JACKSON — Can a couple facing divorce end their marriage in just one day?
Why not, say two Jackson attorneys who have teamed up to form a divorce mediation business they call Divorce in a Day.
“Attorneys will tell you that most cases are settled, and a lot of times they are settled at the last minute ‘on the courthouse steps.’ Why subject the litigant to the time, expense and agony of litigation when the end result is a settlement anyway?” said Mark Chinn of Chinn and Associates, PLLC, who recently formed Divorce in a Day with Beth Morgan of The Middle Man, Mediation & Arbitration, PLLC.
Divorce in a Day is a six-hour session mediated by Morgan. All parenting and financial issues are addressed and hopefully resolved, so that at the end of the day, the couple walks away with a full-fledged written divorce agreement with a final decree, a joint complaint and instructions on how to file the divorce on their own to make it legal.
Because Morgan’s neutral status prevents her from advising either spouse on the final agreement, couples are advised to seek out an attorney to review it before they sign on the dotted line. If both parties are happy with the agreement, however, they can skip the legal advice and file the divorce themselves.
Chinn’s 15-year-old firm handles high-asset divorce cases that are often legally complicated by valuation, pension, tax and other issues. Most divorces are not that complex, however, yet they still bear a high price tag, said Chinn. Because many people cannot afford the high price of divorce, Chinn’s goal was to provide the same level of legal counseling at a cheaper price.
“I believe the secret is mediation with the mediator being able to give people the highest level of agreement drafting available,” he said. “I think it’s just what the doctor ordered for most people.”
Chinn and Morgan charge a flat fee of $1,995 for mediation. Couples who take the usual divorce route typically pay about $1,500 apiece to retain lawyers, who then start charging each spouse by the hour, said Chinn.
According to Morgan, the average cost of a traditional contested divorce is $4,125 per spouse — with each attorney spending 33 hours at $125 an hour. Transcripts, appraisals and evaluations tack on another $900 for a total of $5,025 per person, not including retainers.
Messier divorces take even longer to move through the traditional legal system. About two years ago, the Mississippi Supreme Court released suggestions on how long various types of litigation should take. The justices’ suggested time limit for divorces was 14 months, said Morgan.
“The sad thing is, that’s not enforced,” said Morgan. “Divorce is very expensive. It eats a good chunk of the family’s finances, and finances may have been what broke up the family in the first place.”
Before starting her mediation business two years ago, Morgan practiced family law and served as an attorney and opinion editor for the Mississippi Supreme Court. Having worked in both a traditional law firm and as a mediator, she finds her clients are much happier with the mediation process. Mediation is more efficient in terms of time and money, and also more thorough in handling the details of finance and parenting, she said.
“(Clients) feel like they’re given enough time to really understand what they need to do to put together a god parenting plan or put together the finances,” she said.
Chinn and Morgan say a one-day mediation should work for couples that enter the mediation in good faith with the mutual goal of finding common ground to resolve their disputes — even those that seem particularly difficult. Lawyers have fairly standard ways of handling divorce issues like child custody or who will pay for the children’s health insurance, he said. In addition, there are creative ways to solve problems that fit each person’s needs, such as in cases where one parent’s visitation is restricted.
“We believe the people who need to be protected are the children,” said Chinn. “We believe in getting families through a divorce in a civil manner, instead of making it an unfortunate, unhappy event for them.”
Mediation is not for everyone. Chinn and Morgan advise against it if there are incidents of domestic violence, if one spouse has deserted the marriage and cannot be found, or if one spouse is suffering from diminished mental capacity through disease, substance abuse, addiction and other causes.
Contact MBJ Staff Writer Kelly Russell Ingebretsen at firstname.lastname@example.org.