For family lawyers, adding pro se mediation to the menu of services they already provide is a smart business decision that can also be fulfilling and rewarding.
By Helen Stein, Family Lawyer
An increasing number of couples today are choosing an uncontested approach to divorce. Even more, increasing are the numbers of pro se contested divorce cases filed each year. The reasons for this are many, including the acrimony sometimes inherent in the divorce court battle, the potentially adverse effect the divorce process has on children, and probably the greatest reason is the financial cost of hiring two attorneys or the costs of a prolonged divorce litigation.
It is particularly noticed in light of the economic challenges we have seen these past years, that couples facing divorce are seeking less-expensive options to help them dissolve the marriage. Clearly, as the number of pro se filings increase each year, there is a demonstrated need for affordable and perhaps less stressful divorce services, and therefore a growing market of unrepresented spouses for the family lawyer to serve. Family lawyers may find that offering to these potential clients the option for a pre-suit, pro se mediated divorce, where the two spouses can hire one attorney serving as their mediator, is beneficial not only for the clients, but also will enhance his or her practice.
Increase Client Base through Pro Se Mediation
The opportunity to increase the client base an attorney serves has noticeable financial benefits. In addition, many attorneys find career satisfaction in conducting cooperative process divorces, either as a mediator or collaborative attorney. Unlike the attorney as representative, an attorney as mediator is in a position to help the couple together as they make the difficult transition from married to not married. These attorneys are not constrained by the usual ethical obligation to represent either one or the other of the parties involved.
The benefits of mediation are generally known, and such benefits are more pronounced in divorce where the issues are often personal and private in nature, they involve one family often share common goals or interests, and the items (or children) at issue “belong” to both parties and will, at the conclusion be divided and shared. Thus, when you offer your clients the option to hire you as their mediator, pro se, serving both of them as parties to the divorce, you provide the following advantages.
Empowering Clients Through Communication
The pro se mediation is collaborative; it occurs in a “safe” and private environment where the participants are empowered to discuss their concerns. The attorney mediator provides expertise and guidance on the legal and non-legal issues with which the couple is faced, resulting in a legally sound marital settlement agreement, containing the AGREED terms of the final court order of divorce. The resulting court order is based upon communication between the parties themselves. Research shows that those who have been heard are more likely to feel satisfied having accepted the results, and more likely to adhere later to the terms of agreement.
Many attorney/mediators report a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when they have been able to help the couple achieve a divorce by agreement.
For many divorcing couples, the option to use pro se attorney/mediation to dissolve their legal relationship is a welcome resource for an affordable and legally wise approach that also promotes a positive transition, rather than the ingredients for a more expensive and potentially prolonged process. For families with children, research shows that how parents go about the process of divorce is the most important factor in predicting success for their children. By offering the option, attorneys have the unique opportunity to assist families as their new foundation is formed for the post-divorce relationship.
Helen Stein is an attorney licensed in Florida and New York; a Florida state-certified mediator in dependency, family and circuit civil law; and a Collaborative Family Law Institute member. She opened a mediation business in 2005, which later became affiliated with Divorce Without War®. Helen is co-owner and President of Divorce Without War USA, which is currently franchising offices throughout the US. DivorceWithoutWar.com