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family mediators in seattle offer support beyond divorce

Estate Planning, Prenups, and Adoption: Family Mediators in Seattle Offer Support Beyond Divorce

Family mediators help couples and families work through difficult family issues. We often think about family mediators as working with divorced couples, but family mediators can do so much more.

They can assist couples who are planning to get married with their prenuptial agreements. A mediator can help a couple discuss sensitive topics and work through differences of opinion surrounding money or divorce.

They can help families navigate difficult questions surrounding adoption. For example, family mediators can help both biological parents and adoptive parents discuss post-adoption contact and visitation.

As family members grow older, elder care, estate planning, and end-of-life planning can lead to conflict among siblings and other family members. For example, a family mediator can step in in a situation where siblings disagree about a parent’s end-of-life medical care. Mediators can also help families navigate the sensitive issues that can arise when a parent grows older, or when a disabled child turns eighteen. Mediators can help families discuss guardianship and alternatives to guardianship, helping families express their concerns while making space for the disabled family member to have a voice in the process.

After a loved one dies, families often find themselves needing to put a loved one’s affairs in order. If a will is subject to probate, families navigate the legal process of administering a deceased loved one’s will and estate. Sometimes probate can raise conflicts, especially if family members weren’t aware of the contents of the will. A family mediator can help individuals in the family negotiate solutions to avoid probate issues or a contested will.

The Role of a Family Mediator

Family mediators help families negotiate solutions to their disagreements, with the aim to help them resolve their issues without having to take their disputes in court. While some family mediators may be lawyers, when a lawyer is hired as a family mediator, he or she is not hired in a legal capacity and therefore isn’t able to provide legal advice. The family mediator’s role is to serve as a neutral referee as families work through their disagreements. There are circumstances where it is often required (or highly recommended) that individuals hire lawyers to represent their interests as they work with a mediator, and many mediators work with both individuals and their lawyers as they navigate difficult family law issues.

According to the Academy of Professional Family Mediators, a family mediator can:

  • Help families identify the exact nature of their disagreement.
  • Help families identify possible solutions.
  • Help families negotiate agreements.
  • Help families draft formal agreements and prepare them for formalization and signing.

In some cases, family mediators are hired as soon as issues arise, or to help avoid conflict that can lead to a court dispute. For example, families might hire a mediator to help them navigate probate or the distribution of an estate, especially if they already know that some family members don’t get along.

In other cases, the court orders mediation after families have taken matters to court. For example, judges typically don’t want to create parenting plans for families with the understanding that in most cases, parents are best equipped to know what’s in the best interests of their children. For this reason, in most instances, judges might order family mediation for couples who have taken their custody issues to court.

In this article, we’ll explore the various situations where a family mediator may be able to help you and your family negotiate some of the most difficult challenges that can arise in family law.

Family Mediators and Prenuptial Agreements

A prenuptial agreement is a contract that couples usually sign before they are married (and sometimes after they are married as a postnuptial agreement), that clearly outlines how their assets, debts, income, and property will be handled during their marriage (and should they get divorced). A prenuptial agreement can clarify what property a couple intends to keep separate and what property a couple intends to share as community property. The process of writing a prenuptial agreement can bring up a range of sensitive issues surrounding money, spending habits, debts, and divorce. For a prenuptial agreement to be valid in Washington state, each party must be represented by their own attorney.

Sometimes couples also choose to hire a family mediator to help them talk through difficult issues. For example, a family mediator can help individuals complete premarital inventories to help each person understand their motivations and goals (Katherine E. Stoner’s book Prenuptial Agreements: How to Write a Fair and Lasting Contract has an excellent chapter entirely devoted to effective communication during this process). A family mediator can help couples lovingly negotiate their differences and communicate effectively.

Some couples don’t hire a mediator but choose the collaborative legal process. With the collaborative process, each party hires his or her own collaborative lawyer who is skilled in helping couples negotiate difficult conversations. Collaborative lawyers work with each other and with their clients to help them craft a mutually beneficial prenuptial (or postnuptial) agreement. Collaborative lawyers can help their clients negotiate difficult issues and address sensitive topics.

