“Someday” and “Maybe” Numbers: The Challenge of Dividing Retirement Assets Part 3

“Someday” and “Maybe” Numbers: The Challenge of Dividing Retirement Assets Part 3 by Rachel Alexander{4:00 minutes to read} In Part 2, we discussed marital vs non-marital retirement assets and how some of those assets require an actuary or other expert to figure out the “present value” before the asset can be divided.

We now arrive here: How do folks equitably divide these assets? Particularly because the present value doesn’t actually exist in a divisible form. It’s a theoretical, projected number!

Below are some popular options:

QDRO (NJ QDRO Overview)

A court order goes to the plan administrator, directing it to divide the asset in the way set forth in the order. This method avoids any tax consequences pursuant to this division at the time it is made. When the plan participant retires, each party receives a monthly sum directly from the plan administrator, as if each had a separate pension. Once this is complete, the parties need not have contact with one another regarding distribution as the administrator manages this directly with each party.

Offset Against Other Assets

Sometimes parties chose not to divide the retirement asset at all, and instead trade its value against another asset. For example, maybe there’s $200,000 of equity in the marital home (the husband and wife each entitled to $100,000) and $200,000 present value in the pension to which each party would be entitled to $100,000. The husband might keep the pension and wife keep the marital home. Admittedly, these are different asset classes; however, part of equitable distribution is not just halving the baby but identifying workable solutions aligned with the family’s particular needs and choices at the time.

Life Insurance Policy

A bit more creative, instead of dividing the pension at the time of divorce, the parties agree that when it is in payout status, the recipient will pay a portion to the alternate payee directly, perhaps as alimony or equitable distribution, depending upon tax consequences and legal restrictions. Parties might choose this option for two reasons:

  1. The monthly amount is not discounted by the administrator, the way it would be if it was divided into two separate pensions pursuant to a QDRO.
  2. The parties avoid the costs of a QDRO, which, though not significant, can increase the costs and timetable of the divorce.

To compensate for the risk taken by the alternate payee – one of which is that the participant spouse dies before reaching the date of pension payout, forfeiting the entire pension – the participant will obtain a life insurance policy benefitting the alternate spouse in an amount that will replace the pension payments in the event of the participant’s death. Having the life insurance covering at least some of the risk is an essential part of this approach.


Informed decisions make for better agreements and a better night’s sleep. Knowing the values of assets, even if you ultimately wish to waive any interest you have in them, is good practice. It helps with clarity and can inform other aspects of your agreement. Divorce is laden with pitfalls that can lead to regrets, nausea and insomnia. In my opinion, taking the additional time and making the investment to learn the values of potentially significant assets can help people sidestep all three.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

“Someday” and “Maybe” Numbers: The Challenge of Dividing Retirement Assets – Part 2

“Someday” and “Maybe” Numbers - Part 2 by Rachel Alexander{4:00 minutes to read} Just because we determine a value for something does not mean we divide it! Often spouses are concerned that the mere mention of an asset puts it on the auction block and forfeits their exclusive rights to it. Not so!

Getting a comprehensive picture and value of ALL assets is an important part of creating a solid settlement agreement. An agreement should even specify assets whose separate nature is undisputed, with the other party waiving any rights, title or interest thereto. Full disclosure helps an agreement stand – stopping either party from claiming he entered into the agreement without full knowledge of the vital facts upon which he relied.

Retirement assets can be complex; difficult to understand and value. Determining the portion of an asset that is actually subject to equitable distribution is one of the intricacies parsed out below.

Marital vs Non-Marital

If the parties were married for the entire time the participant [in the retirement plan] worked and the pension plan was in effect, its whole value is marital, and the “alternate” spouse will be entitled to an equitable share. Depending on multiple factors, including the length of the marriage, this share could be as much as 50%.

Sometimes a portion of the pension was premarital.

If, for example, the plan participant worked for 5 years prior to the marriage, the portion earned during those 5 years is premarital. That means it is separate property and not subject to equitable distribution.

