Merits of Mediation in Dispute Resolution

This post is about the merits of mediation, and the role I can play as your lawyer when you are thinking about using a mediator to resolve issues with your partner, spouse or former spouse. While I mediate disputes when asked, there are many good mediators in town, and I’m as happy being a lawyer as I am a mediator. Mediators mediate. Lawyers advocate and advise. No lawyer/mediator can be both in one case; there are rules of professional conduct that now prohibit this practice. Understanding the difference between the role of a mediator and the role of a lawyer will serve you well.

Mediation is, in my estimation, the most cost effective means for resolving disputes of all kinds, and family law disputes in particular. When I say cost effective, I am talking not only about money, but also emotional expense. When families change in configuration (separation), when new households are established, and when children are forced to navigate new environments, airing grievances in a public record (a court file) and in a public place (the Buncombe County Courthouse) can be destructive. Sometimes there is no alternative, and there are members of the Siemens Family Law Group that are highly skilled litigators when the only alternative is court.

Back to money. If you would prefer to spend your money on yourself or your kids, rather than a legal battle, here is my advice:

1. Find a family law lawyer for initial consultation. Ideally you will find a specialist like me, or an associate working under that specialist. You should expect to pay for that consultation (I charge $300, my associates charge less). What you should expect to get at that consultation are answers to all your questions. Prepare as many questions in advance as you can. What you should also expect to get is an education regarding family law in North Carolina, how that law might be applied to the facts of your case, how you might settle your case in mediation, and how the Buncombe County Family Court might view your case if you can’t. At a good law firm, you should get good counsel. This counsel might go beyond the law. If you meet with me, I’ll give you my honest perspective as a lawyer with 20 years of experience in Buncombe County; as a single parent of a now 7-year-old; and as man in mid-career who enjoys the ability to provide clear, seasoned, sound advice.

2. Go to mediation. Sarah Olson is a seasoned lawyer and mediator with a background in psychology, accounting and parenting. She has an informative website at Other good mediators include Gary Cash, Rebecca Knight, Sarah Corley, Michael Drye, Barbara Davis, Rhonda Moorefield and Patrick McCroskey. We can help you get in touch with any one of these individuals. The mediator you choose should have a working understanding of family law in North Carolina, the Buncombe County Family Court in particular, an ability to assess financial matters, and if children are involved, some life experience or training related to child development. Ideally, the mediator you choose will facilitate a conversation that results in a meeting of the minds, otherwise known as an agreement. At the conclusion of mediation, the mediator must ensure that any agreement that is reached is summarized in written form. The written summary of the mediator is a road map for settlement, but not the actual legal settlement document.

3. So, after mediation, go back to the lawyer you consulted initially with the agreement your mediator has reduced into writing. The lawyer you consulted should be able to pick up on your last conversation with him or her, take the mediator’s road map (the mediator’s memorandum), and get you to the destination (a binding legal document). We call that binding legal document a contract of separation and property settlement agreement. The legal document may have custody provisions in it. The legal document may, or may not, provide that it is to become a court order upon divorce. Your lawyer should be prepared to talk with you in detail about these procedural nuances.

If you follow these steps, you will come through the process of separation and divorce in the best way possible. You will expend less emotional energy. Your children will avoid unnecessary wounds. And, you will save money. I’d like to talk with you in more detail about this approach in an initial consultation. If you don’t talk to me, talk to one of my associates, or try to find someone equally qualified.

Thanksgiving 2013

As the Thanksgiving holiday is once again upon us, we here at Siemens Family Law Group feel it is right to give thanks to our clients, past and present.

It has been with your support that 2013 has brought growth and opportunities for us to give back to our communities.

Attorneys Brenda Coppede and Ana Prendergast joined the firm this year and have brought with them new energy and influence. It has been a wonderful time incorporating two new attorneys into the firm, and we have seen our practice flourish with their input.

Also in 2013, we have donated pro bono hours to the “4 All” Campaign of the North Carolina Bar Association and to Pisgah Legal Services.  We have provided financial support through donations and sponsorship to the Genesis Alliance, Asheville City Schools Foundation and Asheville Youth Cycling, among other organizations.  One of the most rewarding giving back experiences of 2013 was Jim’s travel to Haiti in October to assist in pediatric medical clinics with the Consider Haiti program.

