Must A Bad Marriage End With An Even Worse Divorce? No.
“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves” – Confucius
Is Divorce Really A Legal Problem Or Is It A Personal Problem?
We know divorce mediation won’t work for every divorcing couple, and there are circumstances where you shouldn’t even try. But even if you can barely be civil and stand the sight of one another you can still settle your divorce without resorting to an ugly, expensive courtroom battle, a foolish, self destructive strategy that usually just makes matters worse. And no it won’t be easy, but it will be worth it because the obvious benefits like getting your divorce over much faster and saving a fortune in legal fees pale in comparison to the not-so-obvious benefits like less stress, lingering anger and resentment because you didn’t torment each other with aggressive litigation and waste a dollar fighting over every dime you had. And then there’s the biggest benefit of all: A better chance of a civil co-parenting relationship with your “ex”, resulting in happier, better adjusted kids and greater peace of mind down the road.
If you haven’t gone through a divorce you don’t realize how important these things are. Yet.
Right at this moment you’re one of the millions of people on the Internet looking for good divorce advice. You think you’re researching divorce laws to see what you’ll have to pay or what you’ll get in child support or alimony; or looking for a tough, pit bull of an attorney; or searching for that super secret divorce strategy that will guarantee you the upper hand in family court. In time you’ll discover that the legal process of ending your marriage – the divorce itself – was the easy part. What divorcing couples fighting in court over money, financial support, possessions and children are really doing is trying to throw the baby out – but keep the bathwater. One or sometimes both parties want the marriage over – the legal part – but the fear of change and loss, anger, hurt and even greed short circuits the way they manage and cope with the personal part – they get stuck on what they have to give up in the process. It’s why many bitter, angry couples with children, large bank accounts and especially successful business interests continue to fight long after their divorce is over. We call it “marrying your divorce” and it happens when one or both sides just can’t accept the fact that “no, you can’t take it with you”. At least not all of it.
What you need is to end and recover from a broken emotional and economic relationship – and that’s the hard part.
Many divorcing couples make the mistake of believing their attorney and the court is going to solve not only their legal problem – their need for a divorce – but also the personal problems their divorce creates which attorneys and even judges most definitely cannot do. And this is because people are conditioned and taught to believe their divorce is a legal problem instead of a personal problem with important legal implications, which is what it really is, and if experience teaches us anything it’s that the more our adversarial legal system is involved in your personal problems the worse your personal problems are going to get. The best the legal system can do is settle the marital property, marital support and child support issues as the divorce laws and guidelines allow and stick a legal band-aid for a period of time on your personal problems – which one side or the other usually can’t wait to tear off. Divorces turn into nightmares for a lot of different reasons, but usually because of the needs and expectations of divorcing couples that the legal system can’t meet without flexing it’s muscle and forcing somebody to do something against their will or their ability to do – and nobody likes being threatened and pushed around – so they push back. When you use divorce mediation you reduce or even eliminate the threat of legal force and replace it with civility, cooperation and a sense of fairness (and possibly even goodwill) that you will not enjoy with an aggressively litigated divorce. And be assured these things will go a long way toward helping to solve the personal problems your divorce created.
When Divorce Mediation Isn’t Your Best Option
Even though Divorce Mediation enjoys a success rate of 80-85% it just isn’t right for every divorcing couple. These are a few examples of circumstances where legal representation is your best first option.
Your Spouse Is Physically Or Mentally Abusive And Intimidating
The need for a calm, non-threatening environment during mediation sessions is essential. Divorce mediators are trained to diffuse and resolve much of the usual tension and conflict that arises between divorcing couples to create an environment that allows both sides to feel comfortable actively contributing to the process. They’re also trained to silently observe and screen for subtle signs of abuse or an unhealthy imbalance of power in a couple’s relationship during the interview process and during mediation sessions and will terminate the mediation process if they are unable to restore balance and a sence of respect and civility to the negotiations. When a history of serious verbal or physical abuse and intimidation or especially physical violence has happened in a marriage it can hang in the air like a cloud and stifle the discussion making the trust needed to resolve their problems fairly and agree on a settlement almost impossible so such couples aren’t good candidates for the use of mediation.
You Suspect Your Spouse Is Hiding Money Or Assets
When a couple files for divorce with the court they required to provide an accurate accounting of all of their financial assets and real estate‚ sources of income, joint and individual debts and monthly living expenses. Deliberately providing false information, hiding or failing to disclose all of this information to avoid its being included in the divorce settlement can create serious legal problems. If the deception is discovered after the divorce is granted and final it will be an expensive, messy legal process to sort out and resolve. If you have proof or good reason to suspect your spouse is deliberately hiding or squandering money or financial assets or has a long history of day to day deception and dishonesty it’s highly unlikely they will mediate in good faith and honor a mediated divorce agreement so you should consult with a family law attorney experienced with forensic financial asset research to represent you.
