The chupah's been tastefully decorated, the ketubah signed. The bride is beautiful, the groom terribly handsome. The guests are smiling broadly and everything, including the food and flowers, are just as they should be.
But that was years ago. Today, divorce is in the works, and everything's turned ugly.
The feuding and fighting have been going on for far too long, the lawyer fees are escalating at an alarming rate, and it seems almost like a no-win situation.
Is it? Absolutely not, according to Jon Ostroff, an attorney and founder and president of DivorceDoneRight, Inc. He says that "having endured 21/2 years of contentious divorce litigation myself, only to have it resolved after two months of mediation, I knew I had found a need that had to be filled. I felt compelled to help other families avoid the same emotional trauma that I went through. And so I thought, through our mediators, I could help both sides win."
The business, launched in 2006 and located throughout the Delaware Valley, consists of nine divorce and custody mediators. Ostroff claims that while family mediation is common in other parts of the country, it's not as often used in the Delaware Valley.
Mediation is a tested, more sensitive approach to separation and divorce, and provides partners the opportunity to negotiate mutually beneficial agreements that include property settlement, spousal support, child support and custody, according to Judith Drasin, chairman of the Philadelphia Bar Association's Family Law Section.
Yet, she agrees, many lawyers do not recommend mediation for several reasons.
"First of all," she explains, "many attorneys consider it a threat to their business. They simply don't understand it, although at this point they should, because it's a way of cooling down the temperature of conflict and creating a cooperative manner in which the two parties can resolve the tensions between them."
To be sure, the style of mediation used at DivorceDoneRight and other firms that get involved in mediation allows divorcing couples or parents living apart a voice and control over the process of identifying, discussing, and hopefully resolving all their issues with less pain, cost and time, Ostroff points out.
"Couples don't usually come in holding hands, but if we can break through their conflict and resolve all the issues with the least amount of malice and contention, think how wonderful that is. In most cases, if the couple can sit down and agree to be in the same room, we're headed in the right direction."
Options and Consequences
Samantha Evian, an attorney with the Center City law firm of Spector, Gadon and Rosen, specializes in family law, and explains that the firm's clients will sometimes go to a mediator while in the process of their divorce.
A mediator, she explains, is a neutral party trained to help couples resolve the inevitable disputes that arise during separation. Although not a substitute for an attorney, the mediator helps the couple explore all options and their consequences.
"At the end of the mediation," continues Evian, "the mediator will prepare what is called a memorandum of understanding that summarizes the agreements reached in the process.
"The ideal situation for those seeking out a mediator is when there's a modest estate involved, or when needing to solve the problem of parenting time. It is a very cost-effective way of handling the problems and resolving the issues to avoid extensive litigation and going to court, which can be extremely expensive.
"It can also be used to avoid the emotional costs involved in separation and divorce as well."
Ostroff says that DivorceDoneRight offers mediation for the entire spectrum of family disputes. Divorcing couples can mediate custody, distribution of assets, alimony, child support and any other issues they choose to address. Parents who never married can use mediation to address custody issues. Same-sex couples can also use mediation to address the myriad of issues that arise in dissolving their relationship.
Another plus in mediation, these attorneys point out, is that instead of having an attorney in the courtroom who is paid by the hour, which can be very costly, you have a mediator whose sole job is to resolve the issues.
And perhaps the most important thing any mediating party can do to ensure a satisfying and successful experience, concludes Drasin, agreeing with Ostroff and Evian, is to prepare for the mediation discussions by seeking clarity as to individual desired outcomes and perceived standards of fairness.
"Being able to listen to the other party's point of view, even when you don't agree with it, will allow you to develop options that meet both of your needs."