Michael Cohen on Creating Better Outcomes Through Divorce Mediation

Are You Ready for Divorce?

TAKE THIS QUIZ and Find Out. 

Minute Read

Episode Description

When divorce looms, people usually focus on the assets and finances first. But to divorce mediator Michael Cohen, the kids should always come first.

Michael's own contentious divorce fueled his metamorphosis from corporate executive to passionate divorce mediator. As a mediator, Michael helps parents create co-parenting agreements centered on their kids' emotional health.

In this podcast episode, we dig deeply into the way that the adversarial process fundamentally clashes with preserving family bonds. Litigation pits spouses against each other with dueling attorneys battling over assets. Mediation offers a paradigm shift - bringing both parties together with a neutral facilitator to find mutually agreeable resolutions to their divorce issues.

If you’re interested in mediating your divorce you’ll discover a wealth of practical information in this episode, including:

  1. The average cost of mediation versus litigation;
  2.  The opportunities afforded by digital mediation;
  3.  The way that mediation can preserve family connections, even in a divorce;

              … and more.

 If you’re even thinking about using mediation in your divorce, this podcast episode will provide you with a wealth of information and practical tips.

Show Notes

About Michael

Michael is a former corporate executive who went through a litigated divorce and vowed to transition his career to divorce mediation as a result. He saw firsthand the impact of a litigated divorce on his own children, and he vowed to help other families get through a divorce in a more amicable way, with good co-parents, so the family could remain connected as a family, just in a different way. Michael has his CPA and is very adept at helping couples with the financial decisions they need to make during and after their divorce, but his passion is working with parents and helping them to divorce while building a strong co-parent relationship. Michael cares, is passionate about helping others, understands what they are going through, and is driven to help them divorce in a healthy way at a significantly lower cost than litigation.

Connect with Michael

You can connect with Michael on LinkedIn at Michael’s Mediation at Facebook at Michael’s Mediation and follow Michael on Instagram at Michaels’ Mediation. You can learn more about how divorce mediation services for you and your family visit Michael’s website at Michael’s Mediation.

To listen to Kathleen Brigham's Unique Bird-Nesting Life click here.

Key Takeaways From This Episode with Michael

  • Michael Cohen is a divorce mediator who previously worked in the corporate world. He went through a litigated divorce himself and saw the negative impact it had on his kids, so he decided to transition to divorce mediation to help families divorce in a more amicable way.
  • Michael emphasizes the importance of minimizing the impact of divorce on children. His goal is to help parents communicate better, make decisions faster, and become good co-parents after divorce.
  • He discusses the benefits of mediation over litigation - it's healthier for families, more economical, and allows for more creative solutions.
  • Mediation can work even when there is high conflict between spouses if a neutral third party facilitates. Mediation is typically much less expensive than litigation. Mediation may cost around $3,000-5,000 per person, compared to $15,000+ per person for litigation.
  • Michael advises talking to a lawyer briefly beforehand to understand rights and responsibilities. But starting with a lawyer can lead down an adversarial path. It's low risk to try 1-2 mediation sessions first.
  • Mediation allows for creative solutions that focus on the children's best interests, rather than being constrained by legal limitations. Examples include nesting arrangements and shared pet custody.
  • Mediation requires both parties to be transparent and willing to compromise. If there are concerns about deception or lack of willingness to compromise, litigation may be better.
  • Overall, mediation is presented as a far less costly option compared to litigation, which can easily cost each spouse $15K up to $300K+. Mediation is usually $3-6K total for both parties.
  • The key traits needed for successful mediation are: ability to communicate, listen, be transparent, and compromise. If those elements are present, mediation is worth trying.

Do you like what you've heard? 

Share the love so more people can benefit from this episode too!


