February 17, 2008

Getting Creative in Mediation

How One Couple Solved a Nagging Problem

Mediation, unlike therapy or litigation, is a problem-solving process. As such, it's also a place to get creative. Think about the following problem.

Joe and Melinda were getting divorced. Melinda, a school librarian, had always been much more organized. Joe, on the other hand, was more casual. He marched to a different beat. It was a difference in style that had caused a lot of tension during the marriage.

Having worked out a joint custody schedule, they agreed that Melinda would be the primary contact for bills on behalf of the children, including school fees, insurance premiums, and contributions to a 529 college savings plan. She'd keep track of these expenses, and Joe would reimburse her at the end of the month.

But Melinda was worried. She knew she'd have to continually remind Joe about reimbursement, and that would surely undermine their co-parenting relationship.

Joe didn't like the idea of interest charges for late payments. He'd resent paying Melinda punitive "fines." Melinda, meanwhile, didn't want the role of the nagging ex-wife that she would inevitably become if Joe faced no consequences for being late.

Mediation allowed them to reframe their conflicting styles into a common problem: How could they ensure Melinda received timely reimbursement without Joe feeling resentment for the occasional month when he might be late? Here's what they agreed:

If Joe was late, he would pay into the children's college savings fund the larger of $50 or 10% of the overdue amount, up to a maximum of $250. Now, the only beneficiary of a late payment would be the children. And that was an outcome both Joe and Melinda felt good about!

TurboTax for Court Forms

Legal-Ease: Helpful Tips for Navigating the Legal System

Legal-Ease LogoGreat news for everyone who hates paperwork! The California Supreme Court is rolling out a valuable free service. EZ Legal File (http://www.ezlegalfile.com/) is an inter-active Web-based questionnaire that helps users complete those inscrutable court forms.

By asking you simple questions, EZ Legal File fills out all the paperwork. It's good for small claims, family law, and landlord-tenant eviction cases. Think TurboTax for court forms.

Residents of San Mateo County can even e-file their forms right from their PC. (People in other counties still have to print the forms and file the old-fashioned way - by mail or by visiting the court-house.) Other counties will also soon offer e-filing.

So, three cheers for the California Supreme Court!

EZ Legal File makes our legal system much easier to navigate by empowering people to do their own court paperwork.

Some people will still choose to hire a lawyer to help them with the court forms. But others will now be able to save those fees, paying their lawyer only for personalized legal advice rather than for perfunctory form-filling tasks they can now do themselves with EZ Legal File.

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