FAQs ABOUT MEDIATION TO STAY MARRIED/Laurie Israel, Esq.

Posted on December 4, 2010

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Mediation to Stay Married (also known as Marital Mediation) is a method of helping
couples who are experiencing marital problems and who would prefer to stay together
rather than get divorced.
What is the difference between Mediation to Stay Married and Marital Mediation?

Marital Mediation is a term used by many mediators to mean mediation with a married
couple that is trying to stay married, but it also means divorce mediation to some people.
Sometimes people enter Marital Mediation who are not sure whether or not they will be
divorcing, so the term is quite neutral. Mediation to Stay Married is mediation with an
intent or aim to try to work out problems in the marriage that the couple is suffering over.
How does Mediation to Stay Married work?

Mediation to Stay Married does not seek to delve deeply into the past or interpersonal,
psychological issues of the couple (or its individual members.) Through Mediation to
Stay Married, the couple can develop concrete plans or modes of action that can be
helpful to address their marital problems. The couple sees a trained mediator (often a
practicing attorney or a mental health professional who has mediation training), who
uses short-term dispute resolution techniques to provide help in breaking impasses and
in improving the couple’s interpersonal communication skills. Sometimes using a “new
horse” gives a couple the extra push it needs to get over a difficult period and to move
forward to the next step in their marriage.
What is the difference between Mediation to Stay Married and marital counseling?

Marital counseling is performed by a mental health professional and involves therapeutic
analysis and insights. While very useful to many couples at times during their marriage,
often a couple finds that marital counseling does not produce results, despite the skill of
the marriage counselor or the integrity of the process. Mediation to Stay Married is a
practical method that relies on dispute resolution techniques. If performed by an
attorney, the couple can be assisted by legal-based knowledge and options, from which
the couple may benefit. Mediators with other backgrounds (mental health, employment,
etc.) will bring their special skills and training to the process. The benefit of Mediation to
Stay Married is that it can sometimes help people move forward to the next step in their
marriage.
Why see a Marital Mediator rather than a Divorce Mediator?

People often “jump the gun” when they are having marital problems. Their minds
immediately go to the idea of divorce, because they see and know of no other option.
Mediation to Stay Married (also known as “Marital Mediation”) helps a couple envision a
positive future and possible result for them if they stay together and have a (potentially)
happy marriage, rather than proceeding to a divorce. It’s a matter of “envisioning” the
possibility. What people often don’t know is that marriage skills can be taught and
learned. The difference between a marriage that lasts and one that breaks down is
generally the success of this learning process.
Why see a lawyer/mediator for Mediation to Stay Married?
Many marital problems (especially in more “mature” marriages) flow from financial
disputes and insecurities. Mediators who are practicing attorneys are often in a good
position to analyze finances, understand legal options, and assist the couple in finding
concrete solutions about their financial problems. It may be helpful to use a lawyer/
mediator who has knowledge in the following areas: divorce, tax law, estate planning,
business law, or a combination of these.
Is it helpful to see a mediator for Mediation to Stay Married who is a mental health
professional?
Yes. Mediators who are psychotherapists and counselors can be extremely helpful in
assisting couples in distress. For Mediation to Stay Married, it is preferable that the
mediator be experienced in divorce mediation. Often a couple will see a mediator at the
same time they are seeing a couples’ counselor or are seeing a therapist individually. It
is good to use as many techniques as are effective. Couples can also receive help from
mediators who are not attorneys or mental health professionals when experiencing
marital problems.
Will the mediation process teach us new ways to relate to each other?

Yes. Many couples in divorce mediation have said that if they had known what they
learned about conflict resolution in their divorce mediation while they were married, they
would not have needed to get divorced. As Mediation to Stay Married progresses, the
couple learns to use new techniques to address conflict in their own marriage. They will
have another tool in their “marital toolbox” as they go forward.
Does Mediation to Stay Married result in a written agreement?
Not always. Some couples would like a written memorialization (i.e., Postnuptial
Agreement or a Memorandum of Understanding) of what they have agreed to in
Mediation to Stay Married. This can be a template for them while going forward in their
marriage. Some couples feel that the verbal understanding is enough and that a written
agreement would be too intrusive.
Is a Postnuptial Agreement legally valid and binding in the future?

