Marine Corps Base Quantico -- Divorce isn’t actually the end of a relationship.
Rather, it’s the start of a new kind of relationship for the formerly-married couple—one that could last for many years, especially if there are children. There could be property to divide and debts to settle and if there are children, major life events to navigate—and pay for.
“A Family Law Mediator can establish a more polite relationship between the couple going forward,” said Capt. David Leapheart, a legal assistance attorney with the Marine Corps Base Quantico Legal Assistance Office (LAO).
The LAO now offers Family Law Mediation, in addition to traditional divorce representation, through a pilot program that will run through Sept. 30, 2017. Stephen Chace, director of legal assistance aboard MCBQ, said Camp Pendleton has been offering mediation services for a year. Headquarters Marine Corps deemed the program so successful that it tasked Camp Lejeune and MCBQ to conduct pilot mediation programs.
The Quantico LAO will still offer traditional divorce representation, in which the office legally represents one partner in the divorce. Chace said this is still the quickest and least expensive option, with the sole cost being the $86 filing fee at the City of Alexandria Circuit Court. However, it only works for couples who are already in agreement about everything.
“Our new FLM program is designed for people who are coming to an agreement about how to separate but are stuck on certain aspects and want to avoid having to go to court,” Chace explained. “The mediator is a neutral third party who can help the couple reach agreement on their own.”
“The success of mediation is driven by the fact that the parties themselves make their own agreement,” he continued. “It’s not driven by who has the better lawyer.”
The goal of mediation is for both parties to draft and sign a Memorandum of Understanding, an unofficial document that details most of the necessary decisions made by the couple —division of property, custody of children, retirement, taxes, etc.—and serves as the basis for a formal, legally-binding Separation Agreement.
“The goal of the process is to get them about 75 percent of the way to a complete divorce settlement,” Chace said.
Mediation will be somewhat different aboard MCBQ than it is in California. Due to Virginia’s strict ethical rules, a family law mediator cannot offer legal advice or legally represent either spouse. The mediator’s job is to listen to the couple and help them understand each other and find common ground. He or she can provide legal information, point out different ways of looking at the situation, and brainstorm ideas.
Once the mediation process is complete, the couple will have to obtain a lawyer—either from out in town or from another military LAO in the area—to complete the divorce.
“There could be a cost if the couple chooses a civilian attorney to finish the process,” Chace said. “It could range from $1,500 to $5,000. But it will still be much less expensive than if the couple were going into it from an adversarial position, needing to hash things out in court.”
Prospective clients of the Quantico LAO will now be required to watch a video outlying the different options available to them before they can receive Family Law services.
Three MCBQ attorneys, Chace, Leapheart, and Capt. Matthew Sinnott, attended a week-long training session at Camp Lejeune this past June to prepare to offer Family Law Mediation. Chace said the training involved role-playing to develop the mediators’ listening and communication skills.
“Lawyers are used to dominating the conversation,” Chace said. “Mediation is almost the opposite. The role is vastly different.”