What do marriage counselors and mediators do?
There is a big difference between marriage counselors and mediators, and each is specific to the condition of a relationship. Working with a counselor or mediator may have a significant impact on marriage records although it’s unlikely their work will be divulged as open records in public documents.
Counselors specifically attempt to help couples find common ground, to reframe and rebuild a damaged relationship. Mediators are an alternative to a divorce attorney, these professionals help couples to dissolve a relationship with less acrimony and more equanimity than is common in divorce lawsuits. Marriage records will not reflect whether a couple has seen a counselor because those meetings are confidential, but a mediator’s work may show up in a divorce agreement, upon which a decree is based, the basis for a divorce record (again likely to be confidential). Marriage records are public documents that are generally the marriage license and divorce decree but most other aspects of a divorce including division of shared property, child support, and custody, are kept confidential.
There is a common misconception that counselors are referees who will listen to both sides and decide who is “right.” In fact, counselors are trained to teach individuals to listen to one another and to start a relationship anew. Some say that the newest form of marriage counseling, called Emotionally Focused Therapy, is successful 75 percent of the time if couples find the right therapist to work with.
Some indications that you may need to see a marriage counselor include:
? living like roommates
? rarely touching one another
? not having friends outside the marriage
? not helping the other partner with tasks around the house
Before starting counseling, interview the prospective counselor to ask if they’re certified, how much experience they have, and how many sessions the counseling is likely to take. Some say that experienced counselors can tell soon after meeting a couple if one is bullying the other, if one enables the other’s destructive behavior, and if the relationship had been deteriorating well before the couple started therapy. Such therapy is unlikely to be successful if one partner has an addiction, if one partner has decided to end the relationship, if either or both partners don’t do the “homework” the therapist recommends, and if untreated mental illness is a factor in the relationship.
A counselor’s role is to help a couple to communicate more effectively, to provide a common starting point for discussions, to listen and make suggestions. A counselor should set boundaries for discussions without becoming a referee deciding who is right or wrong. Experienced counselors say they can tell when one member of a relationship is bullying the other, if one is addicted, if one is an enabler, or if one is not telling the truth – all are hazards that are difficult to overcome when pursuing counseling to stay together.
The steps in counseling include:
? helping each understand the roots of his or her communication and relationship issues
? teaching how communication is received emotionally and intellectually
? developing new habits and ways of communicating
? helping the couple envision a future together
A mediator is a lower-cost alternative to divorce attorneys for each individual in a marriage. Mediators work best when a couple is able to discuss separation of assets and responsibilities without getting angry or upset. Many states have laws that require couples to split assets equitably, making a mediator the best option. Mediators are not those who seek to fight (litigate) to drain assets away from the other. Mediators may be required to hold mental health counseling certificates or degrees and must apprise clients of state laws regarding child custody and family counseling if children affected by the divorce are minors. Check the applicable state laws before hiring a mediator.
Experts suggest that individualsprepare for mediation using the following checklist:
? leave your emotions at the door: mediation is not about who is right or wrong but how to split assets in the most equitable and efficient way possible;
? be prepared with financial documents like bank statements and a list of monthly expenses;
? negotiate rather than argue;
? get outside legal counsel who can advise you about your financial rights and obligations;
? spend time reading about your options and rights.
Some people think that dividing assets is a simple process that can be undertaken without any legal advice or direction, butmediators should be knowledgeable about the state’s laws and able to counsel each individual about his or her options. It’s common to underestimate one’s future needs in terms of child custody and support or future earnings.
Collaborative divorce is a type of mediation in which each individual secures his or her own attorney with the goal of divorcing as amicably and equitably as possible. This route may be best when individuals are unable to sit together to work out an agreement, as with a mediator. It is also a good option because it allows direct outside legal advice that may not be forthcoming in a mediation situation.
Bridging the gap between counseling and mediation is a new version of therapy called Discernment counseling. This couples therapy is aimed at those who are closer to divorce than traditional marriage counselors generally take on. In this situation the counselor helps to determine if the couple is likely to divorce by speaking with each member individually, and if not will suggest a route to reconciliation.
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