This is not legal advice. It is simply something to consider before proceedings with your mediation, a warning I wish I had gotten back in the day.
My first mediation was a complete nightmare. I, a soon-to-be divorced woman was finally going to see this whole thing come to an end. I was looking forward to being past all the legal stuff and paying for the legal stuff, but I had no clue what I was about to walk into.
A little background: During my marriage my ex was controlling and I was always afraid of upsetting him. My job as his wife was to make life easy on him. I was compliant and knew my place, but I hated it and often felt scared when I upset him. It got to where each time I perceived the threat of making him unhappy my brain would completely shut down, like my feelings had left the building and I would comply with whatever he asked. I know I talked and I acted normal but afterword I wouldn’t remember anything. I would spend a week or more trying to figure out what happened, but feeling like I had to follow through with whatever I had agreed to during that blackout. It happened automatically and I had no control over it, but because I was embarrassed and I really didn’t want to explain it or the circumstances in my marriage to anyone who might be able to help, I wasn’t able to address it. I just ignored it and hoped it wouldn’t happen again.
I showed up to mediation alone, not really sure what it was going to be like and was really not prepared for what it truly meant. In my mind, this would be about an hour tops, then I would be off to work. In fact, I was talking to my boss on the phone, telling her it wouldn’t be long as I stepped off the elevator to enter the office where we would be meeting. In the room was my attorney who was a man, my ex and his attorney who was also a man, and a mediator, a man. For me it was like walking into the lion’s den, even though I thought it would be fine. I had no business being there without a friend or family member, someone I felt safe with.
We started discussing things and I was okay up to a point, answering questions, pulling out documentation and such. Then, I started to feel pressured about things, and the fear set in. They wanted me to agree to give up certain rights and I was being pushed into accepting less child support than I felt was reasonable. I noticed my ex and his attorney both puffed up their chests, as if to show their strength. I felt panicked inside but then it happened, I got numb and hollow. This is typically when I would comply with whatever I am asked, a scary position to be in during something like mediation. The next thing I remember is my attorney closing his book and saying, “Well I guess there is nothing more we can do here.” I have no idea what happened, or what I said, but thank the Lord I didn’t agree to anything. I think God took over and took control because I did not possess the ability to do that on my own. Somehow I managed to not make a decision; I simply shut down the meeting.
Outside of the building talking with my attorney I decided to let him go. I realized that I had no business hiring a male attorney and that this was not safe for me. Not that this wouldn’t work for someone else, and in no way did I think my attorney did anything wrong, but I was not equipped emotionally and mentally to handle it. The next attorney I hired was a female and when we went in to mediation the next time, I took my dad with me. I was not going to go through that again.
What is Divorce Mediation?
Divorce mediation is a format often recommended for finalizing divorce papers because it gives you more control. In mediation you work together, generally meeting on neutral ground with the help of a mediator, to work through the issues that need resolving in order to finalize everything. This is preferable because if it went to court, the judge would decide the final decisions, not you. Also, a divorce in court is public and anybody can sit and hear the specifics of your case. Mediation keeps the process confidential, private and conducted behind closed doors. In my case we knocked it out in one meeting, but you should note that it can continue for as long as you all agree: weekly, bi-weeks, monthly, etc.
Issues Covered in Mediation, but at not limited to:
- Distribution of Property (Assets/Liabilities)
- Child Custody and Parenting Time
- Child Support/Maintenance
Tips for Proceeding in Mediation:
- Prep with your attorney before you go. – Know what you want and what you are trying to accomplish (Big Picture) before hand.
- Be open and honest with your attorney about what your relationship with you ex was like. – Fears and tendency are important to highlight.
- Seek counseling before and after – The stress is no joke.
- Do not take anything that hinders your ability to think clearly, even if you are doing it to calm your nerves.
- Do not agree to anything you can’t live with after.
Go in to mediation eyes wide open, fully aware of who you are and what you need to be comfortable to feel safe. Creating boundaries and structure for you is a good thing. Don’t ignore the things about yourself that will get in the way of progress and success by addressing them head on. They aren’t going to go away simply because you ignore them or down-play them. Working to make the environment safe and healthy is both reasonable and responsible.
By Vanessa Jackson, MABC, LPC-Intern
Lake Travis Counseling Connection
Supervised by Jan Shope, LPC-S