Divorce Options – Coaching vs Mediation vs Litigation


When thinking about divorce you may believe the first or only option is to find the right attorney. For some people that might be correct, but for others, you may want to consider mediation or even divorce coaching. It’s important to know the differences and to understand your options. Do what’s right for you, for your family, and for your divorce.

OUR GUEST – Deb Perullo, Divorce with Deb

FULL TRANSCRIPT – Season 1, Episode 60

Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS DIVORCE etc… Podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it! We’re T.H. & Jessica.

Jessica: Welcome back to another episode of the exEXPERTS podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Do you know why? We’ve lived it, so we get it. I’m Jessica.

T.H.: And I’m T.H. We would like to welcome back Deb Perullo, founder of Divorce with Deb. She is really a jack of all trades that you want as far as divorce. She is a real-life divorce expert, and she’s an expert in terms of mediation and divorce coaching. So welcome back, Deb.

Deb: Well, thank you for having me again. I love being here.

T.H.: Today we are going to talk about where do you even begin to figure out what kind of divorce is right for you and your spouse and your family? How do you even conquer that?

Deb: Well, I think I look at it as it can go from really easy to really difficult. Somewhere along that spectrum is where your divorce will fall, and then it’ll determine what kind of divorce you’re going to have. You can, easiest, negotiate the divorce yourself and come up with your own settlement agreement, and if you have children, your own parenting plan, access, schedule, and that kind of thing. Then simply fill out the divorce paperwork yourself, go before a judge, and get a divorce. That’s the easiest. It’s usually two people who decide we don’t want to be married anymore, we’re in full agreement, you don’t have anything to fight about, we both love our kids and Kumbaya.

Jessica: Probably not the standard divorce?

Deb: Correct. Correct.

T.H.: You’re lucky if that is your divorce. You’re lucky if that is.

Deb: Very lucky, and it does exist. It’s just not what you see because usually you see the ones that are having a hard time and they’re not all points on agreement about everything. Then the next path would be okay, well, we don’t hate each other, we can communicate fairly well, but we don’t agree on these points. A lot of people are tempted just to get a lawyer right off the bat. They feel like the word divorce and hiring a lawyer go hand in hand. It’s not true. It’s not necessarily true. For mediation, you’re still at a point where you don’t have an attorney yet in the picture. You’d go meet with a mediator, I’m a mediator so I can speak about how that works, the couple would come to me and we’d go through things. I usually send them something in advance to go through a whole checklist. They kind of say, we agree on all these points, and here are sticking points. Then during mediation, my job as a third-party neutral is to get them to come to an agreement. If they can come to an agreement, then we write up a memorandum of understanding. They take that and they have it notarized and reviewed by an attorney, maybe one hour of time, and that turns it into a marital separation agreement and parenting plan. Then they file that with paperwork. Then there’s something called a collaborative divorce, which is one step up. This is a little more expensive but not as expensive as going to litigation. You each have an attorney and there’s a mediator, so now you’re paying for a mediator and you’re each paying for an attorney. That’s for someone that maybe they can’t communicate as well, so they have attorneys helping to communicate. Sometimes there’s a CDFA that’s on that collaborative divorce team.

T.H.: What’s a CDFA?

Deb: I’m sorry, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst. You often see that, or I would like to see that, with couples that have assets that are not just, you get this car and I get this car, maybe there’s a slew of retirement assets, or just investment assets, stocks, bonds, maybe there are some trusts involved, that kind of thing. They can really help to structure a settlement that’s fair and equitable and addresses all things like alimony, child support, and that kind of thing. It’ll take the settlement and it’ll project out 5, 10, 20 years, look at each party’s net worth, and determine if there’s an unconscionable disparity in income or net worth. Then we know that the settlement is not fair, and they’ll try to close that gap by manipulating the variables. Lastly, there’s the divorce that you go through with an attorney. Your attorneys are talking back and forth, each charging money, and this can last two years or longer. The goal there is still to get to a settlement, but then if you don’t, the 5% that don’t, go to litigation where then the judge decides all issues. That’s the worst that happens, typically, that 5%, one of the spouses has a personality disorder, and it’s a high conflict divorce. Then you’re letting a judge who’s maybe seen the people a total of how many hours decide, never met the kids, deciding all of the issues of two parents who really know best but unfortunately can’t communicate. That’s the whole spectrum of different ways that you can go through a divorce.