Family Mediation and Separation Agreements

If you are getting separated or plan to live apart from your partner, you may still need to work through some of the same questions a divorcing couple may need to address but may not be ready to file for divorce. If you will live in separate homes, you may need to divide debts, assets, and property. If you have children, it may be wise to create a parenting plan.

Without putting these arrangements in place, you could find yourself responsible for debts your partner acquired during your separation, or face conflict regarding shared bank accounts. Furthermore, the decisions you make regarding shared parenting time and custody during your separation could have implications for custody and parenting time should you get divorced. Couples may not necessarily be ready to hire lawyers, and they may want to avoid taking disagreements to court. In these situations, couples might hire a family mediator to help them work through some of the key concerns regarding property, debts, and parenting time.

Divorce Agreements and Family Mediation

Divorce is one of the most common situations where family mediation might be court ordered or requested. In virtually all cases where couples take their divorce to court, the court orders family mediation. Judges generally don’t want to be responsible for making personal and financial decisions on a couple’s behalf. Mediators can help a couple work through their differences and reach a divorce settlement that is mutually beneficial.

More couples want to avoid litigation and court altogether. They may choose to hire a mediator as soon as they start negotiating their divorce settlement, or they may choose the collaborative divorce process, where both parties agree before negotiations begin that they won’t take their divorce to court. With collaborative divorce, each party hires his or her own collaborative divorce attorney and both attorneys work together and with the couple to help them settle their divorce.

Family Mediation and Parenting Plans

Disagreements about custody and parenting time is another situation where the court might order family mediation. Judges typically don’t want to be responsible for making decisions about what is in the best interests of a child, and they generally acknowledge that a child’s parents are in the best position to make that determination. That said, the development of a parenting plan can raise conflict. Different parenting styles, conflicting schedules, and each parent’s struggle with the reality that divorce will change how often they can see their children can raise all kinds of issues as couples negotiate a parenting plan. Family mediators can help parents get to the heart of their concerns, help them accept that some compromise must be made, and help parents create a parenting plan that is beneficial for their children and family.

Sometimes family mediators are ordered by the court, and sometimes parents hire a mediator as soon as negotiations begin (or as soon as they become tense). Other couples might choose the collaborative divorce process, where both parties agree beforehand not to take their child custody case to court. Collaborative divorce lawyers work with each other and with their clients to help their clients create a parenting plan that works. In some cases, a family mediator may be brought in to help collaborative divorce lawyers and their clients find solutions when disputes around parenting time and parental decision-making become especially challenging.

Child Support and Family Mediation

Parents fill out Washington’s Child Support Worksheet and then Washington courts will use the Child Support Schedule based upon the parents’ combined monthly net income to determine child support. While child support is determined by these schedules and worksheets, additional child rearing expenses could be subject to dispute or negotiation. For example, parents may need to negotiate how a child’s health care expenses will be covered, how education expenses will be paid, and how other special expenses will be handled. Sometimes one parent might dispute the income amounts claimed by the other parent in these forms. In this case, additional services may be required, including the hiring of a forensic accountant or other financial professional.

To prevent these disputes from turning into court cases, some couples hire a family mediator to help them negotiate child support amounts, and to help them fill out Washington Child Support Worksheets. Other couples may hire collaborative divorce lawyers who are skilled in working together and with couples when difficult child support questions arise.

Family Mediation and Alimony

Alimony or spousal maintenance is dependent on several factors, including each spouse’s financial situation, child support payments, and length of the marriage, according to RCW 26.09.909. Shorter marriages may not result in any alimony at all. The courts may look at each party’s financial picture before the marriage and suggest a divorce settlement that leaves both parties in roughly the same financial situation they entered the marriage. If both parties are getting divorced at an older age, or their marriage lasted for quite a long time (typically more than 25 years), then the courts may recommend a divorce settlement that preserves the financial situation of both parties after their divorce, and this may include alimony. Many marriages fall between these two extremes, and in this case, the court has immense discretion in alimony awards.