This year has brought some challenges and successes for which we are grateful.  In April, Jim argued in front of the North Carolina Supreme Court on an access to justice issue directly affecting dependent spouses throughout the State.  Jim also continues to advocate for his clients both in trial and in mediation, successfully helping clients resolve issues in the best interest of their families and children. Brenda appears weekly in Buncombe County Family Court, where she has achieved many victories and positive outcomes through advocating zealously for her clients. Ana passed the North Carolina Bar and is building an elder law practice which complements our family law focus. Ana also associates with Jim on family law cases.

Justice, kindness and humility – we value these attributes and give thanks for the chance to put them into practice every day.  Happy Thanksgiving from Siemens Family Law Group.

Jim Siemens featured in NC Legal Leaders

Earlier this year Jim Siemens achieved the peer reviewed 2013 rating of AV Preeminent® by Martindale-Hubbell® for his professional excellence in providing legal services to the Western North Carolina community.

Jim is featured in the NC Legal Leader”s magazine and on www.lawcom. To view the current edition of NC Legal Leaders online magazine, click here.

Jim’s NC Supreme Court Appearance

On April 16th of 2013, I had the privilege of arguing before the North Carolina Supreme Court in the case of Duncan v. Duncan.  The case has a long procedural history and I have previously blogged on the concept of interlocutory appeals.  The Supreme Court took up this procedural issue on April 16th, 2013.  No appellate court has yet reached the merits of the Duncan case, looking only at the question of whether the case is ripe for appeal.  It is hard to believe that a case that was filed in 2005, and which I have been engaged in since 2007, is still winding through the appellate courts.  Here is an article I wrote for the Family Forum newsletter, a publication of the Family Law Section of the North Carolina State Bar Association, addressing the Supreme Court’s ruling in Duncan v. Duncan, and new legislation permitting the appeal of individual claims as a family law case progresses through the trial court.

2013 is a year of change in the rules of appellate jurisdiction for Family Law Lawyers.  On June 13th of 2013, the Supreme Court, in Duncan v. Duncan, ruled that an unresolved attorney fee claim is not a substantive claim rendering an appeal of substantive issues interlocutory.  Duncan v. Duncan, 732 S.E.2d 390; 2012 N.C. App. LEXIS 1132 (N.C. Ct. App., 2012); hereinafter, Duncan 4.  And, on August 23rd, 2013, NCGS 50-19.1 became law, authorizing the maintenance of appeals of individual family law claims, notwithstanding pending claims in the trial court.

Beginning with the Supreme Court ruling in Duncan 4, Justice Newby characterized an unresolved attorney fee claim related to alimony as “collateral” to a final judgment and “not part of the substantive claims”.  Justice Newby’s opinion effectively reverses the Webb case, wherein the Court of Appeals characterized attorney fees in the context of alimony to be a “claim”, the disposition of which is necessary before an entire controversy is determined and an appeal ripe.  Webb v. Webb, 196 N.C.App. 770; 677 S.E.2d 462; 2009 N.C.App. Lexis 518, 2009.

When Simplicity is the Solution for Family Law

During weekend reading, I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal that confirms principles and practices that set Siemens Family Law Group apart from the rest.

The article is titled “n” and in it, the authors, Alan Siegel and Irene Etzkorn, suggest that lawyers and technologists are the “taproots of complexity”.  I think that is a fair charge.  The authors go on to say that “complexity is a coward’s way out”.  I think there is truth in that too.

Family Law is complex, and it’s a good family law lawyer’s job to distill and clarify that law so that his or her client really understands how the law will meet the particular facts of their case.  Complexity really doesn’t serve the client.  At its worst, complexity can be used as artifice that serves the lawyer to the disadvantage of a client.  I see that sometimes, and I don’t like it.

In previous posts, I have mentioned the word empathy and the concept of empathic listening (the groundwork for effective communication).  Siegel and Etzkorn mention that word too.  They define empathizing as the perception of others needs and expectations.  That definition seems right to me.  They go on to say that empathy is “the only way to shorten the distance between an organization providing services and the individual receiving them.”