However, how do you determine the premarital value of the 5 years of pension? You cannot simply look at its value on the date of the marriage! Stay with me here. Because early contributions accrue interest, that interest is also separate property and needs to be valued.

So if a plan is worth $10,000 at the date of marriage, you can’t simply subtract $10,000 from the total as the nonmarital portion – you must also see what the gains on the $10,000 were for the length of the marriage until the filing of the complaint. How was the $10,000 invested? How did each of those funds perform over the 5 years? This requires analysis! The $10,000 might actually be worth $30,000. This is not visible to the naked eye.

The eye of the actuary, however, is greater than 20/20!

So, to summarize: the pre-marital portion must be qualified, backed out, and then a present value given for the marital portion. Defined benefit plans, usually pensions, are complex assets that typically require the expertise of an actuary to properly value.

What does the actuary do?

An actuary (or other expert such as a forensic accountant) must read the pension statement, annual benefits description, and Summary Plan Description (SPD) to understand the benefits. She will look at dates of birth of both parties, date of marriage, actuarial tables, life expectancy for the beneficiary and the alternate beneficiary. Then, the expert will provide a present value and, if necessary, the marital and non-marital shares of the asset.

In the final Part of this series, we will talk about some popular options that divorcing couples use to divide assets with a theoretical “present value.”

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

“Someday” and “Maybe” Numbers: The Challenge of Dividing Retirement Assets – Part 1

“Someday” and “Maybe” Numbers: The Challenge of Dividing Retirement Assets - Part 1 by Rachel Alexander{2:48 minutes to read}

“Hands off,” decries one spouse, “I worked for this, not you. Back off, you lazy sot!”

Retirement Assets

While I loathe being the bearer of what could be received as bad news: assets earned during the marriage are marital property and subject to equitable distribution. This includes assets earned directly from the efforts of just one party. This asset class includes retirement savings plans, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and pensions (both defined contribution plans, and defined benefit plans). Often, these assets are complex and require professional valuations in order to glean their true, marital value.

One party might say: “Sure, I have a pension. It says I’ll get $1,800 every month, when I’m 62! I’m only 45 now, and can’t touch anything. Plus, what if I don’t retire? What if I lose my job or get laid off or worse? I might get nothing. How can I give you part of something I may never receive?”

This is true, however, we must widen our lens to take in the whole picture and the concept of…

Present Value

Participants usually receive pension statements that state projected monthly payments as of a certain age of retirement. In order to equitably distribute marital assets, we must calculate their “present value.” Present value means an asset’s current worth; that is, what it would have to equal today (e.g. $470,000) in order for it to produce a particular projected monthly amount (e.g. $1,800) down the road, say, in 17 years. The $470,000, not the $1,800 per month, is the amount we have to divide in a divorce.

Confusing? Yes. Particularly because we are no longer working with real numbers. We have entered the mysterious, worrisome and sometimes Escherian world of mathematical possibilities. A world of “maybe numbers” assembled from actuarial charts of life expectancy and statistical probability. To make sense of this world, we need the expertise of an actuary.

What are the actual values? What about the portion earned before the marriage or after we filed for divorce? And how do we divide these assets?

Excellent questions!! Stay tuned for Part 2!

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

Anger & Vitriol – and What to Do About Them in Divorce

Anger & Vitriol—And What To Do About Them in Divorce by Rachel Alexander{6:12 minutes to read) Yes, you’re mad as hell and you’re not gonna take it anymore! That’s what divorce is for. While it’s a normal reaction to refuse, resist and rebel against a divorce that wasn’t wanted, or make a final stand against all the inequities suffered in the marriage gone off track, this—this spot of hostility and righteous indignation—is not a place to set up camp and most certainly is not a location from which to act!

