|After 24 years of marriage, Charles and Lucy
Rey decided to call it quits.
Lucy complained that Charles, president of a Chicago research
firm, was a workaholic. Charles said that Lucy, a social worker,
left him for another man, Both agreed, however, that they wanted
an amicable parting for the sake of their two children. Instead
of battling it out in court, they turned to a divorce mediator
For five months, the Reys sparred about the value of Charles'
company and whether Lucy should get a stake in it. They fought
about their $200,000 house in Naperville, Ill; nearly $215,000
in stocks, bonds and retirement funds; the Saab and the Audi;
and even who would keep the dog.
Ultimately they reached an agreement that both still say was
The Reys, who divorced in 1998, were at the forefront of a growing
trend. Today large numbers of divorcing couples are shunning courtroom
battles and working with a mediator. In mediation, the couple,
not the judge, decides who gets the kids, the house, the cars
and other marital assets. The mediator serves as coach, counselor,
consensus builder and occasional referee.
"We smooth the waters so couples can talk with each other
and express their needs in a respectful context," says Carl
Schneider, who mediated the Reys' divorce and now practices in
Silver Spring, Md., near Washington D.C.
Mediation isn't the same as arbitration, in which a hearing officer
listens to both sides, then hands down a decision. In mediation,
there are no cross-examinations, no depositions, no stenographers.
Divorce mediations can take anywhere from a few weeks to six
months, depending on the issues to resolve. The costs range from
a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, says Ericka
Gray, executive director of the Academy of Family Mediators. In
a contested divorce, lawyer's fees easily can run upward of $10,000,
and the proceedings can drag on for years in court.
Some couples see more than just financial benefits. Actor Clarence
Gilyard of TV's Walker: Texas Ranger says he's received emotional
support from Forrest Moste, a Los Angeles mediator and family
law specialist, during his 1994 divorce from actress-writer Catherine
Gilyard. " I could tell him everything I felt," Gilyard
says of Moste.
No official statistics exist on how many divorces go to mediation
each year But, the number of divorce mediators has ballooned to
about 3,600 from 100, says the Academy of Family Mediators. Since
1984, more than 5,000 people have enrolled in the American Bar
Association mediator training program.
In choosing a mediator, it's a case of "couples beware,"
because no official licensing agency oversees the field. "Anyone
can hang out a shingle," Gray says. However, many mediators
belong to the Academy of Family Mediators, which sets standards
of practice for its members. The Academy also serves as watchdog
and will investigate complaints against members and initiate a
grievance proceeding, if necessary. A large number of mediators
are also lawyers or licensed counselors, Gray says.
But mediation doesn't always work. Michael Weiser, 34, a graphic
artist from Chicago, thought he and his wife of two years would
be ideal candidates for mediation. The Weisers had no children,
didn't own a home and had few assets. But at their first session,
the couple argued about who would get the china, a wedding gift.
"She started complaining that this wasn't working and got
up and walked out," he says. They never went back. Weiser
ended up with a court-ordered settlement that requiring him to
hand over the china, but also six months rent on his wife's new
apartment and substantial lawyers fees.
Still, several studies have shown that 60% to 65% of couples
who mediate are able to hammer out lasting agreements.
Mediation is less expensive than a court battle, but it isn't
cheap. Fees generally range from $90 to $200 per hour. Mosten,
a Los Angeles mediator who is also a lawyer, charges $450 an hour.
Schneider, a clinical psychologist, charges $150.
And lawyers are still part of the process, though a small one.
They mainly review the final settlement and represent each side
when the divorce decree is finalized in court. And couples who
mediate sometimes choose to consult lawyers. This raises the cost
significantly, especially, says Mosten, if either partner uses
the process "to punish each other, to extract revenge."
But some women's groups remain skeptical of mediation. "It
works when couples have a reasonably equivalent balance of power
in the relationship," said Lynn Hecht Schafran, a lawyer
at the National Organization for Women in New York.
Schafran says battered wives are at a major disadvantage. "It's
absurd to think that a woman who has endured domestic violence
is going to speak openly and make demands in a mediation,"
The Reys' settlement has held firm for nine years. Charles, 63,
remarried in 1989 and lives in Deerfield, IL. His company went
out of business in 1984 due to cutbacks in NASA's budget. He now
operates his own research consulting firm.
Lucy remarried in 1993 and resettled in Las Vegas, where she
is a family therapist. Of her mediation, she now says, "I
would do it again, but I would have two mediators, one male and
Says Charles, "If everybody walks away just a little unhappy,
it's probably been a fair mediation."