In situations where alimony may be required, couples sometimes hire a family mediator to help them work through amounts that are fair given the length of the marriage, each party’s contribution to the marriage, and each party’s financial situation. Sometimes a mediator might be court ordered if the couple takes their alimony dispute to court. Many more couples choose collaborative divorce, where both parties agree not to take the alimony dispute to court and agree to work out an alimony agreement with the assistance of their collaborative divorce attorneys,

How Family Mediators Can Help After Paternity Has Been Established

Paternity can be established when both parents sign an acknowledgement of parentage form at the hospital (this form is then filed with the Department of Health). Sometimes paternity must be established through a court order, where DNA testing is typically required. Once paternity has been established, other issues can arise, including child support, back child support owed to the custodial parent, and shared parenting time agreements. A family mediator can help parents work through these crucial issues.

Family Mediators Can Help Families Navigate Difficult Adoption Questions

Mediators may become involved in adoption or in cases where a child may be placed under a minor guardianship with a relative or other adult. Family mediation can help adoptive parents or guardians and biological parents negotiate arrangements regarding issues like communication and visitation with biological parents. Family mediators may also become involved when a biological parent contests an adoption, usually in cases where the child has been removed from the home or where a minor guardianship has been established. A family mediator can help biological parents understand their rights under the law and assist families and adoptive parents in reaching a post-adoption or post-guardianship agreement that works for their families. Family mediators may become involved if a child’s biological parent reaches out to adoptive parents seeking post-adoption communication or visitation, or if a teenage child seeks out contact with a biological parent, and disputes arise.

Finally, if you are adopting a child, some adoptive parents might hire a mediator to help them have discussions with the child’s biological parents to help them draft kinship agreements that formalize in writing whether the child will have future communication or visitation with the biological parent.

Mediation can help families avoid taking issues regarding adoption to court and can help families reach agreements about their expectations before conflict arises.

Grandparents’ Rights (and Relatives’ Rights) and Family Mediation

When a couple gets divorced, grandparents may find that their ability to visit with their grandchildren is limited by a custodial parent or because a parenting plan includes limitations on parental content. Grandparents (and a child’s other blood relatives) may petition the court for visitation with a grandchild. Typically, the court will presume that if a child’s parent denies visitation to a relative, it is in the child’s best interests. A relative seeking visitation would need to show that denial of visitation would cause harm the child. A relative might hire a family mediator to have discussions with parents to avoid the need to take the case to court.

How Family Mediators Can Help with Estate Planning, Contested Wills, and Probate Issues

Individuals who are concerned that family members might fight over the distribution of their estate after they pass away might hire a mediator to help discuss their estate plans with children and other extended family members, to address disputes before they arise, and to prevent the family from contesting a will or causing probate issues later. A mediator might be hired after a person passes away if it appears that it’s likely the family will contest the will or raise issues with probate. Probate is the process by which a will is validated and by which a deceased person’s assets are distributed to heirs. A contested will can result in long, expensive, and drawn-out court cases. A family mediator may be able to help family reach a peaceful resolution regarding the distribution of an estate without the need for court.

Guardianships and Family Mediation

Sometimes concerned family members seek guardianships over their elderly relatives or disabled children. Yet, a guardianship can seriously curtail a person’s freedom. In cases where an elderly person or disabled child doesn’t want a guardianship, but a family member believes it is in the person’s best interest, sometimes family mediators get involved, helping family members find less-restrictive alternatives, or helping family negotiate the guardianship plan.

Work with a Family Mediator Today

These are just some of the situations where a family mediator might be able to help families avoid court and assist them in finding peaceful resolutions to their disputes. If you are facing a tough family issue, Truce Law is a collaborative divorce law firm in Seattle, Washington that offers family mediation, and solutions through the collaborative legal process. Reach out to our collaborative law firm today to learn more.

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