Through the Mill – Civilly
By Sandy Balick
The image taken from a steel mill may seem like an odd accent to a blog post on Divorce Mediation. It’s meant to resemble an important aspect of this week’s focus: budgeting.
In forming plates of steel, white hot slabs of molten metal are run between huge rollers – back and forth and back and forth – until the desired shape of the finished product is obtained.
So it is with the budgeting process. The couple starts by establishing their current budget and, with lots of back and forth and back and forth, checking figures, refining, and calculating until the shape of the finished product emerges, which is a projected individual budget for each spouse as they prepare to begin new lives in their own households.
The budget’s a very important working document for a divorcing couple. Though they are in the process of unwinding their marriage, they are simultaneously paving the way for their new lives apart from one another. Transitioning from one household to two requires careful financial planning and budget preparation.
Mediation enables the parties to pace these discussions over as many sessions as are necessary to discuss and resolve issues. Although tensions may surface in the course of these discussions, there’s plenty of time for cooling off and even informal discussion between spouses and plain old fact finding (for example, tracking down receipts or invoices to verify certain expenditures). In this manner, a knot of issues is undone – slowly at first and then, more rapidly.
Effective discussion and resolution of financial issues ultimately depends on two important “homework” assignments made by the Mediator early in the Mediation process: preparation of the couple’s current budget and the disclosure of assets, debts and other obligations. Once completed, these documents provide a solid footing for many of the important decisions to be made in the course of the Mediation. These exercises not only make decision making easier, but they are also helpful in building trust along the way.
A central feature of Divorce Mediation is the freedom a couple enjoys in deciding how best to divide their marital assets. Although there are no strict rules as to how to go about this process, a good notion of anticipated income and expenses may prove to be an important guide for the couple’s decisions on asset division – and on many of the related issues to be taken up in the Mediation process such as
child support, maintenance (formerly, alimony), etc.
Family budgeting practices vary all over the place. Some couples enjoy a very precise idea of week-to-week expenditures. Others may not budget at all or they have gotten by with a general idea of the financial picture. Often, the spouses have starkly different ideas of their income and expense picture, especially where the budgeting task has been the responsibility of either the husband or wife alone. In such a case reducing a budget to paper will be important to bring both spouses onto the same page for decision-making purposes.
The Mediator guides this process, first by providing detailed forms to be filled in, second, by conducting discussions and highlighting areas for refinement. The Mediator may also help to suggest ways of establishing certain expenditures where record keeping may not have been precise.
In my next post I’ll describe how the budget is refined and made into an important planning document for each spouse.
We would be pleased to schedule a consultation with you and your spouse to explore the divorce mediation process and to answer your questions about it. There is no fee or commitment for this consultation. We invite you to call us at (646) 340-3434 to schedule an appointment.