My Big Fat Divorce – Learning About Your Options Through The Ending Of A Hollywood Marriage


(Photo by Brent N. Clarke/FilmMagic)

In 2002 a very funny movie came out. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is the story of a Greek woman who falls in love with a non-Greek man. Hilarity ensues as they plan their wedding and meld their families and cultures. Actress Nia Vardalos wrote, produced and starred in the film which is loosely based on the real life events surrounding her marriage to Ian Gomez; who played the best man in the film.

Vardalos and Gomez recently announced they are divorcing after nearly 25 years of marriage. Unfortunately, divorce is common these days. What is uncommon is the way they have seemingly chosen to divorce. In addition to the dignity and grace they are showing in their public communication of their decision, papers filed by Vardalos and responded to by Gomez indicate they requested that spousal support be determined in mediation. Timing is important because the IRS will not allow spousal support to be deducted for tax savings in divorces finalized after 2018.

What does mediation mean? How does it work? And why would they choose that path? Can you do that too?

Maybe! Make no mistake, you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse are actively engaged in a lawsuit. The dissolution of your marriage is a legal event ending your marriage contract. But, you and your spouse have more direct control than you may realize over the cost and time involved when getting divorced. There are three primary divorce processes couples can select from: mediation, collaborative or traditional litigation. Each path is unique and though you will end up at the same place – divorced – how you get there varies widely. This chart gives you an overview:

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Mediation – Working With Your Spouse To Decide What’s Best For Your Family and Finances

(AP Photo/Chris Weeks)

In this method a neutral, professional third-party mediator facilitates communication between the spouses to negotiate their own agreement. The spouses typically participate in a series of five to ten voluntary sessions together to hammer out the details of their divorce, but it can be one or two full-day mediation sessions. If there is a specific issue they can’t agree on, they still have the option to use a judge to decide. Each spouse needs their own mediator-friendly attorney to advise them upfront, between sessions, and may attend parts of the mediation as well. They may also get input from child and financial specialists.

Once an agreement is signed, it is presented to the judge who will then finalize the divorce. Mediation works very well when there is a joint desire to end the marriage amicably, but can also be very effective in contentious divorces. Big advantages are that the proceedings remain private and there is a low likelihood of post-divorce court issues because both the husband and wife had substantial input into the final agreement.

Collaborative – Using A Team Of Experts To Help You And Your Spouse Come Up With Creative Divorce Solutions

This method has the same objective of working towards settlement without going to court. Each spouse retains an attorney who is well-trained in the Collaborative process. Instead of sessions being led by a mediator, the negotiations occur with both spouses and both attorneys present which is helpful when there is a significant imbalance of knowledge or power between spouses. An additional difference from mediation is that if an agreement cannot be reached, the Collaborative attorneys must both withdraw from the case and each spouse must hire a new attorney to litigate the case. While that sounds harsh, the goal is to have both spouses and both attorneys extremely motivated to come to an agreement. Fortunately, and unfortunately, you cannot use a judge to decide issues in the Collaborative process.

When an agreement is reached, the judge will finalize the divorce and the proceedings will remain private. As with mediation, the spouses must have the joint desire to work together to reach a settlement, but it can work even if they are not amicable. They usually involve additional experts, such as child specialists, divorce coaches and financial specialists in some of the meetings to assist in arriving at the final settlement. This option generally keeps the conflict and time down compared to litigation and the likelihood of post-divorce court issues remains low.

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