When the divorce mediation process succeeds, spouses and their family often report a tremendous benefit from having chosen the option, both for the family's long term financial and emotional preservation. These outcomes are immeasurable.
Because the divorce mediation process provides spouses with powerful knowledge and valuable negotiaton skills they can use after divorce, we do not have many "return customers" to our practice. This is an excellent sign and a great testament of the power and efficacy of the divorce mediation process.
However, there are still times when ex-spouses, even if they remain amicable after divorce, may need post-divorce mediation. Often times, a major life event change will occur that precipitates mediation after divorce. These events are typically centered around changes in income statuses, loss of a job, an ex-spouse's relocation or an illness.
What is fair game for post-divorce mediation in these instances?
1) Child Support Modification - In Pennsylvania, child support is modifiable upon a "material and substantial change in circumstances." Because the Pennsylvania Support Guidelines are an income-driven formula calculation, if there are "material and substantial" changes in one or both incomes, you and your former spouse may re-visit the current child support obligation and negotiate a modification by agreement. If you cannot agree on a modified amount, you may request a mediator to help you with a recalculation which will assist you in negotiating an amount that is most fair to both.
2) Child Custody Modification- Similar to child support, child custody is modifiable in Pennsylvania based upon what's called "the best interests of the child" standard. As children's needs are constantly changing over time, the mediation process helps you and your spouse to learn how to work together (while parenting apart) to achieve a plan that is adaptable into the future as your children grow and their needs change. Your mediated parenting agreement is designed to be a flexible and fluid document in this respect.
Still there are times after the divorce when you can disagree on what decisions are in the best interests of the children when their needs do change. Also, when one parent relocates to a remote location out of the area, changes in the physical custody plan may also have to be addressed.
Parents who have already participated in mediation for their divorce have already learned how to negotiate parenting issues, and often times are able to iron out any changes in the parenting plan on their own. However, if you are not able to iron it out on your own, post-divorce mediation is always available as a much more desirable option than going to court, where you can easily spend in excess of $50,000 for a custody trial -all while potentially subjecting your children to an emotionally damaging process.
3) Alimony- Alimony in Pennsylvania, unlike child support and child custody, is not modifiable unless spouses have included provisions in their agreement for modification. If they have modification provisions to work with, sometimes there can be significant changes in the incomes of one or both parties, such that the alimony payment needs to be modified either upward or downward.
In such a case, ex-spouses, if they are not able to agree on the adjusted alimony amount, may return to mediation for assistance with this issue. Even if their agreement does not contain any modification provisions, because many mediation spouses remain amicable, they might still agree to modify an alimony payment if it is fair to do so. For example, if the paying ex-spouse loses their job and cannot make the payments, they may negotiate some type of temporary payment reduction until that spouse re-employs and gets back on their feet. This avoids the recipient spouse from having to go to court to enforce the alimony, which they will be unable to collect anyway if the paying spouse has no income.
4) Amend the Marital Settlement Agreement --Because a mediated divorce agreement may be modified at any point in the future by agreement between ex-spouses, there are times when you may be ready to make extensive amendments to your agreement, but need assistance in drafting an amendment.
In these cases, the divorce mediator you originally worked with may be called upon to assist you in preparing a written amendment which you both sign and notarize. This amendment will then be incorporated with the rest of your agreement as a legally binding provision.
5) Spouses Who Had a Contentious Divorce--mediation can be a welcoming change for those spouses who may have already endured a long, tedious and painful court-contested divorce. Once ex-spouses gain some aesthetic distance from their divorce, their relationship can often improve over time. They begin to see the bigger picture of what is most important, especially if they have to co-parent minor children. They can learn from the mistakes they previously made in their divorce which were most probably driven by high-charged emotions in play at the time. Cutting their losses and coming to mediation can literally save them thousands of dollars as well as additional time and heartache.
Again, in the ideal post-divorce situation, ex-spouses are well-equipped to weather any storm that comes along which may either cause a dispute, or otherwise make it necessary to amend their agreement. But when the issue becomes too complex and they are not able to resolve it on their own, mediation is the perfect forum to assist them so that they can avoid any litigation process, especially for those couples who intentionally avoided this process in the first place back when they chose mediation to end their marriage.
About Cris Pastore, Esq.
Cris Pastore, Esq. is president and attorney-mediator at Main Line Family Law Center, a divorce mediation firm with 7 offices along the Main Line and Center City, Philadelphia. A practicing attorney for over 20 years, Cris has focused exclusively on divorce mediation since 2007, when he grew increasingly frustrated by destructive nature of the court-contested divorce process. Cris has made it his personal mission to revolutionize this area of practice to preserve family relationships and help families emerge healthy and whole. Follow Cris at @healthy_divorce.