Jessica: So how are you helping someone to decide what’s right for them? What are the deciding factors that they would be explaining to you that would give you the knowledge of like, this seems like the best path for you to go on vs. this path, etc?

Deb: I never recommend litigation. Litigation is something that when all other avenues are exhausted, that’s the unfortunate thing that happens.

Jessica: So you’re really like mediation or collaborative? Those are really the two you recommend?

Deb: Yeah, I really like mediation. Collaborative, I think is a fancy way for more people to make money from the divorce because it really is mediation.

Jessica: If you recommend mediation, are you also the mediator or no?

Deb: No, no, no. There’s a real distinct line between parts of my business. If I have someone and I’m coaching and a divorce coach, I may recommend mediation, but it won’t be me because it’s a conflict of interest. The only way I do mediation is if someone calls me and they say, I think that we could mediate. I’ll say, all right, I’ll talk to you and then I’m going to talk to your spouse. I’m going to talk to you both about the exact same thing. It’s just this is the process of mediation, and this is how it works. I’m neutral, I am not going to advise you, and I’m not going to advise him. If I email, we’re all included in the email. I don’t speak to you one-off except for the very beginning. So no, I don’t mix like that.

Jessica: Do you find that there are people who come to you for divorce coaching with, I know this might be a weak analogy, but almost like someone who goes to the hospital with a birth plan? You know that your birth plan may not work out the way that you want it to, but you already have your sort of ideal way of what you want it to look like. Do you find that most of your clients are coming to you with an idea of the route that they want to take? Is it working for them that way or do you find that they come to you thinking one thing, but after you’ve spoken to them, they really see the light, and you’re helping to direct them a different way?

Deb: No, actually, most people have no idea. [Wow, okay] Yeah. I always say to them, we don’t get married with a frame of reference for divorce. When divorce comes up, it’s really overwhelming and they have no idea what to expect. They don’t even know what a mediator is. They don’t know what litigation means. They know what going to court means. You really have to explain everything. What I try to do is to get an idea of how amicable things are. Are you still able to speak with your spouse? Are you not able to communicate at all? Is it really contentious when you do? Do you both have the best interest of the children at heart? Do you think that you could work if – So it’s a series of questions like that. I always, if I think that it can be mediated, it doesn’t hurt to try. So with mediation, you could get through mediation, and then maybe you agree on eight things but not these two things. So then you talk about, well, let’s talk about what it would look like to come up with a consent agreement for those eight things. Now you’re stuck on these two, so we’re going to move those and maybe that ends up getting decided by a judge because you’re at a standstill. You’ve reached an impasse.

T.H.: So do you meet with a couple? If someone calls you and says, we need to get a divorce and we need a coach. Would you coach the couple together?

Deb: No.

T.H.: So you’re only on one side or the other? Because I would think that if someone’s calling you and says, we have a great relationship and communication is open, but he might be thinking, I don’t tell her anything. Do you know what I mean? Like, just because he thinks one thing may not actually be the reality on the other side.

Deb: Well, the reason that I wouldn’t coach a couple – I do mediation, and that’s kind of coaching because you’re neutral and you’re trying to say let’s get to an agreement. I guess that could be called “couples coaching” in a sense, but just like it’s against the ethics for an attorney to represent both parties, you can’t possibly be looking out for the best interest of each. It wouldn’t be fair to them to do that. That would be mediation. That would be called mediation if they came to me together.

Jessica: So if someone decides that they want to get a divorce coach, they’ve heard of the idea or the concept of a divorce coach, and they really believe that that’s something that can help them. What kind of tips would you give them in terms of making sure that they find the right one for them? Are there certain questions that you would recommend that they ask? Or how do they find if they jive with your vibe?

Deb: I’ve never had to recommend a divorce coach, because I’m a divorce coach, so they’re coming to me.

