The Mediator

Was talking to a friend last night about a friend of our who was stressed out over the mediation scheduled for today. I felt for him. It is stressful, it is painful, and scary. You are walking into the next day where you are to decide the fate of your life for the next several years.

Leading up to mediation I had my pre-mediation meeting with the lawyer, I had my notes, I had look into the process, I was prepared … and after I still left rattled, angry, and disatisfied with the result. I walked in knowing I had a crappy hand and came out feeling blackmailed. By the end of the day, one which the lawyers and mediator thought went well … I was left tired and feeling completely drained. I then still had to come home to the kids and answer their questions as positively and decisively as I could. The general rule of thumb is “if no-one is happy, then we found a happy medium”, not sure as I agree.

Mediation is a required step of divorce proceedings here in Florida and many states across the country. It is designed to get the two parties to negotiate an agreement and reduce the workload of the court. We tried and failed at going with pre-lawyer mediation. Now, with lawyers involved, we were in a more formal mediation session.

Now, this is a one-time, one-day, all or nothing scenario. The resulting agreement is final, only requiring review and approval by a judge. There are no mulligans, no do-overs, no second chances. You in one room, your soon-to-be-ex in another. You don’t talk directly, negotiate through the mediator, and your lawyers are standing by to help guide and protect you. You never hear what is going on in the other room, so be prepared for this as the whole process can be very frustrating. You are left to sit in a room, with your lawyer, for hours over the day, just waiting … and pondering.

There are some good things to this process. The first is that you have some control in the outcome, it provides a hard-fast deadline to get things DONE, and thus is hoped to be more cost effective (though I spent about $5000 on the one day alone). If you go to the courts you are leaving everything in the hands of the judge.

This scared the crap out of me – I was already felt I would be getting screwed. The last thing I needed was to pay a lot more money and be worse of in the long run. I spent a lot of time reading stories, listening to podcasts, and talking to people and heard very few positive stories from going to court. Those who “won” still were riddled with court costing in the order of $50,000, $100,000, even $200,000 – all to save a couple hundred a month in alimony. Now, there are very valid reasons to go to court, foremost protecting the kids, but I was confident that wouldn’t be necessary in our case.

That said, expect the unexpected. I felt we had everything but the alimony worked out. We had an existing agreement on the credit card debt, we had a parenting plan negotiated that had been working nicely for several months, and we both were dedicated to providing the best solution for the kids. So to me, we were just tying up the loose ends. But it wasn’t that simple and I found several times throughout the day when I wanted to shout out “Fine, I will see you in court then!!!!”

In the aftermath there were things I realized we didn’t discuss, things left out, and situations not considered. In reading the signed agreement now there are sections that are confusing – I know what we wanted to say but the words on the page don’t make sense. It stems from being rushed, we had a group of people, generally just sitting there, each charging hundreds of dollars an hour. Your wallet supplies the pressure to get this done quick.

Couple things I would have recommended to myself:

  • Make up a bullet list of ‘hot button’ items you have
  • List out all the debts and how you want them broken down
  • List out all financial assets you have, how you want those broken up, and a plan setup to complete it. The key here is getting a couple plans ready for discussion.
  • List out the major net-value assets (cars, homes, boats, etc) and how you want those divided
  • Make a plan for handling photos and heirlooms, and define a process for dividing them
  • Make a list of all the material items you would like and don’t have in your possession, be specific
  • Make a bullet list of notes regarding the parenting plan, what you expect and what you demand – even if you have an existing agreement
  • Make notes on who will pay for what, pickup and drop-off times, holiday sharing, child hand-off during non-school days, summer school/club options and costs, extra curricular activities (sports, clubs, etc).
    Kids are a big part of your life possibly more than you are aware so make sure you take time to think through the details. Don’t be too specific in the agreement, you will lock yourself in, but be sure touch on all necessary points.
    I personally found it incredibly helpful to keep the consistency on the current kids schedule (regarding sports, clubs, and activities) as consistent as possible. Felt it helped with their adjustment.

    Also, keep in mind, most places now consider 50/50 child sharing the standard, don’t settle for less.
  • Define some options for handling conflict resolution in the future
  • AND DON’T THIS THE NIGHT BEFORE…, you should work these out in the weeks prior, and review them regularly making adjustments. Don’t remove items, just mark them as non-important or rephrase them. And highlight anything you deem critical.
  • Makes sure the notes are condensed and typed making them easier to read. And if you can, make a copy available to your lawyers before you pre-mediation meeting.
  • Then after negotiations are complete and you are reviewing the final agreement,

  • Read the agreement over once slowly, then again to make notes.
  • Use a highlighter or sticky notes to mark places you want to discuss further.
  • Review against your lists and make sure you concerns are addressed
  • Discuss any concerns with your lawyer and adjust the agreement as necessary before signing — NOW is the time, later is too late.

I had notes. I had the previous paperwork and written agreements. I brought everything, and I had discussed it all with the lawyer prior … I was prepared. However, my notes were not bulleted or collected into a single condensed list. They were not typed up. They were scattered. I had not pulled the key points together. So by the end of what was a full, emotional, and stressful day I was too mentally drained to find what I needed review everything, I ended up doing it from memory instead of a checklist.

Then there were things I wasn’t concerned about, we (myself and my ex) had talked about it before and I didn’t feel there would be issue we couldn’t work out as they came up. So I wasn’t concerned.

And as such little things, little things my dive gear (purchased before we were married) which we didn’t put in the agreement as mine, was “repurposed” and she has denied providing to me. Photos that were left in the house when I moved out – from my childhood – have still not been passed to me. There has been endless issues in transferring of the retirement savings. We had no plan, no united front for dealing with some of these issues – so they become thorns.

While you are writing up your notes, focus on you not on your ex. These are just notes, there is no reason to be fair or nice – that is what the mediation is for. Think about what you will want or need in the years to come. You are splitting the house and the assets you shared, make sure you are taking what you want – not just what you need. List EVERYTHING.

Today we are pleasant surrounding issues the kids, but all discussions hold a defensive undertone. It does not help the coparenting situation and adds stress to normal situations. And when situations become abnormal I don’t feel I can’t talk about them … or have enough respect from her to discuss them productively. We use to be able to work these types of things out … we use to be really good at creating productive plans. Today we just don’t talk.

Not sure how much had to do with the mediated agreement or just the end of a 14-year marriage, but looking back I could have handled both a lot better. Expect emotions will settle over time but it will be a long road to travel. Especially if we keep setting landmines.

Now, I heard from my friend that the mediation went well which I am happy to hear. Key point is each situation is unique. If you are going through this I am sorry, it likely isn’t the place you ever wanted to be. I wish you the best and am here if you have any questions.

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The laws surrounding divorce are different in each country and often in each state or province – so make sure you take the time to review the laws of your local area and understand the process.

Also, there is an interesting documentary, DivorceCorp, that discusses the costs and processes in court-based divorce in the United States. Check the streaming services, I watched it on Netflix. It was an eye opener.

Finally, a disclaimer. I am not a lawyer, a financial advisor, or divorce coach and the content contained within is not intended to offer specific legal advice. I am just a regular Dad that has been through divorce sharing his thoughts and opinions. Take’em or Leave’em!

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