Your Spouse Is Mentally Ill
When a husband or wife announces that they want a divorce it’s not often welcomed or just accepted gracefully. Spouses often become angry, depressed or even irrational for a period of time. But in a marriage where one party suffers from mental illness the reality of such an important relationship ending carries far more weight, enough even, to be perceived as a threat to the afflicted person’s survival. Realistically‚ if your spouse has a medically documented history of mental illness and is distraught and unable to process and cope with the news of your impending divorce it’s reasonable to assume they will struggle with the emotional demands of the divorce mediation process and honor to a mediated divorce settlement or even your final divorce decree in the future. Our hearts go out to individuals and families who find themselves in this impossibly difficult situation, as it one with no clear, easy way forward.
Is Divorce Mediation Possible When You Hate Each Other?
Here we try to answer the toughest questions people ask us…
Direct, face to face communication is the most effective way to mediate a divorce so we naturally we conduct our sessions with both people in the same room. However, your divorce mediator will take a break during a session at an appropriate time to diffuse tension or to meet privately with one party and then the other to to discuss a sensitive issue that may be causing a stalemate. This is known as a “caucus” and is quite common and very effective in making progress on difficult issues or when emotions run high. Divorce mediators will also, when necessary, serve as a go-between, with the parties sitting in different rooms if this type of “shuttle diplomacy” will reduce tension and animosity and help pave the way for a settlement.
To work, divorce mediation sessions have to be conducted in a safe, non-threatening environment where both sides can feel comfortable discussing and debating divorce settlement issues, exchanging ideas and actively contributing to the process. Divorce mediation sessions are geared toward finding and creating agreement, compromise and solving problems – not assigning blame, fault or guilt to either party. Having said that, it’s totally unrealistic to expect either party to a divorce mediation to remain completely calm and emotionless throughout the entire process. From time to time virtually all married couples in mediation will get emotional and need to “let off a little steam” and it can be helpful in getting to an agreement. Someone who is likely to ‘cross the line’ and become abusive, however, almost always reveals that tendency to some degree during the interview process and will be screened out as not a good candidate for mediation. In our experience a person’s repeated inability to control their feelings and anger to successfully negotiate is a warning sign that reveals deeper personal issues that would be better resolved with a therapist in private at some point, but unfortunately it often surfaces as an aggressive, irrational legal strategy in court. This plays out as unrealistic, even ridiculous settlement expectations and demands that make the divorce process a long, stressful and brutally expensive ordeal, even with the best attorney. In fact, these individuals often drive their own attorneys crazy! This is what’s at the center of so many nasty, self-destructive divorces that play out in family courts everywhere.
This is the hardest thing for people to accept when they consider divorce mediation – sitting down to negotiate with the enemy. It’s difficult and to suggest otherwise would be a lie, but before you reject the idea out-of-hand seriously consider this: If you’re one of the majority of married couples who will be co-parenting children after you divorce, how can you possibly expect it to work then if you can’t even talk to each other now without fighting? The hurt and anger of a bitter divorce doesn’t just end when the divorce is final, so this is what’s waiting for you on the other side of yours: Your kids, living helplessly in the angry drama and crossfire of your ongoing personal war with your ex, will be adversely affected. Know it now. How badly they suffer depends on how much you both drag them into it by coercing and persuading them to take sides against your ex or feel sorry for you. You may end up spending thousands of dollars on legal fees going back to court repeatedly over petty co-parenting grievances you could have worked out yourselves, but you can’t – because you can’t communicate. Think that sounds harsh? Spend a day or two in the gallery at family court watching angry, miserable ex-married couples and their lawyers snipe, smear and complain about each other long after their divorce is final over co-parenting issues – there’s a reality you won’t have to watch on TV. It’ll be yours. If you have children you both have a deeply vested interest in learning how to keep your feelings in check by any means necessary. Get professional counselling help if you need to. But you’ll need to learn ways to communicate with your ex in a calm, reasonable, business-like way – as loving parents of the same children – but living separately, and creating your own parenting plan during divorce mediation sessions is the perfect place to begin to learn how.
Maybe this might make the idea of divorce mediation easier: Understanding your spouse’s position is not the same as agreeing with it.
You cannot force someone to stay married to you so you’re not giving in or giving up by accepting a necessary compromise. When you’re willing to try to understand the other’s position, as long as it’s at least reasonable and makes sense, agreeing to it means you’ve just taken a step toward a settlement; not raising the white flag. And that is what the judge is going to be looking for – for you both to agree on a settlement so they can sign off on your divorce. No deal, no divorce. This is especially true when dividing money, property, assets and debt. The vast majority of financial issues are easily and inexpensively resolved using divorce mediation if both you agree to be reasonable, but there are rules, loopholes, exemptions and exceptions that can come into play in the legal system when money, financial assets, debt and especially business interests are involved. And then there’s the judicial latitude that family court judges have. All this translates into miles of wiggle room for attorneys to argue on your behalf for a better split because of why your marriage failed or perhaps the difference in your individual income levels and here’s where the legal system begins to resemble a casino, and you’re rolling the dice with your 401k and the rent money on the table. If you’ve got an emotional axe to grind and this is the path you’ve chosen we understand that nothing we say will matter. But remember, the object of the game once you enter the legal system for a divorce is a settlement, and unless your spouse is Jack the Ripper or Lizzie Borden they still have legal rights and the court can’t just strip them away to make you happy. Compromise is a necessary part of reaching a divorce settlement and that’s the point. One way or another you’re going to have to compromise and settle if you want a divorce.