: I recently began working there as a staff member.] These centers provide numerous services for families and communities, including when it comes to separation and divorce.

Yvanne Rinchere, case coordinator and court liaison, runs the Queens center’s divorce mediation program.

The program, Rinchere says, “allows couples who have decided that they are separating to have a discussion and possibly come to agreements. Parties can reach their own decisions.”

Mediation “considerably lowers the cost of divorce,” she continues, noting that divorce clients at the Queens center (and perhaps at other centers elsewhere) pay according to a sliding scale.

The program is open to anyone, pending approval after an initial screening process to determine the case’s suitability for mediation. Most cases are completed within six hours, consisting of three two-hour sessions.

The mediators, who may or may not also be lawyers, have been certified at Community Mediation Services, and have taken advanced training in divorce there. Most have been mediating with the center for more than two years, handling a variety of cases that come in. The quality of service they provide is high.

Peggy Russell, Director of Mediation Services, oversees all of the Queens center’s mediation programs, including its newest one, created to assist veterans and their families deal with interpersonal issues that frequently exist after a soldier has returned home, following a tour abroad.

In her mind, a benefit of all of the mediation programs is that the cases are less contentious than those battled in the courts.

“The process is more focused on maintaining relationships within families. Mediation is self-determinative; you get to decide what is best for you, your children and your family, and not the court.”

“Litigation seems to me about taking sides, whereas mediation offers the opportunity to work together rather than against each other, and to speak for yourself rather than have an attorney speak for you,” Russell adds.

Andrea Hirshman, Esq., is a mediator who has handled Community Mediation Services cases. She says that participants are “happy to have a place to be heard, to have time and space to say what is important to them, and have the other one hear it,” without that resulting in a battle.

“People can get the emotional relief that they’re looking for, as well as lasting agreements because they come to their decisions on their own,” she says. “People expect the legal system to right the emotional injustices. That does not happen, and so they become and remain bitter, and mediation can avoid that.”

One woman who went through mediation said it was an unexpected positive experience.

“I didn’t think [mediation] would work for us, we were both so hurt and angry,” but the mediator helped us talk about the future, what we each needed, and to keep thinking about what is best for our son,” she shares. “It worked for us.”

Community Dispute Resolution Centers can be an invaluable resource. Find one at www.nycourts.gov/ip/adr/ProgramList.shtml.

Contact Community Mediation Services’ Yvanne Rinchere at (718) 523–6868 or yrinchere@mediatenyc.org.

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 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.