Anger and even hatred of the other spouse may result in:

  • Rigamortus of the spirit, inflexible and uncompromising behavior akin to a child holding her breath or refusing to eat supper
  • Refusal to participate in the new family structure
  • Reluctance to make compromises in the interest of the kids
  • Deliberately abstaining from actions that would soften the new circumstances and remediate the down side of the divorce
  • Staging a demonstration as to how much lack and deprivation are now a part of life due to their spouse’s bad acts or decision to divorce

When a spouse is so overtaken with anger that he enters a self-destructive state, determining that everyone, including his children, must suffer the impact of the divorce, immediate intervention is needed. When a spouse is so enraged that she will blindly set aside even her self interest in order to punish the other, help must be sought!

Divorce is not Medea.

No good comes from taking everyone down with you, nor of going down yourself.

This is where you may need to reach into that heroic portion of yourself, the part of you labeled “parent.”

Sanity First

The first intervention: acknowledgement. Intense emotions such as anger and grief overcome our abilities to reason. This is a physiological reality. Flooding emotions can sometimes have us denying what is and responding with intransigence (a “freeze” response). The first action is not to combat this, but rather to notice it, including how difficult and unwanted the feelings and circumstances are. Without this essential step—this acknowledgement of what is—change is impossible. The first task is not to cure anything, or force anything away, but simply to notice the “unwanted” that is there. Then transformation becomes not only possible but organic.

Save money: feel first. Getting on stable emotional footing, and permitting your spouse whatever time he needs to do the same, before starting the divorce process, benefits not only your wellness, but your wallet. When your emotions are somewhat calmed and contained, you can consider them while utilizing your problem-solving, solution-oriented self. You see things more as they are. You navigate complex issues and consider those involved in and affected by your choices.

When emotion has hijacked the aircraft of you, you are flying blind. And more likely to go down with the craft!

When people use the legal process to vent or act out their emotional life, they will be dissatisfied, and poor. The legal setting is not equipped to provide psychological support or help in processing difficult emotions. The legal setting is often even insufficient to handle legal matters, much less personality disorders. There are no adequate legal remedies for what Wordsworth called those “thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.” (Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood). Legal remedies only reach so far, and usually not into the shaded places that most need healing. Therefore, when parties attend to themselves with good support outside of and in addition to their legal counsel, they are well served.

When clients skimp on support and their attorneys or mediators become their de facto, default confidant, soother, and emotional regulator, counsel fees can become exorbitant. It is not that attorneys don’t play many roles, dipping in and out of them in order to care for and serve their clients. It is that when clients are underserved in necessary areas, the attorneys will step up and step in, and rightly billing for their time and attention to do so.

Be here now rather than being immovable.

While making one’s point is human, it is neither necessary nor attractive. There is no way to harm your children’s parent without harming your children. And there is no way to injure your kids without hurting yourself. Whatever your wreckage, you will likely be the one repairing it. When you manage your anger, disappointment, depression, terror, you also become a better parent and example for your children as to how one manages life’s difficulties.

Your dislike of the current situation mustn’t cause you to take actions that will transmit your hostility to your children—of course they don’t deserve it, but importantly, they are unequipped to healthily manage it. Care for yourself, then take care of your divorce, in that order. In this way, you protect your kids, your assets, yourself. There are possibilities in every reordering and change. They are there, even if as yet unseen.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

The Mediator Will See You Now…

The Mediator Will See You Now... by Rachel Alexander

{4:18 minutes to read} Often, with the best intentions, clients prepare for mediation by trying to resolve as many things as possible before setting foot in my office. They think they’re doing themselves a great service, getting a running head start. However, in my experience, the opposite is true. The time to see the mediator is immediately.

I encourage people to see me first, and after that the timeline is their own. By seeing a mediator once, you have not committed yourself to a course of treatment nor boarded an express train for divorce. Au contraire! You have gathered information. Learned of options. And relieved the burden of facing complex decisions both ill-equipped and unaccompanied.

When it comes to seeing the mediator, the sooner the better.

Even one initial mediation session saves a couple time, aggravation, and money, but it should occur before they have assembled an agreement.

1. In the Midst of Crisis. When two people are struggling in their relationship, they can be like two fighters doing that thing where it looks like they are hugging each other but really aren’t. The intervention of a third party, even the presence of an unbiased person, can help people relax and become more capable of solving problems together. Getting that intervention sooner rather than later often makes the difference in how quickly things can be resolved.