The legal status of Postnuptial Agreements is somewhat unclear, and depends on what
state you live in. In Massachusetts, it is likely that under the correct facts and
circumstances, a properly conceived and fairly written Postnuptial Agreement (like a
prenuptial agreement) can be valid in case of a divorce. More importantly, the
Agreement can set the couple on a path towards reconciliation and clarity over issues
that are troubling them and can help prevent divorce.
What types of issues can be dealt with in Mediation to Stay Married?
Many marriages (especially more lengthy marriages) fail due to financial problems and
concerns. Issues of contribution (monetary and otherwise) have a huge impact on the
viability and happiness of marriages. A job loss or a bankruptcy can make a couple
distrustful of each other, to the point at which the marriage is at risk. Or, an inheritance
can be imminent at a time when a marriage is experiencing problems. Mediation to Stay
Married can also be used to heal a marriage in the case of infidelity and problems with
children. It is also extremely helpful to address the “garden variety” conflict that arises
from time to time in all marriages.
What other kinds of problems lend themselves to Mediation to Stay Married?

A couple may have gotten married without entering into a Prenuptial Agreement in a
case where that type of agreement might have been very useful, such as a marriage
where one or both of the parties have children from a previous marriage. A couple may
have different spending habits and styles which are making them very angry at each
other. Or one of the spouses may be an entrepreneurial risk-taker, while the other may
be more financially conservative. A couple may be driven apart by a renovation or job
losses. Couples with these and other financially-based fact patterns can sometimes be
greatly helped by Mediation to Stay Married.
Is it sometimes helpful for a married couple in trouble to get information about
divorce?

Yes. Often people are completely unrealistic about divorce and what life after a divorce
will be like. There are two areas of confusion – one is that a divorce will solve their
problems. The other misconception is what the financial result of a divorce will be. Most
divorcing couples have a highly unrealistic view on what life will be post-divorce based
on totally false facts. A reality check can be very helpful before a couple makes
irrevocable steps to divorce.
What does contribution have to do with marriage?

Contribution (financial or otherwise) has everything to do with marriage, and also
everything to do with divorce. If one party feels he or she is carrying the weight of
responsibilities, the marriage will be detrimentally affected. Mediation to Stay Married
can work on these perceptions and sometimes help resolve these issues.
Why see a mediator rather than a mental health professional?

Utilizing Mediation to Stay Married is not a choice of one method over another. A
troubled couple should use all the resources they can. If one or both of the parties
suffers from depression, addiction, or other problems, individual counseling is clearly
indicated. Couples can also get great help from marital counselors, and if they have not
been helped by a series of marital counseling sessions at one point in their marriage,
they may be helped the second (or third) time they try it. Sometimes a few little kernels
of knowledge gained by the couple’s efforts in all directions will provide the help they
need to overcome a problem that is causing their marriage to break down.
Are books on marriage useful?

Yes, definitely. Books can be obtained through searches on Amazon.com (new books)
and Alibris.com (used books). It is amazing how people (especially younger people in a
new marriage) throw up their hands when they encounter marriage problems. People
sometimes give more attention to their hobbies than to their marriage. Just like for
hobbies, the necessary skills for a successful marriage are definitely obtainable through
books. My personal favorite books for assisting clients are The Relationship Handbook,
by George Pransky and Taking the War Out of Our Words, by Sharon Strand Ellison.
Is marriage always difficult?

Yes, marriage is always difficult at times. But, if everyone left their marriage at tough
times, there would be no lifetime marriages in existence.
Are lifetime marriages worth it?
Successful lifetime marriages have a great depth and beauty. Unlike the divorce
attorney ads that are now appearing (“Life is Short, Get Divorced”), most people find that
if they divorce, they just repeat their old patterns with the next spouse. Many divorced
people have said to me, “If I knew then what I know now about marriage, I would have
made my first marriage successful.” Having a lifetime of memories to draw upon with a
partner (of the good times and the bad times) is an incalculable and very precious gift.

Laurie Israel is a lawyer/mediator practicing in Brookline, Massachusetts. She helps
people resolve their disputes with dignity, integrity and creativity.

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