Often divorcing couples come to mediation having done some research or gotten advice from friends. Since this is usually their first divorce, they try to get as much information as they can, so they can be informed as they go through the mediation/divorce process. But this is very much like trying to study the night before the test.
Mediators and attorneys have to understand that clients don’t know this stuff, and we have to be patient in stepping them through the information. Leave the decision making up to them, but help them in getting the information they need to make the decisions. We shouldn’t be impatient when:
They calculate their own child support after deducting expenses not allowed by the child support worksheet
One spouse has decided that since he/she earned their pension, the other spouse isn’t entitled to any share
As the larger wage earner, one spouse decides he/she should end up with more than half of the equity in the home
One parent decides that being the primary caregiver should determine physical custody and entitle them to a greater share of time with the children
Some couples want to make decisions that are not realistic. For instance, one couple wanted to keep the kids in the house. The house cost $7,000 a month in expenses, and the couple earned $6,000 a month in net income. Over a period of years, they were using between $1,000 – $1,500 a month from their savings and retirements accounts. Although these accounts were now almost exhausted, they were hoping that something would change.
After we went through an analysis of their living costs, they decided that there was no choice but to sell the house. The couple was hoping that salaries would increase or that they would find new jobs with higher salaries. We know that these hopes aren’t realistic. They saw they were running out of money quickly, but like being on a runaway train, they were afraid to jump off.
Sometimes you would like to say, “What’s the matter with you? Can’t you see what’s so obvious to me?” But that isn’t really fair because as mediators, we deal with this every day. We understand how to look at things objectively rather than emotionally.
For clients, it’s much different. There is a process they have to go through to get to where we are, and you have to give them the time they need to get there. Don’t be impatient and try to rush the settlement – this is the settlement that they’re going to have to live with long after we’re out of the picture.
Don’t presume they know what you know, and what the likely outcome is, because they haven’t done a thousand divorce cases. They only know what they feel, what they’ve been told, and what they might have read; so be patient, support them through this, because they are really counting on us.
Have you done research on the Internet? Googled something lately? How accurate and up-to-date was the information that you found?