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About Joint Dissolution Mediation

With a Joint Dissolution Mediation through Forward Legal you may handle your entire dissolution and/or parenting plan from separation to the final order from the court without the need for separate attorneys.
Mediation will involve several joint and separate appointments with the family law attorney in order to gather all relevant information, evaluate all of your family's options, and come to a final decision. Mediation is confidential: your mediator is not hired to represent either party and cannot be called as a witness if your case falls through and eventually goes to trial.
         "The dissolution process can be emotionally overwhelming and extremely confusing. That's not what I want for you, that's why I've developed a step-by-step joint dissolution mediation process to help you get to an outcome that's fair for everyone and does not devastate your family. I am a family law  attorney, born and raised in Missoula, Montana and I'm ready to help your family to deal gracefully with this delicate process."

When is mediation appropriate?

Litigation is not always the best method to resolve disputes between parties. The process may be expensive, cause further damage to once-valued relationships, and may ultimately resolve the issue litigated with a solution that is unworkable for everyone. Joint Dissolution Mediation is the process of using a neutral third party to help elicit each parties’ goals and needs, and to help brainstorm solutions that are reasonable and work for everyone. Evaluative mediation with a family law attorney will also provide both parties with feedback and direction on what solutions the court would expect to see and what types of agreements are reasonable under Montana law.

Mediation may work best for your family when:

  • The parties agree to work together to avoid a heated legal dispute, even if they don’t agree on everything

  • No anticipated need for emergency orders from court.

  • No ongoing allegations of Domestic Violence. 

  • No extensive need to value property (though some need is manageable).

  • The parties have reasonable disagreements, or may even disagree on most items, but do not have major disagreements that clearly have no middle ground or have polar opposite visions for the future.

What steps are involved?

 The process of getting a joint dissolution and parenting plan can be overwhelming. A family law attorney as mediator will help to break the process down into manageable steps and will help diffuse and minimize conflict along the way.

Step 1: Separation – When you’ve decided it is time to separate households, your first step will be to decide who moves out, and who takes what furnishings. You will need a rough idea of your temporary parenting schedule, and a temporary budget that allows your joint finances to support two households. You rarely need to obtain a legal separation agreement and all of this can be done informally.  If you are unable to agree on your plan for separation, a mediation session can help you to come to this temporary agreement.  


Step 2: Information Gathering-  Your joint dissolution paperwork will require you to list some statistical information (such as previous addresses, date and place of marriage, etc.) and to make an accurate list of everything you own, all your various accounts, all your debts, and the value of all those items. This list must include items you obtained pre-marriage, post-marriage, through gift, inheritance, or otherwise, no matter whose name is on the title or account. In other words, everything. This can be a short and easy process or can become more time consuming and complicated when there are businesses, second homes, or retirement accounts without a current cash value.  It is important to be thorough in your information gathering because you will be signing a final agreement that states you are satisfied that you have made your decision with every piece of information available to you, and that you understand the mediated agreement is final. Even if there is substantial disagreement, through joint dissolution mediation you and your spouse can come to see eye to eye on what should be on this list, and what the value is of each. 


Step 3: Drafting initial paperwork- Once you’ve gathered all the relevant information, you can either fill out do-it-yourself dissolution paperwork, or have your family law attorney draft these documents for your signature, to be filed in Missoula for Missoula County residents. If you are hoping to save costs, the do-it-yourself paperwork is somewhat straightforward, though there are many forms. If you would rather avoid the confusion and hassle of the paperwork, your mediator can draft these documents for your signature based on the information that you have already compiled.


Step 4: Proposing how to divide your estate- Each of you can work separately with your mediator to come up with your proposals on how to divide your estate, and your parenting schedule.  Many people are not sure where to start, what is allowable, and what is fair when it comes to dividing assets, especially if those assets are not liquid. Your joint dissolution mediator will be able to advise you about what the court expects to see in a fair division of a marital estate, and will help you understand the process of how to divide more complicated assets such as a home, second home, equity in a business, or retirement account.  Your mediator will help you solidify in your mind, what is fair, and help manage your expectations about what type of agreement you may end up with when all is said and done. Through the information gathering phase, some couples realize there is an obvious split that is fair to everyone and logistically simple.


Step 5: Mediation and final agreements- Armed with all the necessary information and your realistic expectations about your final agreement, you will spend up to a full day of mediation with your spouse. At Forward Legal in Missoula, you will engage in evaluative mediation, which is a process of working in separate rooms with the mediator who will give you advice on what to propose next based on her knowledge of Montana law and likely outcomes if you were to take your case to court.  If at any point this process becomes emotionally overwhelming, Meri may suggest you work cooperatively with a co-parenting counselor and will refer you for a number of sessions to help break through these issues, coming back to the table when the process becomes more manageable.  At the close of mediation, you will sign a petition for joint dissolution, with a property settlement agreement and a parenting plan, that will represent the final agreement of how you intend to divide your estate and parent going forward.


Step 5: Drafting final orders.- Though you’ve come up with a final agreement, you will need more time to copy this agreement into a final order for the court’s signature. Once all your information is compiled and your documents are finished, you may simply turn your joint dissolution in to the court for the judge to sign, without the need for a hearing. If your are drafting your own paperwork, you will set one final appointment with the mediator to review your documents, or if you are having the mediator draft these for you, these can be ready in a matter of days after your mediation.

Why hire a mediator?

When you and your spouse decide that it is time to talk divorce, it is easy to imagine the worst. Involving multiple attorneys, accountants, counselors, and other outside influences in keeping score and fighting for every advantage.  Many couples come to Forward Legal in Missoula expressing a clear desire to avoid that situation, opting instead to attempt to get a joint dissolution. Through joint dissolution mediation with a family law attorney, this is entirely possible, without having to give up your goals or reasonable disagreements.  An attorney mediator is trained to manage a healthy amount of conflict while getting to the root of each issue and searching out solutions that work for both parties.

Many types of conflict can be settled or improved through the mediation process.

“Conflict is an expressed struggle between at least two interdependent parties who perceive incompatible goals, scarce resources, and interference from others in achieving their goals” (Wilmot & Hocker, 2007, pp. 8-9). When in the throws of conflict, it is difficult to see where one's goals may actually be compatible.  A neutral third party with empathy and an eye for solution-finding can help move parties from conflict to resolution by finding that fine thread of consensus.

Agreeing to work cooperatively with a mediator will not only save the cost of hiring separate opposing counsel, but will save the heartache of feeling diametrically opposed to your spouse and eliminates the feeling caught up or controlled by the legal process.

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Contact us in Missoula for a free screening to evaluate whether joint dissolution mediation is the best process for you.
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