The ex factor

2012-08-11 08:13

Splitting up, although sad, doesn’t have to get ugly. With mediation you can negotiate a win-win divorce.

Many people thought Cupid had officially hung up his bow and arrow when Hollywood dream couple Seal and Heidi Klum announced the end of their seven-year marriage earlier this year.

More celebrity break-ups followed, including comedian Martin Lawrence and his wife Shamicka, Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis, and most recently Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.

While everyone was still getting their popcorn ready for what was billed the ‘celeb divorce of the decade’, TomKat swiftly agreed to a divorce settlement, including custody of their six-year-old daughter, Suri.

When a couple splits up, one of the parties may feel like they got a raw deal.

Whether it’s about the separation of property and money, custody of the children or emotional trauma, there will always be somebody who’s not happy about the outcome ... right?

According to Julian Liknaitzky, a South African-born divorce coach now based in Toronto, Canada, it is possible to end a marriage without feeling that you’ve been short-changed.

‘When it comes to high-profile divorces, people always expect to see some action.

I’m glad Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were able to come to an agreement quickly, which is in the best interest of their child.

Parents have to make sure that the child doesn’t feel like a pawn in the divorce, especially when it’s in the public eye.’

Sandton-based relationship consultant Ali Murray says, ‘It’s a sad reality that many relationships don’t work out.

An inability to resolve problems effectively can cause conflict situations and divorce is often the end result.

Even after such conflict, it is possible to be amicably divorced. Mediation offers an option for resolving issues in an objective, reasonable and responsible way.’

If you’ve decided to get a divorce, are already divorced but need to renegotiate some issues, or plan to separate from a live-in partner, consider negotiating the terms of the break through a mediator before going through protracted, bitter (and expensive) court procedures.

‘I give divorce mediation to people who are feeling overwhelmed about the whole process and don’t know where to start,’ explains Julian, who has degrees in both law and psychology.

‘Mediation is completely voluntary and people agree to work with one mediator to negotiate a settlement that works for both them.

It’s not legally binding, but it helps both parties to agree on matters that will make the process easier and cheaper.

And more often than not, those parties come out friends because they didn’t fight over everything,’ he says.

Julian also runs workshops to help couples deal with the emotional side of divorce. ‘You are actually getting divorced twice,’ he says, ‘because you’re separating both legally and emotionally.’

‘I focus mostly on the emotional side of things, because if people don’t acknowledge those emotions, they can end up making rash decisions. They allow their emotions to override their logic,’ he says.

Divorce mediation came under the spotlight in South Africa in 2009 when acting judge Brassey handed down a landmark judgment in the South Gauteng High Court during the Brownlee divorce case.

The judge said the case could have been shortened by mediation and that the lawyers should have advised their clients to seek mediation instead of letting them face the delays and expenses of running a trial.

As a result, mediation became part of local divorce proceedings.

As Judge Brassey said, ‘The best time to mediate is before the litigation begins. It is not a sign of weakness to suggest it. It is the hallmark of common sense. Mediation is a perfectly proper adjunct to litigation. The skills are now well developed. The results are astonishingly good. Try it more often.’

How do you choose?

Many of South Africa’s divorce mediators are accredited by the South African Association of Mediators, a non-profit professional organisation, to regulate those involved in family mediation through education, training and facilitation of family-related matters.

Every detail discussed during mediation remains strictly confidential and the only information made public in court is that agreed to by both parties in the memorandum of understanding.

Pretoria-based divorce mediator Dr Amanda Boniface of RSA Mediation says, ‘Divorce mediators are impartial and are specifically trained in mediation techniques.

They aim to get disputes resolved quickly and amicably. Divorce mediators don’t fulfil the role of an attorney or advocate, nor are they counsellors.

They can, however, refer divorcing couples to other professionals where necessary.’

Julian says that a mediator’s job is to help isolate and resolve critical issues and make sure that money is spent wisely by investigating all the options available during the process.

How mediation works
A divorce coach, Julian, explains, will offer the opportunity for everyone to meet face-to-face in a relaxed environment to ensure the smoothest possible change.

The Family Life Centre, a founding member of the South African National Council of Mediators, works in co-mediation teams.

Andrew Park from the centre’s Mediation Department says it uses two mediators: one who’s legally trained and the other a social worker, counsellor or psychologist.

Other mediators usually work solo, unless they need to refer the couple to a professional.

The aim is to provide the parties with as much information as they need to make an informed decision when drawing up their memorandum of understanding. This drafted agreement is what the couple takes to their respective attorneys, the Family Court or the High Court, to be turned into an agreement of settlement when they divorce.

One size does not fit all Not every situation can be mediated, says Julian. ‘Unfortunately that’s the reality.

There are cases that involve domestic violence, where one party is afraid to be in the same room as the other.

That’s why we also do a domestic violence check before going into mediation,’ he says.

Amanda agrees. ‘Mediation is usually not indicated in cases that involve mental health problems, such as personality disorders, or where there is drug or alcohol abuse.’

Julian concludes, ‘The aim is to make sure that everyone has a smooth divorce process. If everything works out, then the former spouses can even come out on the other side as friends.’

» For more information on Julian’s divorce workshops and coaching, email

Contact the Family Life Centre on 011 788 4784
For RSA Mediation, see
For Ali Murray, see

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