SUSAN GUTHRIE of LA JOLLA MEDIATION SERVICES
Getting divorced, or attempting to resolve your family law issue, is a difficult undertaking under the best of circumstances. It does not help that the traditional litigation approach is based upon an adversarial model pitting the parties against each other which only increases the emotional and financial costs of the process.
What may come as a surprise to many, is that divorce does not need to be a fight battled out through the messy court system. There is, in fact, a better way that is less aggressive, less stressful and less expensive.
Attorney Susan Guthrie offers clients a non-adversarial approach with mediation - a time and cost-effective alternative, providing parties with an outlet to resolve their issues in a respectful and private manner.
She established La Jolla Mediation Services, serving clients in California and Connecticut, assisting them by providing legal guidance to the process, a structured approach to addressing the issues, and support to facilitate the necessary discussions to bring about resolution Connecticut clients work with Attorney Guthrie via telephone and web-conferencing allowing them great flexibility in scheduling their sessions. California clients may meet with Attorney Guthrie in person or also by telephone or web-conference at their convenience.
Mediation allows the parties to work together, with the help of a trained professional, to discuss their issues, and arrive at an agreement that works best for them both and for their family. The end goal of a mediated matter is to try and find the best possible resolution for everyone.
Mediation is appropriate for almost all family law matters, including divorce, child custody or parenting plan issues, spousal support, child support, community property, post-divorce modification, prenuptial agreements and post-nuptial agreements.
Susan often works collaboratively with other professionals, such as mental health professionals or financial professionals, to appropriately address complex issues which may arise in these matters. On a case by case basis, these additional professionals can be brought in to help the parties, either directly in the mediation session or separately as needed.
This collaborative approach allows the parties to receive the best counsel for their individual situation, be it working together to effectively co-parent their children, or to properly address the sometimes complicated financial and tax considerations that arise in the division of property and calculation of support.
After nearly thirty years in family law, Susan Guthrie has the experience and knows the ins and outs of family issues, and she strives to make every mediation session one where problems are solved respectfully and in a manner that both parties feel is fair.
My Business Magazine asked Susan Guthrie about mediation, what she does to help people, and why it works:
MBM: Describe what your practice, and what you offer clients.
Susan: My practice is centered on handling divorce and family law matters in as non-adversarial a fashion as possible, focusing on a holistic and integrated approach to helping them resolve the issues with less expense, time and stress. The mediation process is individualized for each couple and I often work with other professionals, to meet the needs of the couple going through the divorce matter. I want to help the couple to resolve their matter in a way they both feel is fair and best suits their family situation.
MBM: Why did you decide to switch from being a litigator, to mediator?
Susan: I was a litigator for nearly thirty years so I well know the adversarial approach you see in the modern court system. The most common case is where both parties lawyer up and the lawyers battle it out to “win” for their client through a long, acrimonious and expensive court fight. This adversarial approach wears on everyone involved - including the lawyers. After many years in the trenches it became increasingly difficult to be involved in such an emotionally destructive process and I wanted to find a better way to help the parties.
Unlike the litigation model which is very much centered around an adversarial approach ,mediation is centered on helping the parties find solutions where they both feel they won, or at the very least, feel that the end result is fair to them both. I’m firmly convinced that trying to help people resolve their disputes in mediation ends up with the better result for them, and really for everyone.
The most valuable solutions in the end are ones where people get to make their own decisions, which they are then are more likely to find reasonable and to be able to live by them. The mediation process also helps them find a new way of communicating as they discuss the issues, because they are going to need new methods of working things through going forward, especially if they have children together.
In the litigated case, where your attorney is representing you, the attorney is in there doing the communicating and the work. The client is behind the attorney and their communication is only with their attorney, not the other party. All that person is learning is how to have someone else communicate with your ex’s attorney. They are not learning how to start a new dialogue with their former partner. It does not set them up very well for working together successfully post-divorce. In fact, it sets up the continuing paradigm of needing to involve attorneys for issues that arise in the future. By mediating and working with their partner or spouse to arrive at mutually agreeable solutions, the couple is better prepared to work together after the legal matter has ended.
MBM: There are a lot of people who do mediation services, no doubt. How do you position yourself differently?
Susan: I think it is a combination of my almost 30 years of family law experience combined with the ability to create a team approach to the mediation process to meet the very specific needs of each particular couple and family that makes me successful at what I do.
For some cases, they do not need a lot of specialization. Those cases may have rather simple issues, their children are doing well, and we can work through their issues in a relatively short period of time without the need for additional supportive professionals.
However, often when you get cases where there is high conflict between the parents – or where you have children with special needs, or or who are in crisis – it can be very helpful to bring a mental health professional into the process to help the parents best meet their child’s best interests.
In other cases, where you get complicated financial pictures – such as very high net worth couples with complicated tax strategies – or even when you get people who are barely making it work in one household with the income coming in, and now you are going to split into two households, there needs to be some high level financial problem solving conducted. In those cases, bringing in a certified divorced financial analyst can be very helpful.
I create the team that is going to best help the couple to make their decisions and to get the most successful outcome.
There are other professionals that can come in too. There are divorce coaches that are very helpful for some people. In other cases, real estate professionals, such as brokers or appraisers are helpful or necessary. There is really a pretty broad range of what professional assistance the case might need there and I can build that team
MBM: Describe the changes you’ve brought about in couples.
Susan: I’m dealing with people going through their deepest, darkest emotions – number one being usually fear, but also anger, and hurt, sadness and grief.
I’ve been able to assist them and support them in their discussions , so they are able to reach an agreement that they both think is fair. It doesn’t have to be what I think is fair and equitable -, the parties make all the decisions based upon what they think is fair.
The rules are respect and courtesy. I heard someone say, ‘It sounds like you just sit around all day and sing Kumbaya and hold hands.’ It’s really nothing like that. It is a process where the couple must have difficult discussions but find a way to do so that results in a mutually agreeable solution.
That is the win-win ending we are working toward. In the end, they are unlikely to think they got everything they wanted, but they do feel like they were fair with each other and can go forward in a better way. For me, that is a successful mediation.
Dave Gordon has penned more than a thousand articles, and more than five hundred editorials, on every topic imaginable. He writes regularly on domestic and international politics, current events, culture, relationship issues, and much more.
He has spent time in the newsrooms of the Toronto Sun, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Baltimore Sun, National Post and eye Weekly.
Attorney Susan E. Guthrie
La Jolla Mediation Services