A Divorce Mediation Case (Part 2 of 4: Sessions on Parenting, Income & Expenses)
By Lee Chabin, Esq.
In my previous post , I introduced Bill and Angela who had decided to get a divorce. Angela called and learned more about mediation, and shared the information with Bill. After further discussion, they decided (Bill, a little reluctantly) to schedule a consultation, at which they got a sense of who the mediator is, and had more of their questions answered.
Here, I continue with both their first and second sessions.
November 10 – Session #1
● With the spouses permission, the mediator turns the discussion to parenting.
● Angela says that she wants ‘full custody’. Bill becomes defensive. They argue for a few minutes. The mediator listens and considers whether the verbal exchange is constructive, and then raises a question.
● The mediator asks each to answer, “What do you mean when you say ‘custody’?
● The mediator listens and checks that s/he understands what each has said. The mediator then suggests that maybe the question isn’t “Which of you will have custody?”, but rather, “What agreements can you reach so that you can be the kind of parents you want to be to your children?”
● There is further discussion, some of it angry. The mediator helps the spouses to fully express their concerns, and asks clarifying questions. The mediator believes that, though Bill is having difficulty really listening to Angela directly at this point, he is able to hear her through the mediator’s restatements of what she is saying. The focus is forward looking. Each party acknowledges that the other has an important role to play in the children’s lives; neither wants to ‘take the children’ from the other. With his fear of ‘losing the children’ alleviated, Bill especially becomes less tense, and the conversation is less strained.
● Bill and Angela agree to talk about parenting arrangements; at least for now, they are willing to leave the legal designations aside.
● Angela and Bill talk about the children: where they attend school, what they enjoy doing, their usual routines, and so forth.
● The mediator helps them to set out different possible parenting plans, which are discussed.
● The parents reach a tentative agreement on a schedule for the children. And, on how decisions involving medical, educational and religious matters will be handled in the future. (The latter comes easily for them.)
● The mediator gives each spouse a blank form for setting out financial information. Angela and Bill are both confident that they can fill in the information about their respective incomes and expenses within a week to ten days. With that in mind they schedule the next session for two weeks later; if either needs more time to complete the income/expense parts of the form, they will let each other and the mediator know, so that the date of the next session can be rescheduled.
● The session ends after two hours, and Bill and Angela each pay $300 of the $600 fee.
November 23 – Session #2
● Angela and Bill arrive. The mediator asks how they and the children are, and whether anything of note has happened since the last session. They briefly discuss Thanksgiving plans.
● Angela asks a question about property. The mediator gives the spouses a brief overview of Marital and Separate Property (and Debts), and makes a point of saying that this information is not “legal advice”. For instance, if either/both wants to know what a judge might decide regarding property, they are welcome to contact an attorney to get that advice. Both respond that they don’t see a need; instead, they’ll each meet with a ‘review attorney’ to review the separation agreement before signing it.
● The mediator then begins setting out Bill’s and Angela’s respective income and expenses. This is done using a flip-chart, so that all three of them can see the figures that the spouses supply.
● Bill questions why Angela is paying $400 month for clothes for her and the children. Bill isn’t angry; he just thinks the number is high. In discussing the matter, it turns out that Angela based her calculation on her September credit card statement, which has higher costs than average due to purchasing back to school clothing. Their daughter needed a lot of new thing because of how much she has grown over the past few months. Angela says that before the next session, she will look at her statements over the past year, which she can find on the computer, and take the average of that twelve month period. Bill thinks this is a good idea. The mediator makes a note to come back to this question.
● Angela asks if, since money will be tight, Bill can cut down on his recreational spending. Bill bristles at the suggestion, but looking at where his money goes, decides this is reasonable. In particular, Bill says that he can spend a lot less on sporting events and movies. Bill does a quick calculation, agreeing to reduce this spending by 10% each month, starting this month. He is confident that he will bring it down further, but feels comfortable starting at 10%. The mediator, noticing Angela’s facial expression, asks if she wants to say something. She answers that, “Well, I have mixed feelings. I think Bill could do more here.” (Bill immediately becomes upset.) “But,” she adds, “Bill is willing to commit to this, and says he’ll do more; and I believe he will. (Turning to Bill) And maybe it’s a good idea that you start with 10%; that way, you won’t feel deprived. If you spent less now, you might hate it, and be angry with me, and we’d be worse off. So, good. Do the 10% for awhile. Then, we can talk about it again in month or two. Can we do that?” Bill is still annoyed, but he also knows (and feels) that he is being heard by his wife. He says, ‘Yes’. They discuss what to do with the money that will be saved. Bill wants to use it to pay down a credit card, and Angela agrees to this.
● In regard to expense and income figures now displayed on the flipchart, the spouses agree that the numbers are pretty accurate.
● Bill raises a concern he has about the parenting agreement. He says that he has what is a minor change in mind that would allow him to spend more time with the children during the summer, if Angela would be ok with it. Bill shares his thought. Angela says that the change would be alright with her, if another small change can be made when it comes to the Thanksgiving holiday break, starting the following year. Bill tells Angela that he is willing; while he likes the Thanksgiving break and doesn’t really want to change the schedule they had agreed to, the change over the summer is a much bigger deal to him, and he thanks Angela for going along with his suggestion.
Next time: Assets (especially the House) and Debts
All blog posts are for information purposes, and should not be considered as legal advice.