We want to shorten the distance between complex law and our clients.  Not with gimmicks and forms.  But with effective communication with each of our clients, so that they understand the process, the law and how the law applies to their unique set of facts.

Incidentally, I find that the same kind of communication works in mediation and the courtroom.

I’ll be sharing this article with my team, and we will be talking about how to keep the in play at Siemens Family Law Group.

Siemens Family Law Group Continues to Contribute in 2013

We have always found it important to give back to the community, with money and talent, but 2013 looks to be our best year yet.

We have renewed our commitments to WCQS, Pisgah Legal Services, Asheville City Schools Foundation, Asheville Bicycle Racing Club and Asheville Youth Cycling.  And, we will be doing service work for Mission Manna, Habitat for Humanity, and for two new entities-Mentoring Matters and Call 4 All.

In October, Jim will be taking his first trip to Haiti with Consider Haiti.  Our firm has, in the past, hosted a fundraising event for Consider Haiti.  This year, in addition to making a financial commitment, Jim will donate his time and energy to the cause of delivering food and medical assistance to Haitian children.

The 28th Judicial District Bar Family Law Section has been instrumental in Bar sponsorship of a Habitat House.  Our firm has made a financial commitment to the house, and members of the firm will help raise the walls later this Spring.

Mentoring Matters is a new initiative in Asheville, aimed at matching volunteer mentors with boys in middle school and high school who are without male role models in their homes.  Mentoring Matters will be working in partnership with Big Brothers and Big Sisters.  Jim will be meeting the legal needs of this program.

The Call 4 All program is an access to justice program that Jim has agreed to participate in.  Once a month, Jim will set aside time to consult with an individual in need of Family Law legal advice, screened by the Call 4 All program.  This access to justice program is a collaborative project by the North Carolina Bar Association and Legal Aid of North Carolina.

We are proud to be able to share our time and resources for a stronger, healthier community.  None of these efforts would be possible without the concerted efforts of all Siemens Family Law Group members and the support of our clients.

Brenda Coppede joins Siemens Family Law Group

We are pleased to announce that Brenda Coppede has joined Siemens Family Law Group.

Brenda attended North Carolina State University where she graduated cum laude in 2002, with a major in Public Relations and a minor in Spanish Language and Literature.  She then graduated from The Dickinson School of Law at The Pennsylvania State University in 2006 where she was a member of the Woolsack Honor Society.   Brenda received several distinctions and awards in law school for her pro bono work at the law school’s Family Law Clinic, including the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers Eric D. Turner award.

Upon her graduation from law school, Brenda was privileged to have a one-year clerkship with three family court judges in Sussex County, Delaware.  In 2007, Brenda was admitted to practice law in the state of Montana and clerked for the Honorable Holly Brown, a district court judge in Bozeman, Montana, working again primarilyon family law cases.  Following her clerkships, Brenda began private practice with Kasting, Kauffman & Mersen in Bozeman, with a primary focus on family law.  In 2010, Brenda was admitted to practice law in the state of North Carolina.  She has practiced family law in Asheville since November of 2010, joining the Siemens Family Law Group in February 2013.

Brenda resides in Asheville with her daughter and German shorthair pointer, Clem.


Jim Siemens achieves AV Preeminent® Rating from Martindale-Hubbell


Asheville, NC (PR Newswire) February 4, 2013 – Martindale-Hubbell, a division of LexisNexis®, has confirmed that attorney Siemens Law Office, P.A. still maintains the AV Preeminent Rating, Martindale-Hubbell’s highest possible rating for both ethical standards and legal ability, even after first achieving this rating in 2009.

For more than 130 years, lawyers have relied on the Martindale-Hubbell AV Preeminent® rating while searching for their own expert attorneys. Now anyone can make use of this trusted rating by looking up a lawyer’s rating on or The Martindale-Hubbell® AV Preeminent® rating is the highest possible rating for an attorney for both ethical standards and legal ability. This rating represents the pinnacle of professional excellence. It is achieved only after an attorney has been reviewed and recommended by their peers – members of the bar and the judiciary. Congratulations go to Siemens Law Office, P.A. who has achieved the AV Preeminent® Rating from Martindale-Hubbell®.

