Mediation: Post-Nup as Marriage Counseling and Marriage Preservation
There are all sorts of reasons for people in a rocky relationship to stay together. The two that stand out are kids and financial resources. Even for well-off couples, the cost of post-divorce life is often surprising.
Bickering parents, of course, can be a source of great strain for children and sometimes breaking up can bring a measure of relief to everyone. But the strains in a relationship may not be ones that require breaking up and many couples might ideally like to stay together permanently, or at least until the kids are grown—meaning after high school or college—when financial pressures are reduced.
One question for a couple and a mediator to keep in mind is whether working out the details of a separation agreement can open the door to a “non-separation agreement,” i.e., a postnup, where each spouse agrees to certain things going forward. Finances and children are often a big source of tension in a marriage and can lead to other marital problems that fester and grow over time. Since the heart of a separation agreement often revolves around issues of children and money, perhaps the couple can reach an agreement as to how they could handle things differently going forward. How is money dealt with? Dinner? Relatives? Who does what with the kids and when? Would changing schedules help?
Many people choose to sign a separation agreement but not get divorced right away. It gives them the chance to live with an agreement to see if it really works before finalizing it. And while this often helps smooth out the details of post-divorce life and finalize an agreement, it may also be a time when a couple can test out staying together in a manner different from before the mediation.
The goal of divorce mediation is not to convince a couple they should stay together. Most couples have already had marriage counseling and it didn’t change things enough. However, I have worked with couples who, more than anything, needed to just get on the same page about finances and child rearing.
For the vast majority of couples who come to mediation, the end result is a workable separation agreement that:
- Divides assets;
- Works out relevant support and parenting issues;
- Makes sure adults and kids have health insurance; and
- May address estate planning, life insurance, or other matters.
Mediation often tackles matters that were previously not resolved, or never discussed at all. The discussion, and just as importantly, creating written draft agreements the couple will review and modify, can occasionally change what people are willing to do now, before a divorce. Perhaps the “Separation Agreement” can be used for another purpose, to create a “Staying Together Agreement.” Here’s what we each agree to going forward. It may or may not work, and nothing prevents the couple from subsequently getting divorced.
Are you part of a couple that went to mediation with the intent of getting divorced but ended up staying together afterwards? Did it stick?
Have you as a divorce mediator worked with a couple that stayed together after the mediation? Did it work?