Reliance on divorce subsides with economy; new emphasis on attorney mediation services
While more residents are dealing with financial constraints, married couples considering divorce are putting the idea farther down on their list of priorities.
“All over the country, divorces are being held off,” said Cristi McMurdie, south Tempe attorney and mediator who specializes in estate planning and coaching. “The concept of divorce has been put on the back-burner for many people, because survival is more important.”
For couples who are looking for a way out of their relationship, the word divorce brings to mind huge financial losses.
However, there is still hope through mediation, McMurdie said. Mediation often is a less expensive, and less dramatic, form of making agreements and dividing assets.
“When you have two people who really know what they owe and own, they can go through mediation and save easily from 10 to 90 percent of what the litigation would cost them,” McMurdie said.
Couples engage McMurdie as a neutral mediator, where both parties come to the table to make a variety of agreements. The advantages can be significant for couples wanting to make a change.
“Many are terrified of losing a job, and with the plummeting real estate values, they see their equity being lost every day,” she said. “People would rather stay together than have to sell their home and move into an apartment.”
In Maricopa County, the rate of divorce decreased 30 percent in the last two-and-a-half years, McMurdie said. Many residents have delayed divorce because they don’t want to face losses, sell homes or make ownership agreements.
“I’ve had to re-expand,” McMurdie said of her practice. “Divorce used to be the breadth of my work; now it’s the other areas of practice – paternity cases, anything that is beyond the norm where people have to have representation.”
McMurdie, now the only mediator in her office, said about a quarter of her clients are for divorce mediation. About 10 percent of clients who go through the mediation process end up staying together.
“We have cases right now, they came for mediation for divorce, and now we are doing mediation to keep them together,” she said. The good side of mediation comes with dealing with one neutral mediator with no other lawyers present. A judge never makes the decision on their behalf, though McMurdie still submits legal forms and a judge reviews the final decree.
“With mediation, what happens is it is more of a pleasant experience,” she said. “I had my ethics lawyer write a document stating that I could do estate planning for my clients after I was both of their mediators. By then, they trust me and I know the estates.”
Oftentimes, on hindsight, clients realize they should have tried harder to keep their marriage together, McMurdie said. Those who maintain their relationships through mediation often create agreements to be met by them and their partner.
“What happens after many years is that the agreements you thought you had with each other—they break down and you don’t know how to form new ones,” she said. “So, even dating can be made into an agreement.”
There are impediments that cannot be overcome, such as addiction and gender issues, but some nagging problems can be overcome even if couples think they cannot.
“Things like, she’s been lazy or can’t find her way in the economic world – those are things that can be overcome,” McMurdie said. “A lot of people will say people can’t change, but I don’t entirely agree.”
In mediating for divorce, McMurdie said she becomes the neutral keeper, helping couples make agreements on the division of their assets, debts, and if there are children, custody issues.
“With mediation, instead of (approaches like) counseling, it’s about looking at the conflict or the disagreements in how your doing certain things and reforming what your expectations are,” McMurdie said.
For more information on mediation, counseling and coaching, visit www.mcmurdielaw.com
McMurdie is the owner and president of McMurdie Law Offices, located at Baseline and Rural roads. Phone: 480-777-5500.
Attorney Cristi McMurdie has requested the following clarification of her statement regarding one aspect of her office’s mediation services:
“Expert legal research showed that it is permissible to prepare estate planning documents for post-divorce mediation clients with full disclosure and agreement by both parties because the mediator did not form an attorney-client relationship with either party during mediation but was retained to be a neutral 3rd party only.”