With Special Guest: Alex Jacobson
In this episode, we discuss:
Family law matters can be resolved amicably through mediation
The process of divorce does not need to be economically devastating
Mediation provides an opportunity to minimize your children's exposure to the divorce process
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Rhonda: Thank you so much for joining us for another episode. I am so excited to be able to introduce you today to Alex Jacobson. She is the founder of Jacobson Mediation Group out of the Greater Chicago area and she's a former divorce lawyer turned divorce mediator. What a mouthful that is. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Alex: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Rhonda: Well, let's talk a little bit about what prompted you to move in the direction of building your practice around mediation. Give us a little backstory on what led you to where you're at today.
Alex: Certainly, so I was a divorce lawyer for the past 12 years. I practiced at one of the premier divorce firms in Chicago doing all matters related to divorce and matrimonial issues, so that included child custody, property division, child support, spousal support, premarital agreement, postnuptial agreements, all the above. And as my practice grew, it became increasingly apparent that even in the highest complex situation, matters can be resolved outside of the courtroom. And I just found that after practicing at that level, that once you are in the courtroom, you really can't unring that bell. Once people start slinging the mud, it's difficult to go back to co-parenting or to reach an agreement that is reasonable for both parties. And once the judgment is imposed upon you by a judge, it may or may not meet the needs of your family. It may or may not be narrowly tailored to the needs of your family. And so, I just simply found that alternative dispute resolution was just a better way to resolve these types of cases.
Rhonda: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So, talk to us a little bit about, I mean obviously there's a lot of different ways that mediation can be used throughout the divorce process. Are you, tell us a little bit about what you're seeing as far as trends? Are people moving in the direction of mediation only? Meaning you've got that neutral third party who is facilitating the conversation between the parties? Or are you, and or are you also seeing where people have attorneys and then they're utilizing mediators to be able to close the gap on our particular issue?
Alex: So, I'm seeing both, in fact, depending on the issues that are being addressed. So in the first instance, I would, I would say that parenting issues often can be resolved with the parties without their attorneys being present because quite simply they are the key people that know what their children need and how to craft an agreement that meets the needs of their children, their extracurriculars, the extent that their child has a special need. They are the two people and the two people primarily who know what those needs are and who can speak to those issues and in the best way. When it comes to financial issues, they're oftentimes one or both parties who really are not equipped to handle the financial issues on her own and really look to their attorneys to provide them with the guidance that they need. And my role is to facilitate the discussion and help navigate that conversation.
Alex: And, and whether attorneys are involved also depends on what phase in the case mediation comes in. So for example, cases may or may not begin sort of with a bang and there are some temporary issues that need to be resolved immediately. So, who's going to pick up Tommy from soccer practice? Who's going to pay for school tuition this month? Who's going pay the mortgage bill? These are immediate issues that the people need a band-aid for immediately while they're working on a more global resolution of all the issues in the case. So those immediate issues may be addressed with just the parties present without attorneys involved. And then once everyone has done their discovery and they're prepared to address all the issues in the divorce case, that is when the attorneys may come in and participate in the process.
Rhonda: So I love one of the things that you said, I just want to touch on, because I see this in the women that I'm working with, which is, there are some of those immediate things that do need to be resolved or taken care of the day-to-day stuff. Like you said, who's going to pick up so-and-so from soccer practice and let's talk about who's going to pay the bills, you know, or which bills they're going to pay. So, if somebody is listening today and they're feeling frustrated because they perhaps feel like, you know, people aren't listening to them like, hey well we'll get to that later, we'll get to that later. Cause I mean the divorce process in and of itself, there are certain kind of key milestones and sometimes those things don't get talked about traditionally until later. What are some of the things that women could say, "Hey listen, this is an important concern or issue for me," so they can really get or bend the ear of their attorney and or mediator?
Alex: Well, I mean and certainly in Chicago and I believe in many other courts, all parenting issues must be mediated before a judge will provide a hearing or a trial date. And judges also it's permissive for them to send financial matters. So, I would impress upon these women to, or anybody, to seek the opportunity, typically in mediation from the outset. So, they can address the immediate issues without going through the periods of frustration, without having them be resolved. And you know, the uncertainty is really unnerving for all people and quite frankly, that spills over to the children. And so, it's best for everybody involved if you can avoid that uncertainty and sort of assign these tasks as the process is going along.
Rhonda: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Well let's, let's transition into talking about a couple of key things related to mediation. And the first thing that I know that you wanted to share was around the fact that family matters can be resolved through mediation. So, talk to us a little bit about that. I know we've kind of highlighted that a little, but let's take a little bit deeper. From your experience, and now the good news is you kind of have been on both sides of the litigation side and now you've moved into more of the mediation side. You know, talk to us about how those are, how some of those things are getting resolved.
Alex: Certainly. So, I mean, there are very few cases in the family law realm that are so clearly black and white and there are many shades of gray. And it's just a matter of appealing to what's important to the two people who are crafting the agreement. And even people, we're, we're taping this on a Monday. So even people who couldn't agree that today is Monday after working through the issues in their particular case, can ultimately reach an agreement that it's Monday. It's possible and it's possible to do it in an amicable way. It's possible to do it in a way that, through the process or sitting in the same room together or alternatively they're sitting in separate rooms together and the mediator is shuttling between them and, going through all of the terms that need to be addressed in a way that is productive with, avoiding the mudslinging and it's, and it truly is possible.
Rhonda: Yeah. So, what role would you say, I mean, so the parties, right? I mean, if they're using mediation as their primary method, need to be organized and come to the table with, completing assignments or conversations or whatever that the mediator’s kind of helping them to kind of work through. Who is kind of identifying the agenda? I mean, so the, for the people that are considering going through mediation, what kinds of things should they doing to make sure that they're as prepared as possible for those mediation meetings?
Alex: Certainly, that's a very good point. I mean, the mediation can only be as productive as the party preparation for the process. So, at the outset, I as a mediator find out what issues are being discussed, whether it's only parenting issues, whether it's financial and parenting issues. And in order to make the process most productive, the parties need to complete their financial affidavits. They need to know what their income situations are, what their, what their other spouse's income situations are, what assets exist, what are their expenses, what are their expenses now, and what are their expenses likely to be in the next few years. I mean, the goal is to anticipate as many possible contingencies as you can so you ca