Everyone’s divorce or separation is different, but I think it’s sometimes helpful to read about what other people have gone through, particularly when you are feeling that there is no good way out of your situation. These are two recent cases we have worked on which I thought would be worth sharing. When they first came in both couples were very stuck and couldn’t see a way forward. Through Mediation both couples reached settlements which, if they were not exactly happy about, they could live with. Even more importantly communication improved dramatically and they could begin to build their new relationship as separated parents.
Divorce Mediation Case Study One
The first couple I will call Ellie and Simon. They came to see us in mid-summer. She had caught him having an affair with a mutual friend and was very angry. He was apologetic and distressed at the upset he had caused her and their two young children, but said he felt the relationship had been in trouble for a while. They needed to separate their finances and work out a contact arrangement for their two children. Ellie said that she would find it hard to negotiate with Simon because of her anger at his betrayal.
Our first session went slowly, and was filled with angry outbursts from her over what he had done. She wanted a full and genuine apology from him for what had happened. She said until that happened she knew she would be too angry to talk to him. He responded calmly, but it was clear that it was going to be hard to negotiate. We suggested they might think about end of relationship counselling, something that neither of them were very keen to do. In the short term we also suggested they start a contact book, where they could each write down things which needed to be passed on to the other about the children to minimise the amount of direct communication between them.
Over the next couple of sessions we completed financial disclosure. The process of working through these details seemed to build trust between them. She saw that he was committed to supporting the children in the long-term, and he understood how important it was for her to stay in their home. Although during our mediation sessions he did not give the apology she had asked for, it felt as though the process allowed her to remember his good side, and helped her to feel less resentment over what had happened.
They agreed that she would stay in the house, and that she would transfer the mortgage into her own name once it was financially viable to do so. He agreed to rent privately nearby and to pay her a reasonable amount of maintenance. Once the finances were agreed between them, they clearly both felt very relieved.
They came back to mediation a few months later to tie down the details of the contact arrangements with their children. Although they were not in complete harmony, the atmosphere was totally different. She was light and breezy. They agreed when would be convenient for the Simon to call when the kids were with her and they made a provisional plan for contact over birthdays and Christmases. Some of the improvement in communication may have been as a result of time passing and wounds healing, but much of it I believe was because each saw the other in mediation trying to work constructively towards a shared and secure future for their children.
Divorce Mediation Case Study Two
The second couple came in the winter. I will call them Wendy and Mike. Communication between them was minimal. For reasons which we didn’t understand Wendy was so angry she could scarcely look at Mike, or refer to him by his first name. He had been very distressed by their separation and had attempted suicide after they first split up.
They didn’t own a house, but were arguing over a significant sum of money that he was going to inherit when an elderly relative passed away. She was insistent that she was entitled to half of this money. She felt that she had made significant financial sacrifices during their marriage, and that due to his lack of ambition and excessive spending they had failed to build up any assets together. They were both paying off large debts. She made a lot of reference to her future, when she felt she would have nothing to live on. He was less vocal, but was unhappy at the thought of giving half his inheritance to her, mainly because he felt she had much greater earning potential than he did.
Wendy and Mike had one child together and in the first Mediation session she said that contact arrangements were working well between them. However it emerged over the next couple of sessions that she was very over-stretched working full-time and trying to care for their son. She felt angry that Mike was not doing more to look after him. He was keen to have his son more and to have him for overnight stays, but up until then his living arrangements hadn’t been suitable for a child.
In our second session Wendy began to explain how stressful she was finding things. Once it became clear that Mike wasn’t going to be willing to give her half of his inheritance, she broke down in tears. She was very emotional and admitted that the reason that she couldn’t look at or speak to Mike was her deep distress about his suicide attempt. She was very angry about how frightened it had made her and what the impact could have been on their son. By voicing this in front of Mike and the mediators, it felt that a there was a significant change in the atmosphere of the negotiations.
Much of Wendy’s anger was clearly out of concern and worry for Mike. Mike volunteered to considerably up the time he spent caring for their son, Wendy no longer insisted that she was entitled to 50% of his inheritance. They settled that he would pay her 25%. Both of their relief was palpable. The battle had clearly been causing them huge on-going stress. She felt glad to have expressed her upset at what had happened, and he started to understand some of the reasons underlying her anger. We agreed a workable contact arrangement for their child, and a simple financial settlement between them.
One of the frustrations of Mediation is that after couples reach agreement, particularly if things go well between them, we tend never to hear from them again. I don’t know how things have worked out for either of these couples and I wouldn’t by any means claim that they have all lived happily ever after. However I am sure, as in most of the cases that we work on, that mediation was a significant positive turning point in their relationship, and allowed them to leave some of the bitterness of their split behind them, and start their new separate lives in a more constructive mind-set.
Can we Help You?
If you are struggling to communicate with a spouse or partner over any aspect of your separation, whether it’s financial or over arrangements for children, we can help. Call us on 0117 924 3880.