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Getting a divorce? Why one family court judge advocates mediation

MILWAUKEE -- An estimated 70 percent of divorcing couples come to court with no legal representation. They are self-represented to the dismay of many judges.

Judge Michael Dwyer

Judge Michael Dwyer

"They don't know what to do, and they basically sort of said to me 'you know judge, we just want to do what's right.' To which I say 'oh, well that's not how the system works,'" Milwaukee County Family Court Judge Michael Dwyer said.

Dwyer says some couples have no idea how to divide their assets or other complicated issues that need to be settled.

Divorce is a tedious process, producing a file full of paperwork with information that each party is responsible for.

Dwyer says cases where there are no children and the parties are of limited financial means settle quickly because there really is not much to fight about.

Many couples choose not to hire separate representation because of the cost and fear of losing control of the process. But Dwyer says many need help, outside of making the courts decide. He advocates mediation.

"To me, the court system is set up for two people to fight, and fight as long as possible -- which is expensive," Dwyer said.

Joe and Kelly Cavaratta

Joe and Kelly Cavaratta

Joe and Kelly Cavaratta, the parents of two children, chose that route when they decided to get a divorce. They went to the Family Mediation Center.

"The whole divorce process is an overwhelming process and I'd say that mediation just helps you break it down, look at one piece at a time," Kelly Cavaratta said.

At the center, couples are educated about the process, the law that pertains to divorce, and what documents are required. The center even has financial and psychological partners to help couples and their children.

Family Mediation Center

Family Mediation Center

A neutral lawyer mediator jointly assists a couple every step of the way to help them reach their own agreement.

"It wasn't left in the hands of the court to decide. I mean, we agreed on this. This is ours. We worked through this. We knew what was fair," Kelly Cavaratta said.

But to get to fairness -- couples have to communicate -- a lot, including working through and past the anger.

Family Mediation Center

"We know for sure that conflict, parental conflict harms children and the harm is significant and permanent," Dwyer said.

"They have to work together if they love their children because they're going to be parents and going to be a family for the rest of their life," Susan Hansen, co-founder of the Family Mediation Center said.

"We are still a family. We're just restructuring, reworking how it looks," Kelly Cavaratta said.

Joe and Kelly Cavaratta

Joe and Kelly Cavaratta

Psychologists like Casey Holtz assist couples, especially those with children.

"Oftentimes, through a process with me, they're going to get focused on what they have to do relationally to make things better, divorced or not," Holtz said.

"And when you put the children to the forefront, and that's what we chose to do. They're the most important piece," Kelly Cavaratta said.

According to Hansen, some couples have a change of heart because they've never communicated so well through this process.

"We tend to see that there are some couples who rethink that decision of divorce as they get past some of the hurt or anger that brought them there. So the communication to me is essential," Hansen said.

Many couples become divorce "do-it-yourselfers" because of the cost of lawyers and the desire to retain control.

Unfortunately, a mistake can quickly eliminate any cost savings.

"Because if you have issues later, you're going to hire lawyers. You're going to be back in court and it can actually be much more expensive," Hansen said.

Divorce

Mediation is less costly than separate representation -- and educates couples about the court process: Their options, child issues, financial issues, legal concerns and legal effects of decisions so they can make their own agreements.

But mediation is not for everyone.

There are some couples who cannot be in a room together. It could be safety reasons or simply that their is too much hurt and anger to sit in a room and be willing to communicate.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the Family Mediation Center.


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3 comments

  • Popcorn

    My ex-wife and I went through a difficult divorce in 1994/1995. At that time, spiteful stubbornness was allowed to be a roadblock to any chance at effective “court-ordered” mediation. The judge/commissioner ordered us to mediation. Being ordered to mediation meant that we were required to attend just one initial mediation “session.” In Milwaukee County, that one “session” consisted of at least a dozen divorcing couples seated in a classroom type setting, each person seemingly choosing to sit as far apart from their counterpart as possible, to watch a video explaining what mediation was. At the end, each person was able to indicate on a sign-out sheet whether or not they would like to continue with mediation (well, actually to BEGIN mediation, as this initial “session” was unproductive and included NO actual “mediation”). If either party, or both, indicated that they did not want to continue with mediation, no further sessions – not even ONE private session – took place. My wife chose not to continue with mediation. So much for “court-ordered” mediation. I was hoping that, in a private session, the mediator would have been able to convince my wife to continue with mediation, explaining how our divorce, specifically, could benefit from continued mediation. Maybe my ex-wife’s stubbornness was too extreme for even a private mediation session to overcome, but we were never given the chance to find out.

    • John

      I have an idea – Why not avoid all of this nonsense by never getting married in the first place. Why allow the government and the courts into your personal life. Why allow all of these vultures (e.g., lawyers, mediators, social workers, psychologists, etc.) dip into your pocket and bankrupt you simply because you are breaking up with your significant other. Advice to men – Marriage is simply a legal document that imposes the state’s power over your personal life and finances. Don’t do it under any circumstances. If you love your partner and she loves you then the relationship will last. If it does not last then you can walk away with nobody telling you what to do with your money, your home, your retirement accounts, your Harley, your car, etc. Never ever get married. It is merely a system designed to re-distribute hard earned wealth from one person to the other person and to the vultures in system that facilitate the extortion. Avoid the nightmare all together by simply never signing a marriage license, period. Once you break up the love of your life will likely turn into a greedy money grabber with a sense of entitlement that now views you only as a source of cash. If you want children then I still recommend that a man never get married, ensure that the mother is, at all times, working a full time job and earns at least as much as you, and document her earnings and work schedule so that if you do split up you have a fighting chance at 50/50 placement and no child support payments due to equal earning potential. If you have kids with a woman that “stays home” or does not have your earning capability, you are setting yourself up for draconian child support payment (i.e., “mommy support”) and virtually no rights as a father. Do not marry and do not turn into a child support ATM that some ex and the system of vultures milks dry and puts in the poor house. Take control of your lives and your happiness boys. Live free. Never let this draconian family court system take control of your life and turn you into a slave.

  • EricMRussell

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