Tuesday, 06 April 2010 05:42

Divorce Mediation Shows Couple How Well They Can Work Together

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Last week, we met "Howard and Barbara", a 50ish couple that retained me to help them mediate the end of their marriage. During the first session, Howard learns that he will have to split the value of the retirement assets he earned at work with Barbara. Unwilling to do that, I hear through Barbara that Howard has rededicated himself to their marriage, beginning with a second honeymoon in Paris, paid for with airline miles, also earned at his work.

Today, we meet "Arlene and George". In their early 40s, this first marriage for both of them is broken and they have asked me to help them create the documents and plans that will be the core of their dissolution.

Arlene is the one pushing for the divorce. She feels unappreciated by George. Interestingly, it is clear to me from the first meeting that he adores her. But, as I learn later, George feels overburdened by the fact that he carries most of the financial load in the marriage and has been pushing Arlene to contribute more by working full-time outside the home, not just part-time as she has since the first of their two children were born.

Arlene has resisted, fearing it will lead to her kids being neglected if no one is home when they return from school. Both are worn down by this constant source of friction.

One focus of mediation is assisting each individual create an after-divorce budget so that each has a clear idea of how much money they will need to meet their own needs and their kids'. There is a big deficit in the wife's plan, given her part-time earnings. Arlene claims that George will have to cover the gap with support for her and the children.

I then learn just how much George has resented being the main provider. "I'm not fighting you on this divorce, Arlene, because I thought it would at least take some of the financial stress off my back! Now, I hear that you expect me to still keep on providing all the money after the divorce. No way!"

It seemed like the right moment to let Arlene know that the Court would almost certainly expect her to work full-time after the divorce and that she will have to make a much larger economic contribution than she has until now.

"But, I won't be home for my children after school. Does this mean they will have to go into after-school care?

"Most likely", I replied.

This led to a discussion of work hours and how each, as single parents sharing custody, will have to plan their schedules so that they have "quality time" with their kids. It was then that George offered that his schedule as an independent carpenter could be adjusted so that he could be available for his kids after school during the periods he had physical custody.

I was surprised to hear George offer up this adjustment so readily and thought to myself that this might be the paradigm shift necessary to resolve the main blockage in this marriage. Yet, neither Arlene nor George seemed to pick up on this new information.

This ended the first of 6 mediation sessions, each more productive and less stressful than the preceding one. We negotiated and resolved every issue, including division of property, child support, parenting plan etc. All that was left was creating the final separation document, which I promised to complete within a week.

But, the next day and before I had even begun, Arlene telephoned. She said not to bother. She and George were working on reconciliation. The mediation had opened their eyes to how well they could actually work together. And, oh yes, George had adjusted his schedule as promised and she was now ready to resume working full-time.

Cynthia M. Fox is a Missouri attorney and mediator located in Clayton, MO. Her web site is www.foxfamilylawyers.com She has pioneered a new approach to divorce called The ConstructiveDivorce
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