When Divorce Mediation Is (and Isn’t) The Right Fit, Part One of an Interview with Divorce Attorney-Mediator Rachel Green
Rachel Green is a well-known family and divorce attorney-mediator located in Brooklyn, New York. Rachel was trained as a litigator but left litigation to found her own law practice offering divorce mediation and collaborative law as out of court resolution options. When she first started offering divorce mediation twenty-two years ago it was a rarity, but Rachel knew she was meant to be a consensus builder.
In part one of this interview, we discuss how Rachel found herself in the role of a divorce mediator, how her job has changed over the last two decades, and why some couples should not go the DIY route when it comes to divorce.
Casey Shevin: How did you get started in divorce mediation?
Rachel Green: By my nature, I am somewhat conflict avoidant, and I feel like the cost of maintaining a conflict is higher than just about any conflict is worth. In law school, I had two one-hour [mediation] classes, in the entire three years, but I always remembered it because it just made so much sense to me. I did practice [litigation] for a couple of years, and I could see the difference between my attitude and my colleagues’ attitudes. I would get a brief from the other side and I would get a stomach ache. But my friends who were litigators would be like, “Oh, I can’t wait to respond to that one!”
Shevin: When you started your divorce mediation practice twenty-two years ago, mediation wasn’t well known as a divorce process option was it?
Green: No, it wasn’t. I mean, it’s much more known now, though it’s still an alternative process. And in New York, we’re still behind many other states.
Shevin: Why do you think that is?
Green: I think part of it is that there’s so much money in the city, and I definitely see cases where litigation attorneys stand to earn so much that they really are not motivated to help people settle. And then I think it’s also just a more aggressive city with maybe a more adversarial minded culture. I think it’s a combination of those things.
Shevin: So, how have you seen things change over the 22 years you’ve been in practice as a mediator?
Green: Well, there are many more divorce mediators. When I started 22 years ago I was the only mediator in Brooklyn. But I find that the more mediators there are, the more people are aware of mediation. So the field has grown a lot.
Shevin: Yeah. Do you think it’s just that people just didn’t really know about it before and now they do? Or, do you think there’s a bigger desire for mediation for some reason?
Green: In mediation people have a lot more control over the process. They control how often we meet. They control the order of the things that we’re going to talk about. They can control the results. We can talk about things that wouldn’t be discussed in court, [such as] their schedules for their pets. You know, the lists go on and on of how they can structure things their own way, and I think that there’s more desire to have control over the process and take it out of the hands of the lawyers and the judges.
Shevin: So, if somebody has a cooperative spouse and they have a desire to keep their costs down and they are interested in the online DIY option – are there potential pitfalls they should be aware of? And is mediation a good alternative?
Green: Well, I actually had a guy come to me about a month ago who had gone to one of those sites and they thought that they could just do it themselves. But it turned out that they could do it themselves once they had agreed to everything. And, there’s the rub. It turned out that they weren’t in agreement about which of them was going to move out of the house. They weren’t in agreement about the schedule for their children. And then about two weeks later he discovered that his wife was having an affair and that it had been going on for a very long time. So then he didn’t want to pay her any spousal support. So, there were so many things they hadn’t agreed on.
If it’s a young couple with no kids and no substantial property, or only one or two things that they have to split, they probably could do it themselves.
Shevin: Some divorce professionals call that a complete walk away case. Correct? Meaning, you don’t have any kids, you have very limited assets and debts, and you just want to keep things separate. “What’s yours is yours. What’s mine is mine. We’ll just walk away from one another cleanly.” Is that a good fit for a do-it-yourself process?
Green: It probably is. But you know, that being said, I met with a couple yesterday that had a relatively short marriage and no kids, and yet they had such a meaningful conversation about why their marriage went south and their differences. And the wife had originally called me up to ask questions about the mediation process. And she said, “Oh, I haven’t spoken to him for four months. I really don’t even want to have to be in the room with him.” But she reconsidered and it ended up giving her some closure. I think it gave both of them closure that they wouldn’t have had had they not come in together.
Shevin: That’s a great insight. That’s something that you really gain from that process of being face to face. It can feel hard but then very worth it in the end.
Green: Right. Exactly. They came to a resolution that will allow them both to move forward and put to bed this chapter of their lives.