Michael Cohen on Creating Better Outcomes Through Divorce Mediation


mediation, co-parenting,  preserving family connections


Karen Covy, Michal Cohen

Karen Covy Host00:10

Hello and welcome to Off the Fence, a podcast where we deconstruct difficult decision making so we can discover what keeps us stuck and, more importantly, how we can get unstuck and start making even tough decisions with confidence. I'm your host, Karen Covey, a former divorce lawyer, mediator and arbitrator, turned coach, author and entrepreneur. And now, without further ado, let's get on with the show

With me today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Michael Cohen, and Michael is a former corporate executive who went through a litigated divorce himself and decided to transition his career to divorce mediation. As a result, he saw firsthand the impact of a litigated divorce on his own children, and he vowed to help other families get through divorce in a more amicable way. Michael's goal is to help parents become good co-parents so their family can remain connected as a family, even though the former of their family will be structured in a different way. Michael has his CPA and is adept at helping couples with the financial decisions that they need to make during and after their divorce, but his passion is working with parents and helping them to divorce in a healthy way and to become strong co-parents, all while spending significantly less than what they would spend in litigation. Michael, welcome to the show.

Michael Cohen Guest01:38

Karen, thank you so much. Love the introduction. Thank you.

Karen Covy Host01:42

It is my pleasure and I'm so thrilled to have you in it. I want to start in the beginning with your story, and I touched on a little bit in the introduction. But if you could tell me what drove you to become a divorce mediator, Start wherever you want to start.

Michael Cohen Guest02:00

To be honest, I went into the corporate world. I did it because that's my passion, but I really always wanted to work one-on-one with people. And then I went through a divorce myself and I was just very, very frustrated with the legal process Not by any means of bad people, just the process. It was very contentious, it added a lot of stress. It affected my kids In the corporate world. My role was a people leader. I was used to bringing people to win-wins, finding a vision for people to align to and move to, so I knew I could do that. So I had a passion this is a passion project. I went to Northwestern, I got certified, like so many others have, and I built out the foundation and then I had the opportunity to pivot and I did it and I've been thrilled. It's been a wonderful, wonderful career for me.

Karen Covy Host02:50

I love your passion. I love what you're bringing to the table in terms of mediation and it sounds like you've got both sides the passion for the kids, but also the experience as a CPA with the money, which is also really important in mediation. So I know you're passion-less with children. Tell me, what would you expect or counsel for co-parents, for people who are coming to divorce. They've got kids, they're thinking of mediating. What would you say to them?

Michael Cohen Guest03:24

Well, a lot of people come to mediation and they think their most valuable assets are their house, their retirement accounts, et cetera. But their most valuable asset is their children, and how they divorce is how their children are affected by divorce. I've seen it. One of my daughters was alienated from me. My boys are great, but they both went through a hard time in the middle of a divorce and I've got a lot of life stories that I talk about and how that has affected them and how it has put the stress of my prior marriage and divorce on them and it breaks my heart that they have to deal with that.


So when I talk to parents, I really focus on how do they minimize the impact of divorce on their children. So children are divorced right. When you go through a divorce, it changes a child's perspective, but if parents can do it in a way that's emotionally healthy for their children, it doesn't have to what I would say change their life arc. It doesn't have to change their development, their growth as a person. Yes, their story has changed, but they could still grow up to love their parents, feel loved by a family and feel supported by a family, and that gives children confidence and it allows them to be successful.


When parents are going through a litigated divorce, it takes a long time, there's a lot of contention, the parents aren't talking to each other because their lawyers generally say don't talk to each other about the divorce. So the kids feel it. And kids are so smart Not only do they see things, they hear things and they feel emotions. And when a litigated divorce takes a year, year and a half two years kids go through that and they're affected. So my goal is to try to get them to get to an amicable decision quicker, while talking to each other and learning how to communicate with each other, so that their kids not only hear them say they both love them, but they feel that and they trust that.

Karen Covy Host05:22

So what would you say to the divorcee couple? They come and they're not totally sold on mediation, but they've heard it's a way to save time and money. So they're sitting in front of you or maybe they're deciding whether to sit in front of you and they say look, we can't even agree on what time of day it is. How are we going to mediate?

