Mediation in modern divorce
Together since university and married for 17 years, the clients had a five year old child who was their primary concern. Living together in the family home, albeit in separate rooms, they were emotionally “stuck”, with a lot of regret and sadness about their relationship.
Michelle identified that the case would be suitable for ‘co mediation’ and instructed family mediator Evelyn Nathanson, an experienced psychotherapist, counsellor and cognitive behavioural therapist, to work with her as the non-lawyer on the case.
At separate Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings, we quickly identified that each client was finding the living arrangements very difficult and there was heightened anxiety and disagreements which both felt guilty about.
Client A was anxious about money and the reality of what they could afford. He felt their budgets were unrealistic. Client B felt disempowered as client A had always controlled the financial affairs – she wanted to restore equality in their new working relationship. Their daughter was unaware of the pending separation and they wished to have guidance on how to deal with this.
Each signed the mediation agreement and at their first joint session a flip chart was used to identify what they each wished to achieve. We discussed their relationship and the separating couple felt sufficiently supported to admit to each other for the first time their need to physically separate. They agreed that the husband would look to rent a flat close to the family home.
We agreed to schedule sessions to separate financial matters from parenting plans for their daughter, and asked each complete a financial statement before the next financial session.
We began each financial session by setting out what each party wanted to achieve: fix monthly payments to the wife; discuss ownership of two properties now and in the future; how to treat the pensions; whether the wife the could stay in the home; prepare a schedule of assets and analyse affordability of budgets.
Using the flip chart, we prepared and displayed a schedule of assets and respective budgets. This useful tool allowed us to discuss affordability and ask appropriate and at times highly sensitive questions. It became apparent that a shortfall each month, which could only be met from the husband’s bonus that was not guaranteed and cuts to their respective budgets would be needed.
Ownership of the family home and a second property in Wales, in which client B’s parents lived and paid the mortgage, remained a point of contention. When client A voiced his concerns about this, client B became very upset.
Following a brief breakout session, in separate rooms with shuttle mediation, the couple felt able to continue with the joint session. They were both surprised at how emotional they felt about this issue and agreed they would think about it and we would brainstorm ideas at the next session.
When client A was offered a job in Europe and relocated, they agreed a fixed monthly payment to client B who, for the first time, felt there was some equality and wanted the responsibility. This eased some anxiety for client A who realised that he had become bitter about doing it all.
Client A wanted some pension and capital advice and Michelle referred him to a financial advisor, who was also a mediator, with links to a Swiss IFA. Client A was able to transfer his pensions, allowing client B to retain both properties, a solution they were both content with.
The welfare of their daughter remained of utmost importance to the couple. They agreed to work towards a settlement that would provide her with as much stability as possible, a comfortable home and allow her emotional connection to her father and his extended family to flourish.
With client A living overseas, the couple agreed to him returning Friday evening to Saturday evening which would allow client A to work on Saturday. They agreed that their daughter would spend two half terms with client A in Europe and that she would initially be happier travelling with her aunt, client A’s sister, and cousins who she knows well and spends time with regularly.
The couple decided not to formally tell their daughter about the separation but simply tell her together that client A was living in Europe. We advised them that it would be helpful to inform their family and friends of their decision, to ensure she did not hear about their separation from anyone else. We also suggested that they inform their daughter’s school about their change in circumstances.
As mediators, we must remain impartial and neutral throughout the process and cannot offer legal advice. We recommended that each party sought independent legal advice when it was required, in parallel to the mediation process.
The six mediation sessions attended by client A and client B enabled them to agree arrangements for their daughter and finances. They also agreed to return to mediation should they need further support and to discuss what they will say to their daughter when they are ready to tell her about the separation.
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.