Today, more often than not, the family home is not a couple’s greatest asset. Although it used to be, the defined benefit pension may now be worth more than the home. For many years, homes were going up in value. During the boom in early 2000, some prices were going up 30% or 40% in one year. Since then, prices leveled off, and many have gone down.
Now, more and more clients are coming to mediation with:
Little equity in the house;
Some equity in the house;
Negative equity in the house.
It is now less common to find couples with paid off mortgages or who have a lot of equity in the house, thus the pension has become the largest asset.
I was recently emailed a 65-page Settlement Agreement by an unhappy couple. They said that the mediator who created the Agreement was horrible: He had produced this incredibly long Agreement, but they still had tons of unresolved issues.
They explained that the odd part was that the husband and wife were in complete agreement on everything. However, a week or two after they had been in to modify the Agreement for the third time, the mediator called them and said, “I’ve discovered more issues. You have to come back.”
They said, “We used the services of this mediator to create our Settlement Agreement.”
I asked, “Do you mind telling me who it is?” Continue reading
“We don’t want anything to do with lawyers. We will not have lawyers review the Agreement. We hate lawyers. We know what they do in divorce cases. We don’t want any part of that.”
Unfortunately, the spouse that’s the most vocal about this is usually the one with the most money. The moneyed spouse doesn’t want anybody reviewing their Agreement. They usually have the financial savvy, where the other spouse doesn’t.
The husband had very graciously said:
“You know, it’s fine with me. She can come live with us. I know she’s your mom and I’m sure you have very strong feelings for her and feel very close to her. So, it’s fine if she comes to live with us.”
Surprisingly the wife said, “Absolutely not. She’ll never live with me.”
When the husband asked why, the wife said:
“Because the entire time that I spent living at home, my mother would constantly belittle and berate my father in front of me. I developed such resentment towards her, and I can’t let it go. My mother argued in front of me all the time. She did this almost every day. I couldn’t wait to move out. When I went to college, I finally got out of there and never looked, or went, back.”
Is it because Judges think that family matters should be settled in court by a Judge who doesn’t know the family?
Or is it because Judges think that no cases involving families going through divorce are appropriate for mediation?
Some states have a mandatory mediation program, where the Judges understand that you don’t drag the kids into court if you don’t have to. Instead, they believe, because of the children, couples should try to enter into mediation to see if their problems can be resolved peaceably. Remember, these parents are going to co-parent their children after court.
I shouldn’t fault attorneys that don’t understand mediation. When they attended law school, they weren’t taught about mediation or alternative dispute resolution. Attorneys are trained in dispute resolution now, and I have been invited and have spoken at several law schools on the topic of mediation.
Law schools trained lawyers to do what lawyers do: Argue, get evidence that help them argue and then argue some more. Just the opposite of mediation, right? That is why our professions are so different.
As a mediator, I try to help couples resolve their disputes by cooperating and working together.
My doctor is 70 years old and has a very successful and financially lucrative practice. The last time I spoke with him, he said, “I have a question for you. I know what kind of work you do and that you deal with people’s problems.” He continued, “I have something on my mind that I want to ask you.”
I said tell me more. He explained that, despite his successful career, he had one major regret. “My one regret is that I didn’t spend more time with my children while they were growing up. Instead I put all my time and energy into my career. I missed their childhood. Now that they are older, I don’t have a very good relationship with them because I really never spent a lot of time with them.”
I understand that with any working parent, there is always a push-pull; that trade-off between earning a living and managing time so that you don’t miss your kids growing up. You’re trying to be there for them and build this incredible relationship, while still investing in your job and building your career. Continue reading