Michael Cohen Guest05:45

Yeah, it's really interesting If you could picture whoever we're talking to your listeners right now, they're in a situation where they have conflict with somebody. That conflict is high, it's real. It's very abrasive. Sometimes you introduce a third party into the conversation and all of a sudden they're watching their P's and Q's a little bit and they're both explaining their logic a little different and that person in the middle now is translating what one person is saying so that the other person can hear it and the temperature comes down. So I've seen people who have contention. When you introduce a third party who's unbiased and will reframe the conversation and help them listen to each other, it really brings the temperature down and it does work. It's not easy Some clients are easier than others but it can get done and the third party, who's a neutral facilitator, does a tremendous job to get the conversation going.

Karen Covy Host06:43

So it sounds like what you're saying is that just by having another person in the room sitting there and listening to the conversation, the conversation changes. Am I getting that?

Michael Cohen Guest06:54

Absolutely, absolutely. It's like a buffer, like the mediator becomes the buffer. The mediator has to have thick skin, has to have patience, because they absorb the hits right. Yeah, and I've seen it. Sometimes it takes a session or two before the clients get to a point where they start to listen and work together as a unit. But in the meantime the mediator has to take the stress, absorb it and kind of spit out something that's more amicable so that the conversation can be productive.

Karen Covy Host07:24

A question that I have gotten a lot of times from my listeners and my readers is how do I know if mediation is going to work for me? How do I know if I even invest in mediation? What would you say to that? How can somebody tell? Because there are some cases where it's just not appropriate for mediation? How can you, as a person who's not familiar with the system, who's not familiar with mediation, how do you know if your case is an appropriate case for mediation or not?

Michael Cohen Guest07:57

Good question. So at a bare minimum, both spouses have to agree to mediate, so you can't force mediation on somebody. So what I do is have consultations with each spouse, make sure they both understand the process, make sure they understand they can answer, have their questions answered. What I tell them both ultimately is there's really no risk to trying to mediate. Most lawyers will charge a retainer and that retainer isn't refundable and it's pretty sizable and both parties need a lawyer. So let's call it $3,000 to $5,000 each. You're in for $6,000 to $10,000. Before anything happens you have to replenish it. You'll probably have to replenish it at least once before you even see any progress. So you're in a lot of money and you're committed.


When you mediate and I'm talking for myself I don't charge a retainer. I know a lot of mediators don't charge a retainer, but it's a pay-as-you-go and you could stop at any time. So what I always encourage people to do is invest an hour or two, a session or two and see how it goes. If it's not working right, you could stop. You've wasted very little time, you've wasted very little money and if you stay long enough and make some agreements, you can actually take those agreements forward to your lawyer and benefit from them and not re-litigate them. So it's a very low-risk time in terms of time and money endeavor and I always encourage people to try it, because mediation is the healthiest way for families, it's the most economical way for the marital assets and it's just the healthiest way to divorce. And it's not often that you could spend the least amount of money in the healthiest way and get the best product, so it's worth trying.

Karen Covy Host09:43

Well, what if you get into the situation where people say you know, my spouse is hiding money. You know, is that if someone really believes that their spouse is hiding money, is that a case that you can mediate or not?

Michael Cohen Guest10:01

It's a really good question and I have a client right now who's asking me those questions. One of the caveats with mediation is both parties have to be transparent. Now I have a CPA, so I do a lot of tick and tying around the documents and the financials that they present, but that's not foolproof. So if somebody has a separate account, there's really no way for me to know that without doing some work. Now you could bring in a forensic accountant, but that's very costly. There's some guides that are out there that each individual could look at to try to do before they start the process, but I mean mediators might think differently.


I generally tell people if there's lack of trust you might need more of a legal representation to get records and to dig deeper. But I'd like to give it a try. I know the questions to ask during the financial review and sometimes that surfaces things that people might have just made a mistake and haven't mentioned. If there's truly deceit going on, that's hard I don't know. Do you have a different opinion on that? I know you've got some experience as well.

Karen Covy Host11:09

Yeah, oh, just a little bit, but yeah it. Mediation only works if people are going to come to the table and be transparent. However, there are ways, like you said, that you can. There are questions that you can ask when you've been around the block a time or 500. And you can start to suss out information and see are both parties providing accurate information? And sometimes, honestly, sometimes, people forget. It's like oh yeah, I had that retirement account from when I was at this job, like 20 years ago, and I haven't like.


