Once a marriage is far enough gone, the only remaining question is “How hard is it going to be to untangle our legal and financial lives and (if relevant) sort out custody?” For some couples, separating via mediation rather than litigated divorce has its appeal: Many people don’t want to cast their former spouses in the role of enemy, and mediation is a cheaper, more cooperative, and less adversarial process than a War of the Roses-type brawl.
I’ve heard of cases in which one spouse is so eager for custody of the children that they will relieve the other spouse of any duty to pay child support—which is not in their or the children’s best interests. Green says, “This is explicitly contrary to New York legislative policy—the kids shouldn’t be bargained for the money. The two things are determined separately by the court, so there’s no reason to take less than you’re entitled to under the formula.”
If you have been ordered to pay child support and your situation has changed so that you cannot pay the amount of support ordered, it is important to contact the county child support officer right away. You can bring a motion to ask the court to lower your child support. If you do not bring a motion, there is little chance the court will forgive back support, even if you were unable to pay. For more information about child support, see our booklet Child Support Basics.
Finally, parties may agree to continue child support past the statutory termination date. When this occurs, it is usually based on a mutual desire to support a child through college. Although the Court lacks jurisdiction to order child support beyond the statutory termination date, the Court does have jurisdiction to enforce a binding stipulation of the parties which provides for that.  If I am representing the obligor, I normally advise against this, because one can always support the children through college if one so desires. There’s no reason to get the Court involved.
1. Don’t make your attorney justify every single decision, no matter how small. We’re happy to do it, but it takes time, and time costs you money. The point is not for you to acquire a law school education. The point is to represent your interests with excellence and efficiency. If you can’t take your lawyer’s word for something, it’s time to get a new lawyer. Otherwise, it’s much cheaper to give your lawyer a certain amount of “command authority,” at least on matters of procedure and tactics.
Many lawyers charge a retainer fee of between $2,500 and $5,000 for average cases, and bill the client for services in addition to the time covered by the retainer. The retainer amount will be substantially more in complex cases, so the cost of mediation from beginning to end can be less than the combined retainer fees would be if the parties hired lawyers to handle the divorce.
Court rules now require both sides to try ways other than court to resolve their differences. There are many other ways to reach agreements called alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods. Make sure you know all your choices before deciding on a method. The parties may be asked to pay for the cost of ADR. Most ADR methods let you stop the process at any time without reaching an agreement.
When a couple has made the decision to enter into divorce mediation, there are preparations which can be made which will ensure the mediation is more beneficial to both parties. Having an experienced divorce attorney in your corner is important before you attend mediation. Because a mediator is unable to give legal advice to either party, your legal questions can then be answered by your attorney. Before attending mediation, it is a good idea to make sure you are organized. This means having all documents pertaining to the issues you will be discussed together in a cohesive manner and bringing those documents to mediation.
Attorney fees vary from hundreds of dollars if the case is easy to thousands of dollars for cases with custody and/or property disputes. It is important that you understand your payment arrangement with your attorney. Many attorneys charge an hourly fee for their services. You will be charged each time the attorney works on your file. Ask your attorney for a written “Retainer Agreement” or letter which explains in detail how you will be charged for legal services.
NOTE: There are many ways to divide real estate in a divorce. The court forms for marriage dissolution (divorce) only give you 1 option -- one spouse gets 100% of the house, cabin, or other real estate, and the other spouse gets a lien. But, you can change the court forms. An attorney can explain other options, advise you about the law, and draft terms to meet your situation. If your divorce involves real estate, you should get advice from a lawyer on your legal rights and options.