Accepting that a marriage is ending can be very challenging, and the array of emotions that can prevent the final acceptance is complex and constantly changing. In divorce, the acceptance of financial realities is particularly difficult. Many clients just don’t want to acknowledge it, yet some of the most important decisions in a divorce settlement are financial in nature. After all, our basic survival needs are met by paying for housing, food and other necessities.
While many clients don’t want to acknowledge it, some of the most important decisions in a divorce settlement are financial in nature.
As a divorce mediator in both Chicago and New York state, I can think back to a time where I encountered a couple where the wife, desiring a new beginning, had separated from the husband. The husband, surprised and angry that his more than 25-year marriage was ending, was experiencing a lot of difficulty with the idea of sharing the couple’s assets, including a rather large pension. The wife was in a better place than the husband on an emotional level, but she had not considered the implications of the financial decisions she would face in her future.
The uncertainty associated with divorce extends to future expectations regarding financial security. It is especially important for couples ending a longer-term marriage to consider the implications of their decisions on their retirements.
There is a risk, as mediation begins, that a spouse who has not accepted the emotional reality that the marriage is ending is also disconnected from the financial reality as well. Whether obstructed by anger, fear, denial or depression, a lack of focus can negatively impact informed decision making.
In particular, I have found that one or both spouses may need time or more information to process the possibility or inevitability of their new financial reality. This reality can include the following scenarios:
When couples choose to use divorce mediation, they have the opportunity to take the time required to communicate and plan for their new financial circumstances. The mediation process allows for as much research and time as needed, the exploration of options, and an agreed-upon outcome that will often lead to the acceptance of a new reality created by both of you.
And in the case of the couple I wrote about above, I encouraged them to take time to process and consider their future needs. Upon their return to mediation several months later, they were more certain of their personal requirements and of their mutual desire to make their decisions in a mediation setting where they had control over the outcome.
As a Chicago divorce mediator, the initial consultation is often my first contact with one of the spouses. Typically, I’ll receive a call from the husband or wife, and we agree to meet (these days) by video conference. The one who calls me is often, but not always, the “initiator,” meaning that that spouse is taking the first step in planning a future apart.
When both spouses are ready to make decisions that center around separation—co-parenting, dividing property, financial support—we can begin a focused conversation with the freedom and creativity to develop solutions.
But what about when the broad vision of the future is not clear to both? In other words, how can mediation work when one or both of you may not be committed to ending the marriage?
As a divorce mediator, I am dedicated to client self-determination. Both of you deserve to have the most appropriate conversation for your circumstances. If I sense that one or both of you is not “on board” with ending the marriage, I will propose to open that conversation.
The term that is used for this process is “discernment.” The word “discern” has several definitions, including:
If you and your spouse are unsure where your marriage stands now or where it is going, the mediation process can help you communicate and recognize whether to continue or end the relationship.
So for the couple where the individuals are not sure where their marriage stands now or where it is going, the mediation process can help you both to communicate with each other and allow you to recognize and understand whether to continue or end your relationship.
As a family and divorce mediator, I dedicate my work to the clients’ rights to make their own choices. Having a consultation doesn’t mean you are choosing to end your marriage, unless that is what you both want to do. I will be there with you wherever you are and wherever you are going.
If you decide that a “discernment” process will be helpful for both of you, we’ll start there. If you decide that your efforts are best focused on staying married, I will offer to either assist you in creating a mediation process that will allow you to have a conversation about how to plan for staying married, with an emphasis on better communication and understanding, or refer you to a trained professional marriage counselor or therapist.
Rest assured, when considering the end of a marriage, the mediation process supports you to make the important decisions to move on with your lives. And you have the option to take the time you need to plan your next step after mediation is completed—ranging from taking no legal action to proceeding with a divorce.
“Where are we?” may be the most important first question for you to answer. The mediation process offers the flexibility to respond to your needs, whatever your answer may be.
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