People legitimately forget things sometimes and then they not legitimately forget things other times. So it's about figuring out what boat that you're in and that's one of the factors that you've got to think about when you're choosing mediation. But I have a question for you, though. I mean, people think of okay, mediation is an alternative to litigation. I'm going to go to the mediator first and then, if it doesn't work, we have to litigate. But can they? What happens? I mean, is it possible for a couple to start in litigation so that they've got the benefit of a court order discovery process, they can issue subpoenas, they can get the information they're missing and then, once they have what they believe to be full financial information. Can they then go to mediation?

Michael Cohen Guest12:42

They can, and certainly in Illinois and in most states you're required to mediate your parenting section. So for certain, while you're litigating, no judge is going to want to make decisions for your family. They're going to want you to try it so that part can come out and be mediated, and it should be. As far as the financial aspects they certainly can. I think emotions change as you go through a divorce process, and originally I think everybody knows you just file and hire a lawyer and you go down the path and then you start paying the bills and then you start realizing I'm spending a lot of money and we're not making any progress and God, we just want to get this over with and we know what's fair. You could certainly take that out of the lawyer's hands, come to a mediator and resolve that, and then the mediator would provide your lawyer with an MOU that they could then use and leverage to finalize your divorce.

Karen Covy Host13:34

What is an MOU?

Michael Cohen Guest13:36

Oh, sorry, I thought I was talking to you.

Karen Covy Host13:38

Yeah, you are talking to me, but everybody else might not understand.

Michael Cohen Guest13:43

An MOU is the product that a mediator provides a couple. It's called a Memorandum of Understanding, basically summarizes what the couple agreed to.

Karen Covy Host13:52

It's not binding until it's filed in court and approved by a judge, but it provides a basis for a lawyer to draft the final papers and get you in front of a judge makes sense, and also for those people who are listening, whether or not an agreement that's drafted in mediation and signed by both of you can be binding right then and there it depends on the law of the state that you're in, so you know. That leads me to the next question. I know I have an opinion on this, but I'm wondering your opinion on this. Should people talk to a lawyer before they start mediation?

Michael Cohen Guest14:29

This is a tough one. I'll be interesting to hear what your comments are. I don't think you have to. There's certain protections when you file for divorce that will set a separation date or an asset measurement date or what have you, but that's not a roadblock to doing that yourself. In mediation, one of the things that I've learned is when you contact a lawyer, oftentimes it walks you down a litigated path. So that's my biggest concerns, because once you start with a lawyer I've described it to people it's like opening a door to a dark one-way alley and it's hard to get out of. So it's very easy to start with a mediator, come up with all your agreements and then hand that to a lawyer and say file, and here's our agreement. Just write it up and we're done. And that's probably the most efficient way, the least stressful way. That's my opinion, but I'm interested to hear what you have to say.

Karen Covy Host15:26

I have a very different opinion actually. So this is going to be an interesting conversation. I love it, but I think, being a lawyer myself, no person should go into mediation without having talked to a lawyer. Not that you have to have a lawyer on retainer you don't but you should at least spend the money to get an hour consultation so that you understand your rights and responsibilities and how just sort of get the lay of the land of what the law in your state is. Here's why I have also seen, as a lawyer, being on the other side.


People come and they come to me and they say, oh, here, I've got this memorandum of understanding, we've got this mediated settlement agreement, essentially right, and I'll say, okay, that's cool, I see, you gave up this and you gave up that and you gave up this. Are you good with that? And they go huh, what I could have done, what I could have? And then all of a sudden, because they didn't know what their rights were going in it's not that they couldn't do what they wanted to do or give up what they wanted to do, I'm totally good with that. But my concern was always did you do it knowingly or did you do it in case you just didn't know any better, in which case there's a problem. And then, if they come back to their spouse and they say, hey, I didn't know what I was doing, I want to change whatever it is, they can always go back to mediation and have another conversation about changing things, but then the trust is blown. Then the other spouse is like, oh, now you want to renege on the deal. Now you and the whole mediation agreement that they've worked so hard to get blows up in their face.