Siemens Law Office, P.A. commented on the recognition: “The Martindale-Hubbell AV Preeminent Rating is a credential highly valued and sought after in the legal world. It used to be a sort of secret among attorneys who used the rating as a first screen when they needed to hire a lawyer they did not personally know. Now, thanks to the Internet, the Rating is a great way for anyone – lawyers or lay people – to use to screen lawyers. I am thankful to my peers who nominated me for this distinction, and proud to have earned this, the highest possible Martindale-Hubbell rating.”

Some Do’s and Don’ts of Divorce

 Like it or not, people going through a divorce may find themselves in situations that quickly become very contentious, even when both parties agree that it is in their best interest to part ways. Below is a list of “Do’s and Don’ts” from, that might help to prevent this difficult situation from becoming unbearable.


DO be reasonable and cooperate as much as possible with your soon-to-be-ex. Reasonable compromise yields quicker and easier results in divorce cases.

DO support your children through the process. It is even tougher on them than it is on you. Don’t make them pick sides.

DO let your spouse know when and where you will spend time with your kids while you work out permanent custody arrangements. Your spouse might think you’ve made a run for the border – and if your soon-to-be-ex has to ask the police to track you down, that won’t look good during custody or visitation hearings.

DO fully disclose all your assets and property. A court can throw out a divorce decree based on financial deception, putting you back in court years after you thought everything was final.

Do ask your attorney if anything doesn’t make sense. Your attorney works for you, and should help you understand every part of the divorce process.


DON’T make big plans to take a job in another state or move out of the country until your divorce is final. Your new life could interfere with getting your divorce finalized.

DON’T violate any temporary custody or visitation arrangements. It could make it tougher for you to get the custody or visitation rights you prefer.

DON’T “give away” property to friends or relatives and arrange to get it back later. Hiding property can mean your spouse can take you back to court to settle those assets.

DON’T go it alone. Divorce is complicated, and an attorney can make sure that your interests are protected.


DO come to your meetings with your attorney prepared with updates and requested information.

DO engage the services of a therapist to help you through the emotional aspects of divorce.

DO engage the services of a therapist to help your young children understand family changes that result from divorce, and

DON’T discuss your case and/or your attorney’s advice with friends and family.  Bear in mind your disclosures may create witnesses if settlement efforts break down.


Why Mediation Works

“Reactive devaluation”.  That is the take away term from a mediation training I attended in May of 2012.  The term describes a phenomenon I”ve identified as a mediator, divorce lawyer and one time Husband, but it took the training to give that phenomenon a name.

In the context of divorce mediation, parties generally harbor negative feelings about their spouse or former spouse.  Those negative feelings compromise the ability of one party to hear the other, no matter how valid or important the message.  Polarized parties react by devaluing the message because they don’t like the messenger.

For a while, I thought mediation worked because parties in mediation recognize they can control the outcome and avoid the uncertainty of discretion exercised by a judge.  I still think that’s true in part.  Good lawyers in mediation certainly understand controlling risk.

But, as I continue to mediate for parties in the context of divorce, it is increasingly clear to me that it is my ability to serve as a substitute messenger, and a filter, that brings people to agreement.  As a mediator, I find it rewarding to carry and deliver important messages that might otherwise be reactively devalued and not received.

There is a connection between this concept of “reactive devaluation” and Stephen Covey’s 6th habit of empathic listening, the habit of seeking first to understand before being understood.  Negative feelings and emotions can interfere with the implementation of that habit.

At the recent recommendation of a great judge, I’ve read Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning.  This book was foundational for Covey, and it ties nicely into the concept of reactive devaluation.  Frankl (and Covey) emphasize that we have the freedom to choose, at all moments of life, how we will react, even in the worst of circumstances.

Mediation is a great tool when you are the messenger getting shot, the one doing the shooting, or both. You have the freedom to choose how you will react to the difficult circumstances of divorce.  We can help you hear important messages.  We can help you deliver them.