You and your spouse come to the realization that the relationship is no longer working for both of you. Whatever path you traveled to get to this point, whether it was a long and tumultuous journey or a clean and quick break, you are now faced with that word: divorce. Together, you both have figured out the general framework for who gets what, and taken care of assigning responsibility for payment of any debts, but may need help making sure that you have covered all of the details. You want to make sure the agreement you made at your kitchen table will be binding and that you understand all of the terms.
Neither of you wants to go through the grueling process and massive expense of litigation…and for what? You rent your home, you don’t have children or maybe they’re already out of the house. Does that mean you should navigate the divorce course on your own?
There is an approach which helps you to make sure you have covered all of the relevant details and that you have made a legally binding agreement. It’s called the “Kitchen Table” approach. It is an effective alternative to the expensive process of litigation, with the invaluable benefit of hiring a professional attorney-mediator with experience in divorce. This approach is generally for those couples who can amicably communicate face-to-face with each other about finances, support issues, and other fairly sensitive topics that come up during a divorce.
The “Kitchen Table” approach aims to keep the divorce process simple and amicable. It is essential to this process that you find an experienced attorney- mediator who you trust and with whom you feel comfortable discussing personal issues. After you have selected the right mediator, you and your spouse will meet with the mediator to review your informal agreement.
During this meeting, the couple and the mediator will go through a checklist of the issues which need to be addressed to dissolve the marriage. This process helps the couple address ALL issues, especially those issues that may not be obvious on the surface, to ensure that the couple has addressed everything. For example, when discussing the distribution of retirement funds, what may seem like a simple 50/50 split, can become complicated or unfair when the assets are not comparable. It is crucial to find out about the nature of the funds, their value and what options are available. Some common underdeveloped marital issues that generally require further detail in an agreement are pre and post retirement survivor benefits, ensuring continuous health coverage, accounting for all expenses for both parties when calculating spousal support and structuring support to maximize the benefit. These are all parts to the puzzle of dividing assets in a way that is fair to each individual. Bringing in an experienced mediator ensures that you are maximizing your assets to the benefit of both parties while safeguarding yourself from future pitfalls.
Once you have gone through all of the marital issues, discussed your individual needs, and decided how you want to divide your assets you are ready to move to the last and final step: drafting and filing of the divorce documents with the court. During this stage, it is important to understand that the attorney-mediator you select cannot represent both you and your spouse in your divorce. For that reason it is recommended that each party have an independent attorney review the terms of the agreement.
The work you did at your kitchen table is important. The process you choose should honor your commitment to an amicable and cost efficient divorce.
* Deborah Wayne would like to thank Elysia Fedorczyk, a recent Pace Law School graduate, for her assistance with this piece.