So I, for myself, I'm always a big fan of knowledge is power, and you should know what you're doing before you walk in the door. That having been said, I also see your point that if they go to the wrong lawyer, if they go to a very litigation minded lawyer, then they're going to get steered in a certain way. So it's kind of it's a little bit of a balancing act that you've got to know. I mean, I used to tell people as a lawyer you give me 15 minutes alone in a room with I will have you doing anything I want you to do, because I could scare the living daylights out of any person sitting in that chair, because divorce is scary and there's so much unknown and I would put the fear of God in like that's not what I did, but I do know some of my colleagues didn't have the same problem that I did doing that. So I see your point, but it's about I really think people need to know what they're doing. What do you think about that?

Michael Cohen Guest18:14

Well, I totally agree with you 100% what I found and maybe it's been the mix of clients I've had lately. A lot of them are paycheck to paycheck they're. They don't have complicated marital assets. They have other situations where most of the decisions are centered around the kids and when it comes to the children, I don't think a lawyer is needed to figure out what's best for your kids there.


There are areas where spouses have a disparity and income or one spouse stayed home and to raise the children were spousal maintenance and they've been married a long time. It's a big issue. In fact, this morning I just finished an area the parenting section with one client and we're they're filling out their financial affidavit and providing information and I told them similar what you said. Now would be a good time if you two want to consult with an attorney, because we're going to start to talk about spousal maintenance and this is a 30 year marriage. The husband has been working Good job. The wife has some health issues. She hasn't worked, so spousal maintenance is going to be a big thing. So I'm advising them to consult with an attorney because ultimately they could decide what works best for them, but it's such a big topic that I really want them to be educated so they know what the parameters are before, and that's kind of what that's the way I handle. It is at the right time I advise them to to consult with an attorney.

Karen Covy Host19:40

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. But you know, going back to what you were saying about the parenting agreement, you make a really good point. I mean, really, what does a lawyer or a judge or anybody else really know about your family, your kids, what kind of schedule I mean is going to work for your kids and what kind of schedule is not? So when you're talking when you've got two parents and you're talking about mediating a parenting plan, what do you recommend or advise parents to do? When they're at odds of you know who gets what day or who gets who gets which holiday or how much vacation time, how do parents work that out in a way that really puts their kids at the forefront of the discussion?

Michael Cohen Guest20:28

Yeah, it's a great question because with, at least in Illinois, the child support calculation is based on how many nights the children are with each parent. So you always have to wonder if they're arguing based upon a desire to minimize or maximize child support or else. But the way I do it is I generally start with the kids, like tell me about your kids, what are their schedules, what is life like for them? Tell me about your work schedules, because sometimes parents want the kids but it's just not feasible. So we get all of the known things out of the way and then we've got something to work around. So once we understand that, the parents generally understand oh yeah, well, I can't be there to pick them up from school, so you have to have them, or what have you? So I'd like to try to focus on what do the kids need? What are you able to do? And now let's be creative.


The other thing I'd look at too is the age of the children, because the younger the children generally it's beneficial for them to be with both parents on a regular basis, but if the parents aren't living close to each other, that's hard to do.


But when they're older you can get a little more creative and take larger blocks of time with each parent and minimize the drop offs, for example. Like kids don't like to be packed up every two days and sent somewhere else, so the age of the children comes into play. Ultimately, ultimately, I try to just focus on what's best for the kids. The nice thing about mediation, too, is you get really creative, especially today with higher interest rates and the inability to sell the house or to, I'm sorry, the inability to retain the house. Some parents are considering nesting and I've worked with some clients where we've done that and that's ideally best for the children. It's hard for the parents, but the children just stay in the house and it's the parents packing their bags and they gain some empathy and understanding what the kids are going to go through. Sometimes that works out from a financial perspective and it actually helps the children as well.

