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Divorce mediation a three-step process

April 25, 1999|By ANDREA ROWLAND

Divorce mediation is a three-part process, with court-ordered mediated services being only the first step, according to clinical social worker Donna Bage of Hagerstown.

The goal of the first phase is to ensure that the children's needs are met, she said.

Parents decide who will provide such physical needs as food, shelter and clothing. They establish provision for medical care, and access to school records, Bage said.

The first step in the process also includes the establishment of the children's schedule, which outlines where the children will be on certain days, Bage said.

Parents compromise to determine where the children will spend vacations, holidays and weekends, she said. Once the schedule is established, it is essential that parents stick to it as much as possible, Bage said.

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She said she emphasizes the importance of the parents' dependability. There are few things worse than a child waiting at a window for a parent who fails to arrive, Bage said.

The second step in the mediation process involves division of marital property, Bage said.

Divorcing spouses begin this phase by agreeing to full disclosure of all marital assets and debts, she said.

Next, Bage said she asks her clients how they would choose to divide the property, philosophically. What follows is essentially a balance sheet, she said.

The children's needs are considered first. Parents consider the assets from which their children will benefit, and divide them accordingly, Bage said.

Through a "fairly complicated" process of give and take, both parties negotiate to reach an agreement, Bage said.

After completing the first two phases of the mediation process, divorcing spouses "are really working together," she said.

The last step is the hardest.

Parties must negotiate for spousal and child support. Bage said that although the state has a system for establishing support payments, mediation offers "a better way."

Using a detailed worksheet, each party outlines a budget, Bage said. These budgets include two columns: The individual parent's budget and the parent's budget with the kids, she said.

After weighing the budgets against incomes, the lists are realistically pared down, Bage said.

"Everybody gives a little," Bage said. "Nobody gets as much as they want, but everybody gets what they need."

The mediator then draws up a memorandum of agreement based on the decisions made by the divorcing couple during the mediation process, Bage said.

Finally, the divorcing couple takes the memorandum to an advisory attorney, Bage said. She stressed that this final output is not a legal document.

"Lawyers do contracts, mediators don't," Bage said.

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