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During the divorce process, as a divorce mediator I have noticed certain patterns manifest frequently. One of the patterns is when the husband attempts to intimidate the wife as they exit their former marriage relationship.
In many couples the husband has been the primary provider or “breadwinner”. As a result. it is not unusual for him to develop the opinion that he made the money and therefore it really belongs to him. He then sees himself as “giving his money” to his wife rather than dividing the moneys that rightfully belong to the both of them. He knows that the law does not see it this way but that is the way he feels anyway.
If in addition, he has handled the finances or been the senior partner in terms of leadership and decision making, this adds to his feelings of ownership. He may know more about their finances and almost always thinks he knows more.
If the wife is initiating the divorce or even if the husband is initiating the divorce and has convinced himself that her faults and mistakes justify him in filing, which is almost always the case, the husband may try to punish the wife. He may not even recognize that he is doing so, and it may be very subtle, but she will notice the difference.
One of the common traits of men relates to power. It has only been 200 years since men settled disputes by dueling, and fist fights are still a common event in some male circles. Manipulation of money by husbands is not unusual in divorce.
The Unwritten Marriage Contract
In every marriage there are a number of expectations and unspoken agreements, like who takes out the trash, who mows the yard, who disciplines the children, and who handles the finances. If one of the spouses changes the expectations that have quietly become a contract, the other spouse will become uneasy and squirm not knowing necessarily why they are uncomfortable.
Now, say the wife no longer goes along with the suggestions, ideas, and proposals of the husband. Let’s say for example, that she insists on hiring her own attorney over the objection of the husband. And she disagrees with him over whether and when to sell the house. And she insists on receiving half of his retirement. And she wants primary custody of the children. And she wants the majority of their coveted furniture and memory photographs.
She is rocking his boat and he is not going to like it. The balance of power is shifting and the husband gets real nervous.
Husband Uses Costs to Sucker Wife into Mistakes
One of the mistakes that wives sometimes make during the divorce process is the result of the husband’s constant verbal pressure. The husband says that the cost of lawyers, business evaluation specialists, real estate appraisers, mediation coaches, etc. is way too high and will only take away from what the couple will split.
And besides he already knows how much everything is worth. Trust me is the essence of his rhetoric. She may have been trusting him for 20-30 years and it is difficult for her to change.
In one of my recent divorce mediation cases, the husband told his wife that the husband’s million dollar business was not worth anything without him and therefore should be evaluated at zero. She agreed to that in order to save the $2000 cost of acquiring a business evaluation.
She saved her half of the fee and gave up an asset worth a great deal.
If the husband is initiating the divorce process with a new love in the background, which is often the case, he is probably in a hurry to get the divorce finalized. His lover is likely to be pressuring him to get free. So he will be pushing by conversation, e-mail, through his attorney, and any other means he can find.
In these circumstances, where telephone conversations may be unproductive and quarrelsome, we usually recommend that the couple communicate by e-mail. This gives written evidence that reduces the convenient memory as to what was said and agreed to and reduces the bullying and intimidation which might otherwise take place.
The Role of the Divorce Mediator/ Coach
As a divorce mediator my role in this divorce process includes leveling the playing field. Using mediation in divorce balances the power and minimizes or eliminates bullying and intimidation.
As part of the mediation divorce process we insure that both spouses have accurate information available to allow them to make intelligent decisions. We do not make decisions for them.
Most of the problems involved in divorcing are human issues, not legal issues. We coach the spouses into a fair divorce settlement agreement that both can live with.
So far our mediation services, Texas Mediation Group, has never failed to reach a full divorce settlement agreement.
Divorce mediation is a very viable alternative for getting a divorce.
There are some areas of discussion that are very common during the process of reaching a divorce settlement agreement.
Care of the children is your most important concern. If custody is shared, what are the terms? If it is not, what is the visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent? Don’t forget holidays and summer vacations.
Who will retain the family home? Will the martial home be sold and equity split equally? Or will one party keep the house and buy the other out? (In my own divorce I kept the family home. I waived alimony payments in exchange for equity in my home. Alimony is taxable but the equity in your home is not, so keep this option in mind)
3. Alimony and child support.
How much will go to whom?
Who will pay for school tuition? Will he pay for private or public universities? Might issues regarding paying for tuition become an issue later? Don’t rely on oral promises, ”Of course I will pay for college!” is often said at mediation but not committed to writing. Unfortunately, in most jurisdictions, once a child is 18, there is nothing the Court can do to force a parent to pay for college.
5. Division of stocks, bonds and other investments.
What is the proper division/liquidation of stocks, bonds, bank accounts, and other holdings and investments? What about the 401K plans, retirement funds, and life insurance? How will this be divided? A minimum amount of life insurance should be a provision of every divorce settlement, without exception.
6. Marital debt.
Who borrowed what? Who charged what?
7. Determination of incomes.
Who made more money? Who contributed what, and what are the values of those contributions?
Will you have wills drawn naming the children as the beneficiaries?
9. Health insurance.
How will health insurance be addressed?
If you are going into mediation, remember that every aspect of your financial life with your spouse has to be closely scrutinized. These will be weighed in terms of your lifestyle and your standards of living, both together and apart. You will need to itemize all household expenses, household contents, properties, bank accounts, retirement plans, vehicles, furniture, and other items of value. Make sure you take into account all childcare costs, including daycare, religious education, sports, and other after-school activities and lessons. Consider the cost of birthday parties attended, lunch money, school dues, clothing, and camp. If your children are young, adjust for expenses as they grow, and include those projections in your plan.
It’s best for you and your spouse to gather all of this information beforehand; doing this together can be useful. If you find yourselves disagreeing on something, set it aside. Agree to bring up all disputes only when you are with the mediator. If you can do this, then mediation might be the route for you. If you have problems with your spouse while gathering information, it may be a sign of bad times ahead.
Sometimes a little bit of humor can help us put things in perspective and relieve a little bit of tension in a given situation. Mediation is a great tool to resolve divorce issues, but it doesn't work in every situation, especially in a situation where the parties are set on a particular outcome.
With that in mind, I offer you a list of 10 signs why mediation may not work in your divorce. While some of these 10 signs may seem silly, they all contain a grain of truth which can make mediation a useless pursuit for the parties. They can reflect a particular state of mind that is not really conducive to negotiating and reaching a divorce settlement agreement.
I use the second-person singular pronoun, you for the purpose of clarity. But you can be your spouse, not necessarily you. These are not in any particular order, although the first one is very real.
1. You want to "win" no matter what the cost may be. This can be a financial as well as an emotional cost.
2. You and your spouse can’t agree on what day it is, much less sit down to talk civilly with each other.
3. When you ask each other a question, the answer is “talk to my lawyer.”
4. You think mediation is for pansies and weak-willed people. Examples of famous people who easily dispel this fantasy, and who engaged in mediation or negotiation, include Madonna (in her recent divorce), and baseball player Alex Rodriguez.
5. You think negotiating is a sign of weakness.
6. You think there is only one solution to a problem.
7. You think “My Way” is a lifestyle and not just one of Frank Sinatra’s signature songs.
8. You think “The War of the Roses” is a fictional movie. It is a fictional account until you remember a particularly horrific news item in your local newspaper.
9. You’d much rather subsidize your lawyer’s country club fees than split any assets with your spouse.
10. You’re stuck in the past. Your focal point is not the present or future, with a view to finding solutions.
If none of the above are present in your divorce, or are not really pronounced, then perhaps mediation may be an available alternative to a contested divorce.