Karen Covy Host22:30

Yeah, I had a guest on the show a few episodes ago I'll link that episode in the show notes as well where this woman spent 10 years bird nesting yeah, and she. Interestingly enough, she and her spouse divorced. They continued to nest for 10 years. She remarried a spouse who was nesting, so it was a really interesting situation and it's something that in my experience. It's tough to make it work for an extended period of time. You can make it work for six months a year. It starts to get old really fast. But to do it for 10 years, I'm not really sure if she did it long term, but I know it's an issue now because people can't refinance and pull money out of their houses the way they used to be able to do a couple of years ago. And so what do you do? You want to keep the children in the same school district. You can't afford that. A new house if you solely like. What do you do? It makes things challenging.

Michael Cohen Guest23:41

Yeah, I mean, divorce is hard enough as it is taking the same income and now supporting two homes, and then you add refinancing to that and it's really a hard situation for couples right now. I feel bad for a lot of them.

Karen Covy Host23:54

Yeah, you mentioned a moment ago that mediation gives you the opportunity to have much more creative solutions than litigation would. Can you pick your brain and ask you to pull out some examples of something really creative that you were able to do with a couple that they never could have done in court?

Michael Cohen Guest24:18

The one that comes to my mind is actually this couple, and it's funny because they didn't tell me they had a dog. Again, that was my mistake. I didn't ask up front. But we were just finishing and all of a sudden I heard a dog bark and I'm like what is that? And they're like oh, that's our dog. I'm like are there any other kids that I didn't know about? So I've since started asking about family pets.


But the dog happened to be an aggressive dog, over 100 pounds that couldn't be rehomed. So even if they decided to get an apartment each, they couldn't find a landlord that would take the dog and the mom watched the dog and the mom watched the kid. So we had to find a solution where the daughter and the dog stayed in the house, and this is where the nesting discussion came into play. So, because of the dog and because of the finances, we worked a lot of time on this and we came up with a solution where the dog and the daughter would stay in the house and the mom and the dad would rotate in and out until the dog passes away Hopefully, I mean it's an older dog and hopefully it lasts a long life. But that's what we pivoted on. We got done with that and I said no judge in their right mind would have come up with this solution for you.

Karen Covy Host25:40

Yeah, that's for sure. But I have also known many people who have worked out essentially custody arrangements for their pets and have kept them going for years after their divorce. Like the pet was almost like to your point it was their child and they continued to have visitation and time with the dog until the dog was no longer. And it happens.

Michael Cohen Guest26:11

Yeah, but I spent a lot of time with clients just talking through options. I'm kind of an idea person, so I like to come up with ideas, because sometimes spouses will come Well, I want a 2255 or they just want something. And I'm like let's not think about what's out there, let's think about your life, tell me what works and let's get creative. And how about if we did this and we'll just throw ideas at the wall and see what makes sense and then we'll come back to it in the next session? Have you thought about it so we could be as creative as they want to be?


I have another client who's got. They both have two difficult jobs. They both travel a lot, so they're getting divorced, but they have to rely on each other greatly because if they're out of town and the kids need them on their days, they need to rely on their spouse. So there was a lot of creativity that we put into that plan and a lot of flexibility that allowed them both to lean on each other and cover for each other, even though they won't be married.

Karen Covy Host27:08

What do you do in an instance like that? Because I've had many clients who either they or their spouse has, or both of them have, tough schedules. I mean, there's a lot of travel or they're expected to come to work. They have the kind of job like a firefighter where it's an odd schedule, or they're expected to come at the drop of a hat often police officers or people in law enforcement. If something big is happening, they just have to go. How do you work with that kind of a schedule as a mediator? How do you get people to work that out?

Michael Cohen Guest27:46

Yeah, this is one of those times where I kind of lean into them a little bit and explain why it's so important to be amicable. Because there is no flexibility. One of my clients is a UPS driver and he can't leave work. Another client of mine is an underwater welder. He can't leave work. It's just something where they have to rely on each other.


