A couple came to my office. The wife is an executive for a Fortune 500 company. She makes a big, 6 figure salary with tons of perks. She has the use of villas around the country, internationally; stock options; bonuses; all the goodies.
I said, “We’ll plan a mediation session to discuss your settlement.”
They say, “No, we’ve already worked this out.”
I said “Really?”
“Yes, absolutely. As a matter of fact, we don’t want you to change a single thing. We have a spreadsheet, and we have drafted a preliminary agreement. We want you to just write what we’ve decided.”
“But do you know what the marital interest is?
Do you know family law?
Do you know how you determine the marital interest in a pension?
Do you know any of that?”
“No but we don’t care.”
The wife, who is the much larger wage earner, is ending up with all her retirement plans and bank accounts. The husband, who is just starting a new business, gets a small amount of cash and little retirement savings.
Hello, red flag! As a mediator, what do you do?
I told the husband privately that no lawyer would ever approve an agreement like this.
“Why do you agree to this? Tell me, is there something going on I need to know about?”
He says, “I’m not being coerced or pressured. This is what we want.”
Wow, what do you do? Do you write it, or do you say, I can’t participate in anything like this. I asked them to sign a waiver letter saying that I advised them to go to attorneys, but they refused.
My attorneys drafted it. They signed off on it, and now they’re divorced.
Was there something else going on behind the scenes? Was Donald Rumsfeld really right? Was it that I didn’t know what I didn’t know?
Don’t assume you know exactly what is going on. There may be facts you just don’t know and they are not telling you. Since mediation is about self determination, sometimes you just have to hold your nose while writing the agreement and respect their wishes.