Jessica: No, but what would you say to someone who if they’re going to be calling divorce coaches, what kind of questions would you want them to ask you to make sure that you guys are definitely meant to be?

Deb: So what I would say is you definitely want to feel some type of camaraderie with who you’re speaking to. This is why I do a free consultation. I don’t want anyone to pay me if I’m not someone who’s going to help them. We’d have a half-hour conversation, and in that, the way I start off is I say, if you have any burning questions, I’m happy to answer those right upfront. If you don’t, then why don’t you tell me a little bit about your situation? I’m going to ask you a few questions and then I’m going to jump in. I’m going to talk to you about if you worked with me, this is the way I would work with you. Then at the end, I’d say, I’m going to send you a contract for coaching. If you decide to work with me, you sign it and send it back, and that enables you to call and have time with me at your leisure whenever you’d like to. This is how I work, and I’m very direct. I’m going to give you actionable steps. We’re going to move through the process. You kind of have an idea in this half-hour that we spoke of who I am and how comfortable you might be with me. If you don’t feel that I’m a good fit, I’m not offended, and then you make other calls. You’ll know within a half-hour if you feel comfortable with the way somebody is going to work with them.

Jessica: It’s not really unlike when you’re talking to a lawyer and trying to decide if they’re going to be the right fit for you.

Deb: Yeah. I think it’s the same thing with an attorney. You want to make sure that they’re not cutting you off, that they have plenty of time for you, that they’re not going to be like, well, I’m going to say I’m your attorney, but every time you call, you’re going to talk to my paralegals, right? You want to know that kind of thing. I don’t have an assistant that’s going to take the call because I’m too busy. You’re always going to work with me.

T.H.: Also, you’re less threatening, to be honest. I remember going and having to meet with lawyers, and I was scared shitless. I didn’t know the right questions to ask. I just wanted to make sure because somebody told me this lawyer was great that I went and talked to this lawyer, but the truth is I probably got nothing out of that consultation because I was scared. I feel like you’re so much less threatening than walking into an attorney’s office. You’re like, ah, okay, it’s like a safe space. An attorney’s office is not a safe space. The sharks are already circling.

Deb: Yeah, it’s intimidating. Everyone realizes that the very first thing an attorney asks you is for your financial statement. That’s because they want to see how lucrative a client you’re going to be. I mean, that’s just, can you afford me? I don’t ever ask anything like that. They pay as they go with me, so if they can’t afford me any longer then they’ll probably tell me, and we’ll work something out. But attorneys, I just had a client today who emailed me and said, oh my gosh, what do I do? I’ve already given my attorney I think it was $16,000? She didn’t have any money left. He said, then I basically quit. She wanted to put it on a credit card, but he wouldn’t let her.

T.H.: All that money…

Deb: So now what was the $16,000 for? It’s gone.

Jessica: Do you have any top two do’s and don’ts for people who want to work with a divorce coach? That would be…

Deb: Yeah, well, when looking for one just do your homework, because there are a lot of people out there that say they’re a divorce coach, and they’re not really. They haven’t been through it, they’re really not as educated, and they’re not going to be able to answer your questions. I have people who say to me, gosh, I can’t ask you anything that you haven’t been able to answer. Well, that’s years of acquiring all of this knowledge. I’m also very comfortable if I’m asked something, to say I don’t know. I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out for you. You want someone that feels really dependable, very resourceful, and willing to also recommend outside resources because I’m not the be-all and end-all. I think that you need to pull experts in where they’re needed.

Jessica: If they can talk to you then you would say to someone if you’re working with a divorce coach, do not do this.

Deb: If you’re working with a divorce coach, do not pay large sums of money upfront. They don’t need a retainer. Keep track of the time and what they’re billing you for, because to T.H.’s point earlier, there are a lot of dishonest people in the industry, as you found from watching that documentary and things. Just make sure, and I would say get recommendations or ask for recommendations. I’ve had people ask me if they can speak to some of my clients. That’s really tricky because it’s confidential. So then, what I’ve done is I’ve asked some of my clients, do you mind reaching out to this person and speaking to them about your experience with me? That way they can do it anonymously because I would never give like, here’s a list of references. Absolutely not.

