Most of my clients are successful in reaching a settlement that culminates in a divorce. This occurs because the parties have taken advantage of the mediation process that empowers them to recognize that their marriage is over and that they are able to reach compromises that will assist each of them as they move forward. I also like to believe that my training and experience in the process are helpful. Occasionally, mediation is not successful and the results of that can be emotionally and financially shocking. What follows is a true story; the names have been changed to protect those who were hurt the most.
John and Betty came to me in the summer of 2017. They had met in college, moved back to the area, had a family of three children and the husband had a successful business and the wife had a part-time job that provided health insurance for the family.
The wife had an affair with another man and the husband had trouble dealing with this. The wife wanted to preserve the marriage and the husband was willing to participate in joint counseling. Although the husband had moved from the marital residence, he frequently had meals there and spent time there with the children. The husband had reached the point of moving toward divorce and called for an appointment. We met for two hours and the husband provided assets and debts that were shared jointly. The parties wanted to review a draft separation agreement and return for another session. In the meantime, the wife retained an attorney. The husband was willing to share the assets equally and assume most of the debt. Between their first and second mediation session they went away for a joint counseling weekend. During our second meeting the husband stated that he had not changed his mind as a result of the weekend counseling and wanted to move forward with the divorce. At this point, the wife said that if they were going to divorce, she was moving out of state with the children and this issue became the game changer. I suggested that they would probably have more success to continue mediation, but the wife was adamant about relocating and the husband was not interested in this.
About six months ago the husband called and asked if I would make adjustments to the draft agreement. He wanted to return with his wife. I said I was willing to make any changes that were agreed to mutually. Another week passed and he called to say that his wife was not interested in mediation. He stated that the single issue keeping them apart was the residence of the children. Although they both had lawyers since they left mediation, the husband felt that the judge would make the final decision regarding the children. The court proceedings became long and ugly. The children were called to testify and the oldest child, a gifted athlete on his high school team, was so upset by the entire process that he elected not to play with his team.
In the middle of November 2018, I received a call from the husband informing me that the divorce was final and shared the terms imposed by the Court. The financial arrangement was similar to the one first created in the draft agreement eighteen months ago and the Court ruled that the children could not be moved until they finished high school. The parenting schedule was the same as the one designed during mediation.
There was, however, one major difference between the mediation experience and the litigation that ensued after mediation. The expenses incurred during mediation had not exceeded $1,500 and the filing for divorce would have cost another $1,000 including court fees. The cost of their divorce was $237,000! The only people that could have been happy in this entire experience were the lawyers. Realistically and unfortunately sometimes litigation is the only answer. However, couples should strongly consider mediation as a first option since it is fast, efficient and cost effective.