The legal system does not adequately protect unmarried partners when their partnership dissolves. The mediation process can provide the help that is needed in these cases to resolve conflicts about division of property and custody of children.
You and your partner have been living together for years. During your partnership, you have commingled your bank accounts. One of you has used savings to purchase furniture for the house. The other has cashed in some stock and used the funds to put a deck off the living room. One of you has given up a career to be home with the children while the other stayed in the workforce, building up retirement benefits.
Now you are going to split up and go your separate ways. Both of you are angry at how this relationship has ended. You each talk to an attorney and discover that you have very limited legal remedies due to the fact that you did not marry. Communication becomes impossible and there seems to be no way to reasonably allocate property or decide what to do with the kids. What can you do?
Mediation is a process that can be used to dissolve your partnership without litigation. It is a structured problem-solving process in which a neutral, impartial third person assists the parties to reach an agreement. The mediator, who is trained and experienced in negotiation, facilitates the discussions and manages the process to ensure full discussion and the resolution of issues. The mediator can also make appropriate referrals to lawyers if needed.
In this model, the parties negotiate directly with one another under the direction of a mediator. The mediator's role is to create an environment where the parties can sit together and discuss settlement options. The mediation sessions are usually two hours in length. Ideas, options, and alternatives are generated by the parties and by the mediator. Ground rules for effective communication are established and enforced so that an argument turns into a problem-solving discussion. Even though emotions can run high, the mediator keeps the parties focused and moving forward toward resolution of the issues.
The end result of mediation is a written agreement that is satisfactory to both the parties. The goal is not "winning" but rather resolution of all issues and a result that both partners can live with. This agreement gives the partners a reasoned way to divide their commingled property where the court would not. This agreement gives the partners a future plan for handling the children. In some cases, a co-custody plan for the children will be recognized by the court. Co-custody plans can be created within the mediation process. Then, with the help of an attorney familiar with these plans, the plans can be submitted to the juvenile court to become binding on the partners and their children.
Two experienced family law attorney mediators, Sherry L. Davis and Bea V. Larsen, are available to assist unmarried partners in the breakup of their relationship. You can call the Center and consult with one of these attorneys at 721-4466.