2. Accurate Information. Without a full picture of the governing law, relevant issues, rights and obligations, launching into an agreement can result in attachment to bad and misinformed decisions. One of the parties typically will be fixedly committed to what was agreed, dug into something based neither in law, fact, or even the reality of their own, or their children’s, needs. It can be difficult and time consuming to loosen this grip enough so they can grasp alternatives and new information.

When you’re drowning, even an octopus may resemble a lifeline of sorts. Couples scrambling to get relief from the current discord and distress are vulnerable to glomming on to even rickety proposals, so desperate are they to glean the potential of peace.

3. Couples making all these decisions themselves and then coming into mediation and saying, “Here’s what we decided,” relegate the mediator to a position of scribe… (See The Difference Between the Mediator, the Draftsman, and Bartleby the Scrivener.) …or messenger of the bad news that what you have arrived at needs revision.

We then may have to spend a lot of time and energy explaining, unwinding, and trying to unfasten them from what they ill-fatedly committed to. This can create unhappiness when parties discover that their plan is actually unviable.

Discord can also result if one party feels misled or exploited because they find out that their agreement is actually quite unfair to them. Trust may have been compromised. It can take time to clear this bad taste from the palette.

In the first mediation session, couples are provided with a folder filled with information. If they choose to depart from mediation, they will at least do so having a framework and some tools with which to work. Clients will have several worksheets, lists of items, and guiding questions to consider.

Like going to a doctor, don’t wait until crippled with rheumatic fever. Go at the first sign of distress.

Going to a mediator sooner can help map an efficient and effective path forward.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

Sundays, Bloody Sundays

Sundays, Bloody Sundays by Rachel Alexander{4:42 minutes to read} Sundays are not known to be the bright spot of the week. Sundays, especially Sunday evenings, can be bleak for everyone, but they can be particularly difficult for the newly divorced. On Sundays, the weekend shuts its eyes, and only Monday gleams on the horizon. For most, this means a return to work or school; a putting away of our freer selves; a tucking in and straightening out in preparation for our weekday responsibilities.

My divorced and divorcing clients often note that weekends are the toughest. This is why I found the following so remarkable and hopeful.

Recently, I was mediating with a divorcing couple whose relationship was amicable and child centered. The parties, already separated, had implemented a fluid parenting plan which included coordinating their schedules so that one of them was home for the children after school. The arrangement included overlapping time and a sharing of responsibilities, such as trading off who made dinner and started with homework. Both parents parented in the children’s primary residence.

Not only did both parents see the children every day, they supported one another’s parenting efforts and considered each other’s work obligations.

While we were mapping out their shared parenting schedule, they expressed, with dread in their throats, “What about Sundays? Who is going to manage those?” Sundays were a day of scrambling to get homework done, confirming carpooling arrangements, preparing for the work week. Sundays were heavy on burden, light on joy.

How, we contemplated collectively, could we transform Sundays, or at least this family’s relationship to it?

Together, we decided that Sunday would be a transition day for custody, and that, to make the transition easier on everyone, it would be one of the nights when both parents would spend time with the kids. Then we set about structuring the day to include some order, goals, and something to look forward to. We also addressed the potential potholes of the parents having extended time together.

Here’s what we came up with:

The children would be included: If all homework is done by 5pm, they can choose the family evening activity.

Choices would include:

  • Seeing a movie of their choosing;
  • Playing board games; or
  • Cooking something together for dinner.

The value is two-fold: It incentivizes and empowers the children to take responsibility for completing their assignments before the Sunday night frenzy that parents and children often endure, and it provides the family with a structured activity which can be grounding and relaxing. Participating in a simple, defined activity together can provide an alternative to the shapeless periods that are vulnerable to dysfunctional interactions; the reopening and re-experiencing of intense, unresolved issues and emotions. A planned evening activity provides a simple format for the family to develop new dynamics. It provides a time and space to build a new normal, which can even be however loopy or normal as the family decides.

