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Getting a divorce is a giant step for both parties, and the way you work out the terms and conditions of the settlement will have a major impact on your lives (and the lives of your children if you have any) going forward. When marriages are dissolved through the court system, those involved tend to take a “cookie cutter” approach to the settlement process, using pre-determined formulas that may be good in theory, but are not always the most practical or beneficial for every couple.

One of the reasons I love my job as a Professional Divorce Mediator is that I have the opportunity to help couples think outside of the common limitations of traditional litigation and develop customized solutions that are designed to effectively address their individual circumstances. I understand that divorce is a painful time and it was not the intended result when you began your marriage. But when you reach the point when this is your only option, you should be able to create a settlement that is addresses your needs, not the pre-conceived ideas of the court.

There are many areas of the settlement where you might benefit from thinking outside the box a little bit. For example, the court says that there should be an equitable or perhaps a 50/50 split of your marital assets, but this does not always work for both spouses. Recently, I worked with a couple with unique needs in this area. One of the spouses needed more liquid capital in the short term to help finance the purchase of a home. So we came to an agreement in which one party traded a portion of the couple’s retirement assets for assets that could be liquidated immediately without penalty.

The need for customization of asset division can also come into play when there is a business involved. For example, if the business was started and built by one spouse, and the other has little to do with it (and wants nothing to do with it going forward), it may not make sense to divide the business 50/50 (and if it’s a partnership with other owners outside the family, there may be buy/sell agreements preventing such a scenario).

In a case like this, the best thing to do might be to give one spouse full ownership of the business, and the other a comparable amount of the remaining assets. This is often difficult, however, because it is hard to put a true value on a business, and there may not always be enough non-business assets to fully compensate the other spouse. To make up for the disparity in assets, more creativity may be required, such as an agreement for the business-owning spouse to make cash payments to the other spouse for a set period of time until they are fully compensated. The amount of compensation can be negotiated after understanding the needs of the other party.
There are numerous circumstances in which creativity may be required to reach a divorce settlement that is most beneficial for all parties.

In divorce mediation, we take a collaborative (rather than combative) approach in which both sides work toward a win/win settlement. As a Professional Divorce Mediator, I represent neither side; I am an impartial third party that is there to guide the couple to the most favorable outcome possible. When a couple can exit their marriage civilly, feeling that their needs were met  and in a position to pursue their future goals, I know I have done my job.

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