Regardless of how you pursue your legal divorce, whether that’s through the traditional approach, the collaborative approach, mediation or by yourself, by the time you get to the last few remaining issues, there’s tremendous pressure to just settle. That pressure comes from the threat of trial if you don’t settle, the need to avoid more legal fees, fading stamina and the very strong desire to be over and done with it all.
My current guest INRIS and his ex, Penny had decided they would mediate their divorce – it seemed the most cost-effective option. They left what is generally one of the most contentious issues in divorce – the question of spousal support – to their final session and then INRIS felt enormous pressure to settle. Here’s INRIS:
The last mediation session, really it came down to the final few details and once we were finished everything was going to get filed.
The mediator here, and I realize every state is different, he would file the paperwork on our behalf—the paperwork that he could. And the stuff we had to file, we filed. But he was going to prepare all of the copies and have everything ready to go. I think in this case, I was going to be carrying the paperwork to the courts, but he was going to have everything printed up and we would get our stuff notarized and I would take them to the courts.
So, we’re in the home stretch and among the last little details are financial support. Now, Penny and I had always agreed that we would both continue to work while we had kids. But the reality of it was, she did not continue to work after we had kids and she actually refused to look for work by her own choice. While we were married, as long as I was able to make enough money to support the both of us, I was not inclined to force the issue.
Now she finds herself in a situation where she can’t just jump right back into the workforce and make as much money as I was making, even though she has the credentials and she has the talent. But she no longer had a resume that was keeping up. Plus, she still didn’t want to look for work. She would rather run our business than look for work.
I had agreed to let her keep the business that the two of us had been responsible for. I was the one who was running it and I agreed to turn over the reigns to her, to give her the business and I would continue to hold onto an outside job.
But there’s a disparity in our income until she’s able to get the business back to where it should be. So, the state specifies child support by a formula. Child support has to be paid from one party to another. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got pure 50/50 custody, somebody has to pay somebody else child support and it has to be according to this formula.
Then, there’s the issue of maintenance or spousal support.
Penny and I had come up with a formula that we both considered to be fair for determining how that money would work. I have to stress, it was a mutually derived thing. It wasn’t me saying, “Well, this is all I’m willing to pay.” She made suggestions. I made counter-suggestions and then we worked out a formula, because we both knew our incomes were subject to change rapidly. My contract could end at any moment and likewise, the business, the intention was to get it up on its feet.
The mediator felt—and I think it’s his general philosophy that the man tends to come out better off in these arrangements than the woman does financially. So, his preference was to tip the scales the other way.
In the final session, we were working out all of the details, we get to the very last thing that had to do with the spousal support and he said, “Okay, what I’d like to do is I’d like to talk with each of you separately and I’d like to talk with Penny first.”
So, I go to a waiting area, he talks with her and then he brings me in. Then, what he did was he used a tactic that car salesmen use when you’re very close to signing the deal, where he suggested changing the financial arrangement that we had already agreed to and he used his whole battery of tricks —I don’t know if tricks is the right word, but every weapon in your negotiating arsenal to browbeat me into raising the amount of spousal support that I would be paying.
Of course, not knowing what his conversation was with her, I did not know how much of this was coming from her and how much of this was coming from him. I think you can appreciate that it makes a difference, because if she’s reneging on the deal after we’ve come to an agreement that is a thing. But he’s appealing to all kinds of “it’s better for the kids,” and on and on and he’s really trying to bring up how much I would be paying in support.
We worked on the numbers and what he was proposing really was going to guarantee that I was going to sink into debt to the point where I wouldn’t be able to continue to make payments. It’s like when I use the comparison to a car dealer or a car salesman, “This is the last thing. We just have to get this one thing done and then we sign the papers and we file them and we’re free and the new world can open up,” and all the rest of this.
He was pressuring me to come to a new agreement on top, because we already had an agreement.
What ended up happening was I relented in that I came up in what I would provide for support, but I did not go up to the number that he was suggesting because again, the number he was suggesting was actually not tenable.
I came up because in the heat of the battle and all of the rest of this, this is something that I could choose to be very, very upset over. This is something that I could just stand firm and say, “No way, no how,” or “You know what? I could afford a little bit more. It is a temporary thing and even if that little bit more ends up making me a little less comfortable.”
In the end I knew that both of us were very concerned about the welfare of the kids. Most of our energies and our monies would end up going to the kids. If the scales tip a little bit the other way, it’s not like it’s a loss of value, because it still accrues to the kids. As long as neither she nor I are going into debt or going further into debt and as long as it’s temporary.
The Divorce Coach Says
I admire how INRIS was able to see the spousal support from the perspective of his children, that if his ex had a little bit more money, then his children would benefit. That’s a side of spousal support that you don’t hear very often. Kudos to INRIS!
As of January 1, 2014, Colorado now has guidelines both for the amount and the duration of spousal support. They are only guidelines so they don’t carry the same weight as the child support rules but nevertheless there is hope that the guidelines will bring greater consistency to spousal support decisions. Having these guidelines is helpful to both parties to the divorce – it gives you both a range within which to negotiate and ideally, come to a settlement without having to go to trial.
As I said earlier, the pressure to settle increases as other deadlines approach. Knowing this, INRIS’s mediator could have intentionally left the spousal support issue to the last session feeling that it would increase the likelihood of a complete agreement.
From a participant standpoint, this probably puts you in a weaker position. So beware of this and also be aware, that you have a voice in the agenda. When you first set out the issues with the mediator, you could ask for the more difficult issues to be discussed first. This would be when you have the most stamina.
And don’t be concerned if you’ve scheduled say four sessions, you’re through two sessions and still have a laundry list of issues still to resolve. When you’ve come to an agreement on the difficult issues, the easier issues will be quick to handle and less important if you really do feel like you’ve run out of steam so you end up compromising more than you anticipated.
If you tried mediation, I’d love to hear about your experience. What were your toughest issues and where in the process did you handle these?
INRIS blogged about his divorce while it was in progress over at It Never Rains In Seattle … that’s how I first connected with him. It’s definitely worth visiting and looking through the archives.