Sunday evening could actually become something to look forward to.

Simple family activities can anchor a family feeling somewhat adrift in the new living and parenting arrangements. It can make a safe place for a family feeling its way a bit in their new circumstances.

Disclaimer: This is not meant to be a global recommendation nor would this solution be responsible for every family. Each family has different wants and needs. As with all things mediation, strategies are specific to participants and their locations on their very personal processes.

However, even parents with sole custody on Sunday nights can make use of the above if they find it helpful.

Planned, enjoyable activities can change Sunday evenings from dreaded to anticipated with glee! This is an example of mediation alchemy.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

Is There Room For Other Professionals in Mediation?

Is There Room For Other Professionals in Mediation? | Rachel Alexander{3:18 minutes to read} People going through divorce often discover they need more help than they initially imagined. Not only are they divorcing, but they now need:

  • Their own health insurance;
  • Life insurance to secure child support/alimony obligations;
  • Therapy to support the period of adjustment;
  • A real estate agent to list the home or find a new one;
  • A mortgage broker to refinance the home;
  • An actuary to value and help divide pensions and other retirement assets, and so on.

Having multiple facets of life unsettled can be overwhelming and even isolating. One can feel completely out of his depth trying to address all of these complex factors at once; at a loss as to where to begin and whom to reach out to.

Divorce can feel disenfranchising and unmooring. One antidote to this experience is receiving proper support, sometimes in the form of a team.

As a divorce mediator in NJ and NY, it’s my job to understand and anticipate not only my clients’ needs but to also identify other experts to whom I can confidently refer. Instead of merely identifying a concern and leaving the client floundering in midair, I aim to connect the client with the colleague who can help.

I believe part of my job as a mediator is to acquaint myself and build relationships with other professionals in adjunct fields. These connections extend the services I can provide and further support couples through the entire divorce process.

As an attorney and mediator training in Focus Oriented Therapy, I hope to bring substantial value to the table, but I am certainly not a forensic accountant, actuary, mortgage broker or real estate agent. Notwithstanding, should a client need an insurance agent or financial planner, part of my job is to pick up the phone and match them with the right one.

Recently, a client received news of her husband’s serious medical diagnosis. Together we identified that they would be well served to speak to an eldercare attorney who specializes in financial planning in cases where rehabilitation/nursing care might be required. Had I not deliberately networked with other specialists, I might not have known about this niche speciality, much less know an individual to whom I could refer. Sometimes an introductory phone call or email is all that’s needed. Sometimes, as in this case, I will coordinate and participate in the initial meeting.

The colleagues I partner with are competent and committed. They regard my clients with the compassion that the circumstances of divorce require and that the individuals deserve.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

Why Do People Get Divorced?

Why Do People Get Divorced? | Rachel Alexander{6:12 minutes to read} First, it should be said, no one divorces lightly. No one has ever walked into my office and declared: “We heard there was a special on divorce. We weren’t considering it, but this deal is too incredible to pass up!

No one comes in because they’ve just had a bad day or are bored. Couples thinking about divorce are despairing. Divorce is an action of last resort.

Many people come to divorce after years, even decades, of bearing their situations. Some clients (and friends) have shared that they knew they had made a mistake on their wedding day, thirty years ago.

Overall, in spite of all the social, economic and inherent incentives to remain married, one or both people are up against something that supersedes all of that. The scales have tipped. Usually the relationship has turned toxic so as to erode its own integrity.

Friends, let us make no mistake, divorce is in no way the best, only or even appropriate option in every instance. Relationships are trying and require attention, commitment and patience. No one should be encouraged to abandon them at first disappointment. Our expectations of marriage and one another are often flawed. But, when a relationship—a marriage—no longer serves the two it is intended to support, staying together may not be the healthy, responsible choice. This article addresses that.


Some relationships contain a low-grade abusiveness, where parties put the other down, use sarcasm, withhold contact or communication. While no one is walloping the other or setting things on fire, nasty remarks and undermining behaviors can have the same deleterious effect over time.