I've got a family where the moms and would provide a lot of daycare and they're getting divorced. My dad when he was out of town he wanted the aunt to continue to cover for the kids when it was his parenting time, but they're getting divorced. It turned into a little bit of a discussion. I took that opportunity to say this is a reason why it's good to be proactive and amicable with each other, because you're going to have to lean on each other. If you want your former spouse's aunt to cover for you, you've got to be on good terms. That means you have to be flexible for her so she can be flexible with you. Every time that message gets across, a lot of people act emotionally, not understanding the consequences. She's going to cover for us. She doesn't have to anymore. Legally she doesn't have to. You have to be really nice. You guys have to be on good terms here because you need each other.

Karen Covy Host29:11

Would you ever consider bringing the aunt into the mediation, or would that just make things, messier?

Michael Cohen Guest29:18

I wouldn't. I don't think I would. She doesn't have any obligation. I think it's up to the spouses to decide how to work together and communicate with each other and support each other.

Karen Covy Host29:32

Personally I wouldn't do it either, but I was just curious. Speaking of curiosity, sometimes, especially if people have older children, like teenagers, the teenager wants a say, they want to get in. Would you ever what's your feeling on having teenage kids in the mediation?

Michael Cohen Guest29:52

I'm not a fan of it. I've had parents who, unbeknownst to me, had their teenager with them at the time it was just during a consultation in the car and I was really taken aback. When the teenagers spoke up I said wait, where are you? Like I kind of was thinking through what we were talking about and I was feeling you know bad about having a conversation in front of their daughter. But I don't personally like to do that. But I do help parents understand that the older the children get, especially in the teenage years, it's healthy for them to make their own choices. Their social life is important. Things become more relevant and the courts generally give them more latitude. So I just try to prepare them for that and help them think about that so that they're okay with it when it happens.

Karen Covy Host30:41

Yeah, I think all of the research that I've ever read or heard about says that children do not belong in the middle of the divorce. They don't need to know all the details of what's going on. But you bring up a good point because a lot, if not most, mediations these days post COVID are done on Zoom right. And so you don't always know who's in the room with that.

Michael Cohen Guest31:07

It's in fact. I had a session last night and this couple is doing it at home. They have one minor child at home and our first session. They looked off to the side and I said, oh, is somebody else there? And they go yeah, our daughter.


And they go here, come on over, she wants to say hi and just as nice as day. She popped in and waved and I'm like are you guys okay with this? Do you wanna continue another time? And they're like no, she's good with us. So we kind of kept our voices down. They were in the living room and it wasn't ideal. It wasn't ideal, but they were very comfortable with it.

Karen Covy Host31:41

Yeah, that you know. I think parents might not realize how much to your point I think you mentioned this before the kids are picking things up even though they're in a different room, and really if you wanna put your kids first, you've gotta be careful. Even if you're mediating your divorce, that doesn't mean the kids need to know the details.

Michael Cohen Guest32:03

Right, right. So I'm with you. I don't think they belong in a session.

Karen Covy Host32:09

Yeah, I agree 100% and I know even in the court system like judges are very reluctant and with good reason to have the kids come in and testify, even though the kids often wanna tell their story or the parents want the kids to say whatever. Tell their story to the judge. Judges don't enjoy doing that. It's not a good position to be in.

Michael Cohen Guest32:32

Right, yeah, I agree completely.

Karen Covy Host32:36

So if somebody is trying to decide whether to mediate their divorce or litigate or do collaborative or some other form, what advice would you give them for making that decision?

Michael Cohen Guest32:56

There's a lot of ways I could take this, but the mediation is by far the healthiest, the most economical, the best outcome for children and parents, so there's really no reason not to do it. What I tell couples is if you could talk to each other, if you could listen to each other, if you can be transparent with each other and if you can have a desire to compromise, you should consider mediation Now. If you can't, if you don't wanna compromise, you don't wanna be transparent, then you're gonna have to go to a lawyer led process. But if you could say yes to those four areas, I often encourage people to give it a try.

Karen Covy Host33:41

That makes sense. And just quick question for anybody who's listening. Of course they're gonna say all right, you say mediation is less expensive. Do you have any ballpark of how much a mediated divorce would cost compared to a litigated divorce?

