Many couples I work with in my Mediation practice are not ready for a Legal Separation or Divorce, but want to take an interim step that leaves their options and choices open. Not only does this take the pressure off the couple to make any definitive life altering decisions, but provides flexibility and opportunity to create a new dynamic for their family.
For example, I met with one couple that was not ready to take legal action, but wanted to try living apart for awhile to see how that felt. At the same time, they wanted a more formal agreement that would set out expectations and milestones for their trial separation, such as requirements for attending marriage counseling and how to divide up household expenses. As a result, we crafted a mutually workable Post-nuptial Agreement (agreement during marriage). In that case, the couple did not want to create a legally binding contract, so we left it as more of a “good faith” agreement, with the provision that should either not live up to his or her part of the bargain, the agreement would be moot and they would start mediating a Legal Separation or Divorce.
Another couple in a similar situation wanted a more formal Post-nuptial Agreement that was enforceable in civil court. In that case, we created a mutually acceptable agreement that was extremely detailed and, basically, divided the community property into separate property even though they remained legally married. That way, they still have the option of converting the agreement to a Legal Separation or Divorce or ripping it up if they reconcile.
A different couple wanted something akin to a Therapeutic Separation that simply laid out a time-frame for working on the marriage, provisions for reconciliation and/or future divorce, and agreements for how they would spend time with the children while separated. We created a non-legally binding Memorandum of Understanding that met that family’s particular needs.
The bottom line is that there is no “one size fits all” solution or process for all couples and families. With mediation, you can be very creative and develop unique game plans and solutions that work for you. There are no rules and no pre-determined end result. As a result, I’ve seen most families stay intact through and after mediation – everything from reconciliations, to divorcing yet still planning family vacations together, to separating but living in the same condo complex. I feel lucky to be part of a process that allows you to define family in whatever way works for you.