Just as Mark Twain once asserted that “the coldest winter he’d ever spent was a summer in San Francisco;” the deepest loneliness can be found in a marriage that’s failing. When loneliness seems greater with a person then without, people divorce. Marriages that no longer provide connection, or physical intimacy, lose ground.


It’s usually not one incident of infidelity or the infidelity itself, but what underlies, such as chronic disrespect, emotional abandonment (on the part of one or both parties), self-centered behaviors, dishonesty, loss of trust, and so on. Often infidelities are symptoms of marital or individual issues that have gone unaddressed.

Financial Challenges

As with infidelity, it is usually not just encountering financial challenges that result in a divorce, but the way the parties are able or unable to communicate or work together and problem-solve around money issues. No one is at his best under constant stress, and the strain of ongoing money worries can erode a relationship.

Loss of Authenticity

When one can no longer be who he is and remain in the marriage. When the relationship offends someone’s sense of self in one’s life. When one feels her very life force is losing its air to the marriage, she may need to leave.

Unattended Problems

…Do not go away, and few people can let things roll off their backs easily. and few people have backs off which things easily roll. It’s usually good to find a way to address things that bother us if we are not able to dismiss them as meritless or meaningless and give them no more thought. If we get a bodily sense about something, it requires our attention.

One bad fight, or some dramatic event that is an aberration, normally does not end a marriage. However, when the same problems need addressing repeatedly, two people could be up against a significant difference that is there to stay.

I remember someone saying, “Mediation. Why would you want people to get divorced? You should be encouraging them to stay together [for the children]. Why would you want to make divorce easier?”

Because access to all care should be easier. Because there is no moral imperative compelling divorcing people to be put through a punishing process. All people who are in pain and need should be able to access a remedy without undue cost or impediment.

Divorce emerges as an option after things have unraveled, often over many years. The relationship typically is in death throes; spouses feel they have no other choice.

When there are other choices, we explore them in mediation.

Sometimes spouses adhere to the marriage based on their bonds to things other than one another. Even if the relationship is floundering or lacking, when both people have a strong investment in the system of marriage, they may well remain together. It is their way of life; there are grandchildren.

Perhaps unhappiness is the real reason that people divorce. When the relationship is identified as the cause of unhappiness or an inhibitor to happiness, people are moved to action. As well they should be.

I believe relationships are meant to support one another’s wholeness, not diminish it. I’d like to see us all move toward holding one another, and our connections to one another, in highest regard. That, in fact, might be the antidote to divorce.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

How Do We Understand Family During Divorce?

How Do We Understand Family During Divorce? | by Rachel Alexander {4:18 minutes to read} How do we understand family in a way that’s useful during divorce?

First, it’s helpful to deconstruct and decide exactly and specifically what family means to you. When you spend some time “asking into” your initial wants, you can unearth your root values.

For example, is it important to you to sleep under the same roof as your children? Of course that’s understandable, but what if we look further into it?

Gurumayi from the Siddha Yoga tradition teaches that by asking “why” of the same item again and again, we uncover its essence. That is, asking of oneself why do I want to sleep in the same home as my children? And then asking “why” of your answer, again and again, maybe a dozen times or more. Perhaps what is wanted is the experience of closeness, or of protecting, feeling safe, necessary, loving, loved…etc. Perhaps there is a wanting to be there when your little one wakes up and needs comforting. Perhaps there’s a concern for your children being soothed during the night.

Ask Yourself

Some of what is discovered in this exercise can lead you to core things that are important to you and those that hold meaning for your family. For example:

  • Family might be a sense of belonging, feeling wanted, feeling like you’re an important component in a system that depends upon you for its completeness.
  • Family might mean protecting, loving and growing.
  • Family could be tight or spacious, safe, fun, challenging.

How would you describe your idea of family?

  • If family was a room in the house, what would it look like?
  • If it was a town you are visiting, what are the laws, the atmosphere? If you were Mayor elect, what would you do for this town of yours?