Jessica: Here on my website you can see all the people I’ve worked with.

Deb: [Laughs] Oh, her husband didn’t know that she was getting divorced? That can be tricky, but they should be willing to reach out to clients to give you a reference to help that way. I would just say that and the bar association for attorneys you can check the attorney, but there isn’t a place where you can look for certified divorce coaches. There are places that say they certify divorce coaches, but I’m thinking, how? It’s not a thing. I could say tomorrow, well, you could be certified through me. It doesn’t mean anything, but now I’m going to charge you $5,000 to say that, right? So those are the kind of places where people say, I have all these credentials. They don’t really exist for divorce coaching, not at this time.

T.H.: So since you’re also a real-life expert, if you could give advice and pay it forward, above and beyond this whole business that you’ve created, what would you say you wish you knew?

Deb: Gosh. The biggest thing I wish I knew was getting the attorney in the beginning. I will share; my divorce was over $250,000. That’s money that my kids could have gone to college with. That’s retirement money. I wish I knew and wasn’t so scared about what was going to happen if I didn’t have a lawyer. I really felt like if I didn’t have a lawyer I was getting thrown to the sharks, and that’s just not true. I wish I knew that. I wish I knew there were divorce coaches and someone that I could talk to, to your point, when you said not intimidating. Someone who’s not going to cut me off or say, that doesn’t matter, because lawyers tend to do that. That’s irrelevant. We don’t need to talk about that right now. It’s like we need to talk about whatever I need to talk about.

Jessica: That’s right, exactly.

T.H.: You’re paying the bill.

Deb: I’m paying the bill and I need to know. I don’t care that the trial might not be for so many months. I need to know what that’s going to look like because I feel comfortable having the big picture, and then we can go in increments. And also, free consultations. Everybody should give a free consultation.

T.H.: Okay, good.

Jessica: We have so much more to talk about, but we’ve got to wrap this one up. [Sure] So for people who want to reach out to you directly, what’s the best way for them to find you?

Deb: The best way to find me is my website: I have an email: I have a Facebook group, a support group, and on Facebook, that’s called Divorce Support Group for Women – Knowledge and Information.

Jessica: Love it.

T.H.: So I found Deb through that support group as I was doing research for the exEXPERTS. I found her because she’s the administrator on it, and I will say that support group, and there are many on Facebook, is actually really lifting one another up. There are several, so be careful, that are really venting and trashing sites, [Right, just negative energy] which are destructive and toxic. Everybody needs a place to put it, but I will say through all the research, that’s how I found Deb. I still engage with your support group and give feedback based on some of the questions and my own experience. You definitely want to check out her support group.

Deb: I will just say on a last note that I have one administrator with me, a moderator, and we’re heavily involved. If I can’t sleep at night, I’m in the group at 3 am because I want it to be a safe place for women. There’s zero tolerance for judgment, unkind comments, and mean girl things. I just delete, delete, delete. I have hundreds a day adding to the group. We’re closing in on 17,000 now.

Jessica: Wow.

Deb: Yeah. A year ago, I think I had a thousand. These women are just super supportive of each other. I love seeing it. It warms my heart. It takes a lot of work to try and keep the group in that mindset and keep that culture. So thank you for saying that because it’s not without effort.

Jessica: Kudos to you for keeping it all together. That’s awesome. Thank you for bringing so much amazing information here to the exEXPERTS community. We really appreciate it. For everyone out there listening, if this is going to be helpful for anyone else that you know in your life, please share. Sharing is caring. We want this to get to as many people as possible. Be sure to click and subscribe to our podcast on iTunes or wherever you find your podcasts. We are also on social media: @exEXPERTS. You can follow us there on Instagram and Facebook and YouTube. Thanks for listening. Bye guys!

T.H.: Thank you, Deb.

Deb: Thanks for having me.

Goodbye: For everyone out there listening, if you know anyone at all who would benefit from what we talked about today please share this episode and everything exExperts.  Be sure and click to subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen to your podcasts and please follow us on social media @exEXPERTS Divorce etc… on Instagram and Facebook and YouTube and our website at  Thanks for listening!

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