1. There are so many relationship issues that come to the forefront at the mediation that I now look at mediation as an opportunity to correct the record and to cleanse the relationship. As my clients go through their mediations, I always learn something about relationships and about life. Here are a few of the truths I uncovered this week in mediation:
Sometimes (quite often) people knowingly marry the wrong person. And why would someone marry anyway? A variety of reasons: They check the right boxes on paper; they have money and can provide a better lifestyle; the age of the person is a concern that they’ll never get married; and they marry a person who reflects their parents, even if their parents had a hurtful relationship.
The marriage inevitably ends and the person who knowingly married incorrectly almost never admits. This is the time to correct the record. Have a heart-to-heart with yourself and your spouse. If the marriage should not have taken place, it typically cannot last. Blaming the other spouse is pointless because if the decision to marry was an incorrect decision, anything done in the context of hurting the relationship almost could not have been prevented. My thinking is that ending the relationship with honesty can be cleansing. But negotiating settlement terms with the payor of relationship dishonesty hanging over the discussion dilutes the effectiveness of the mediation.
2. A good mediation cannot take place until the Emotional Divorce is settled. The grieving process has to be engaged, the heart has to heal so that the mind can negotiate. Grieving before filing is the way to approach an amicable divorce and a solid mediation settlement.
There is the Emotional Divorce, the Legal Divorce, and the Social Divorce. All three divorces will be part of the mediation, and can be discussed at that time. Mediation can be used as a clearing house for settlement decisions. Maybe one spouse has been ostracized by former friends of both spouses. Friends do tend to take sides. If one spouse is bashing the other spouse to their friends, it’s an uphill climb, if not a completely futile climb to gain the friends back. Maybe one spouse can bequeath the friends to the other spouse in the mediation. That might be fun surprise in the mediation. In addition to the co-parenting and custody plan, maybe taking custody of the friends could be a deal point. (Just kidding, but a little levity is needed in tough mediations.)
3. Don’t try to win your mediator over by bashing your spouse. I cannot tell you how much I hate this. I’m so uncomfortable when one spouse bashes the other spouse and tries to get me on their side. There is no side for a mediator to take. Mediators work with total strangers who never give a full and balanced accounting of the situations used to spouse-bash.
A good mediator will never be swayed by spouse-bashing, but you will put your mediator on guard against you. That means that the mediator has to work extra hard to remain neutral and work on advancing the conversation, the negotiation, the settlement issues between the spouses.
So why do people try to manipulate mediators? It’s because they don’t understand boundaries; they don’t fully understand what a mediator’s role is; and because one person may feel powerless and is looking for support to be able to communicate with a spouse in mediation who just may be the difficult spouse they’re being portrayed to be. Or, it’s the spouse=basher who is the manipulative one. It all gets so dicey. But a good mediator should be able to figure out personality types, although the whole point of a mediation is to negotiate deal points, not evaluate personality types and provide feedback like a therapist. Spouse-bashing is pointless and doesn’t help he mediation move forward.
4. There are times when one alpha spouse puts a proposal of deal points together before involving divorce professionals, presents them to their spouse, who has been dominated the entire marriage, and expects the spouse to love the deal points and sign off before filing. Horrible waste of time and the best way to push the beta spouse into an attorney’s arms with a price tag that makes all those deal points melt away.
The dominated spouse feels powerless. Presented with settlement terms by alpha spouse simply reinforces the domination. Beta spouse disappears, goes silent, cowers, and waits for the legal calvary to come in and save them. The divorce becomes unhinged. Nobody wins, except for the attorneys who have to come in and speak for beta spouse in a far more expensive process than is alpha spouse would step back, give beta spouse space, and encourage beta spouse to seek legal counsel so that the divorce can be as balanced as possible.
So much truth comes out in mediations because this might be the first time both spouses engage in a negotiation properly, with oversight by a mediator. Mediation is a great equalizer financially, in terms of reestablishing the power dynamic, and with new improved communication techniques.
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