What does your family already have that you value and don’t want to lose?

  • What is your family like when it’s at its best?
  • What is everyone doing, saying, wearing, discussing?
  • How are you interacting and what are you like when you are most connected and fully yourself?

Divorce presents the opportunity for determining what family can be for you. Rather than being confined, even tormented, by ideas unconsciously inherited, why not proactively choose the family you want to be!

Avoid getting fixed on what isn’t, because you may miss what is, and what is emerging.

Ask the Kids

Perhaps ask your kids what family means to them and what is most important and how they’d like it to be now, given the new situation. How would you like it to be when mom and I are at soccer together? What would you love for dinner when you’re at dad’s? What would make bedtime at mom’s more enjoyable?

Focus on what is wanted, not just what is not wanted. It will be more powerful and helpful. If the conversation turns to sadness and lamenting what will not be (and likely wasn’t the experience of the recent years either), make space for those feelings too, but refocus this talk on what is wanted. This conversation is useful to have again and again over the coming years, as things settle and expand from immediate needs for security to greater possibilities.

Define family now for yourselves. Do this with your mediator and co-parent. Do this with your children.

Architect your new family. Create! Build!

Good luck and be well.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305


Are We There Yet? (Or How Long Does Divorce Mediation Take?)

Are We There Yet | Rachel Alexander{4:00 minutes to read} How long is this going to take? When can we get this over with? When people are in distress, they want to know two things:

  1. That it will end.
  2. When it will end.

A clear framework and expedited process can contain some of the amorphous misery of divorce.

Mediation truncates the divorce process by, among other things:

  • Not involving the court until absolutely necessary;
  • Circumventing the back and forth between attorneys; and the ensuing back and forth between attorney and client relaying the conversations between the attorneys;
  • Facilitating a direct negotiation between the parties;
  • Beginning with the end in mind and focusing throughout on creating a settlement agreement;
  • Avoiding lengthy proceedings to act out all the inequities of the marriage;
  • Bypassing procedural impediments that are unrelated to the substantive issues and unrelated to an eventual settlement.

Mediation is typically completed within a handful of sessions, after which the mediator drafts a Memo of Understanding, Property Settlement Agreement or Marital Settlement Agreement for the clients and their attorney to review. Once the parties have signed off on the Agreement, the divorce papers can be filed and a court date set (usually in a matter of several weeks). That said, mediation is client centered. Ultimately, both the timeline and number of sessions is shaped by the needs of the clients.

Shorter Timelines

Sometimes mediations are quick, even completed in one or two sessions. This might happen with parties who have:

  • Grown children or no children;
  • Completed foundational work with a mediator in the past, usually before attempting to reconcile, then deciding to move forward;
  • Had a short-term marriage where finances were held separately throughout;
  • Been separated for a long period and their emotions have cooled.

Longer Timelines and/or More Time in Mediation

Mediations tend to take longer with couples who have:

  • Long-term marriages;
  • Young children and complex, unconventional work schedules;
  • Multiple retirement assets requiring QDROs;
  • Collected a lot of misinformation from divorced friends from which they must be disabused.

Divorce mediations also generally take longer when couples:

  • Are in the thick of their conflict, still experiencing, even on a daily basis, all the things that have led them to seek a divorce;
  • Enter mediation without having had initial support for high, unresolved emotional conflict;
  • Contain one party who is fiercely opposed to the divorce;
  • Have already established an agreement on their own without adequate financial disclosures or knowledge of facts and pertinent case law.

And sometimes people choose to take more time. Sometimes clients prefer to set a pace wherein they can digest information, process emotions, and consider options.

Some clients make use of the mediation as a safe environment to discuss important issues that are peripheral to the final agreement, but nonetheless impact their lives. In some cases, the mediation is the only place divorcing people can speak at all.

How long does mediation take? As long as you need. As long as is necessary. As compact or deliberate as you make it.

Faster than litigation. Less harmful than a speeding bullet. More powerful than two litigious attorneys. You get the idea…

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305