When wealthy Pennsylvania couples decide to end their marriage, one of the most difficult issues they face is dividing their assets. Pennsylvania is what is known as an “equitable distribution” state. The judge is given the power to decide the most equitable basis for splitting the couple’s assets. Many wealthy couples do not want a judge to be snooping into their assets or to have their wealth disclosed in various non-confidential court documents. For this and many other reasons, mediation offers an advantageous method of working out the issues in a divorce.
The basics of mediation
The Pennsylvania mediation process uses a neutral third party – the mediator – to meet with the couple and their attorneys to review the issues that must be resolved. The mediator is trained to act impartially, that is, the mediator will not take sides with or against either party. Instead, the mediator will listen carefully to each party’s concerns and where disagreement appears, suggest potential compromise solutions to the dispute.
Perhaps the single greatest advantage of mediation for wealthy couples is confidentiality. All conversations with the mediator are confidential, and the mediator cannot be compelled to testify at trial. Thus, the couple’s assets will not be disclosed in a public record, and if the couple should own a business, the company’s intellectual property will remain private. The impartial nature of the proceeding is also a benefit. The mediator will know when to press for information and when to hold back. The same cannot be said for a courtroom cross-examination. Some couples have information about family members that they wish to hold confidentially. In a court trial, this information may be unwillingly revealed under cross-examination; in mediation, the information, even if disclosed, will remain in the mediation room.
Wealthy individuals like to have control over their wealth. In a trial, control belongs exclusively to the judge. In mediation, each party to the divorce has a say in how the assets are divided. The mediator has no power to order the parties to agree on a proposed disposition; no agreement is final or enforceable unless both parties signify their agreement by signing the document.
To individuals unfamiliar with mediation, the process may seem strange and intimidating. Anyone who feels that mediation might be superior to a courtroom trial may wish to speak with an experienced divorce attorney for a complete explanation of the mediation process.