Michael Cohen Guest34:00

Yeah, I mean it's huge and this is one of the biggest reasons, but it's not the most important. I think that children is the most important reason. But I tell clients all in plan on $7,500 for both of you and I've never even hit that amount. I cap my fees personally at $5,000. I've never charged anyone more than 3,000 or 3,500 just cause we get it done From there. They have to contact a lawyer.


The lawyer has to draft their papers and get them in front of a judge and that could be anywhere from $2,000 to $3,500 depending on which county they're in. So if I was billing 3,000, worst case you had another 3,500, you're up to $6,500. That's all in for both parties. So that means they save all that money with a lawyer and you probably know more than I do in this area. But like a retainer could be 3,000 to 5,000 each and you probably have to refill it two to three times during the process. So I think it's at a minimum of 15,000 each and if it's contentious, I mean I've heard of people spending 50, 80,000. I've heard one woman tell me she spent $300,000 in legal fees herself and I'm like I mean that's just ludicrous.

Karen Covy Host35:12

Yeah, I've been personally involved in a divorce on the sidelines, but in a divorce that cost each party paid well over a million dollars in legal fees. I mean there was a lot at stake, it was a high-end case, but there was no reason that they had to be paying multi-millions of dollars to get divorce zero, except that they fought.

Michael Cohen Guest35:39

I mean, the way to think about it is when you litigate, you both have a lawyer. Lawyers are expensive, so you have two lawyers. When you mediate, you have one mediator who charges far less than a lawyer, and there's just one of them, and the process is efficient. It's not. It doesn't drag on.

Karen Covy Host35:54

Yeah, makes a lot of sense. Michael, I wanna throw you a bit of a curve ball now and ask you a question that I like to ask all of my guests, because this podcast is about not simply divorce and mediation and process and all those things, but it's also about decision-making, because when you're going through any kind of life transition, you're gonna have to make a lot of decisions. So if you don't mind sharing and it could be any decision whatsoever but what's been the hardest decision that you've ever made?

Michael Cohen Guest36:28

Wow. Well, I'll probably get a little personal, but it's probably deciding to divorce my children's mom. I had tremendous guilt about what that would do to my kids. I never thought I would. I didn't want them to be children of divorce. I love them all. That was a really hard decision, but I'm not gonna say whether it turned out good or bad. It just happened and we moved on. That was really hard. I understand why couples have a hard time with us. It's really emotional. It's very impactful to your family and you don't wanna be the cause of something bad to your family. You want your family to be happy. So that was probably the biggest decision I've had to make.

Karen Covy Host37:25

Thank you so much for sharing that. I know that probably wasn't. That's not an easy thing for anyone to talk about, but people need to hear that it is a really, really difficult decision and one that most people I know don't take lightly. So I wanna thank you for sharing all of your wisdom here today. It has been so helpful and I really hope that the people who listen consider mediation. Whether it's in the beginning of the divorce or even if they're in the middle of litigation, it is never too late to try to mediate. For those of you who are listening or who are watching, if you liked this episode, if you liked what you heard, if you want more of it, please do me a big favor. Give me a thumbs up like subscribe. It matters more than I can tell you and I'll see you again next time.

Head shot of Karen Covy in an Orange jacket smiling at the camera with her hand on her chin.

Karen Covy is a Divorce Coach, Lawyer, Mediator, Author, and Speaker. She coaches high net worth professionals and successful business owners to make hard decisions about their marriage with confidence, and to navigate divorce with dignity.  She speaks and writes about decision-making, divorce, and living life on your terms. To connect with Karen and discover how she can help you, CLICK HERE.


children and divorce, divorce mediation, off the fence podcast

You may also like

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

What if You Could Get Exclusive Content, Stories, and Tips Delivered Right to Your Inbox for FREE every week?

[Not convinced you want to be on one more email list? I get it.

Here's why THIS list is different]

"I read every word you put on line and listen to all your podcasts and encourage you to keep up the good work you are doing. I wish I had known about you in the early stages of my divorce as it would have saved me a lot of hell. I have referred numerous friends who are in various stages of going through “divorceland” to your articles. The attorneys do not cover what you do, and in order to lessen the pain your approach is really helpful."

Don't Miss Out. Subscribe Now.