Working With What You Have

What on earth does that title mean you’re asking yourself. Well it’s about one of the great realities of life for separating couples. No, not the reality of how they manage to make what they have work so that they will both be OK which is the challenge facing the majority of those who divorce I guess. I’m talking about realities which are rooted in people’s personalities.

It often seems to me, both when I’m mediating and also reading commentary about the wonders of mediation written by those who know little about how it works, that too often there’s a bit of magical thinking. It’s as if the very fact of separation has swept away those differences on which the relationship has foundered. It’s as if all people should be deemed reasonable at bottom. The fact is that you are still dealing, in mediation or any other negotiation process, with exactly the same person as the one you left or who left you. All those personality traits which you both have which made a life together impossible are still there. Indeed the very fact of separation exacerbates the difficulties. Couples trying to maintain their relationship are invested in pleasing each other. They care enough to attempt to smooth things over. Once they are apart, there’s no need to make that effort.

If you thought your other half didn’t take enough responsibility for decisions about the children before you split or felt they were generally a bit unreliable, all that remains the same. When they are mediating, people have to accept that the act of separation hasn’t effected personality changes. They are still dealing with the same person, warts and all, not a new improved version.

Perhaps the most significant effect on mediation though is the different approaches a couple take to money. Whilst it’s very easy to weed out at assessment meetings those people who are resolutely set on clutching the lion’s share to their own bosoms, it’s usually not until you start mediating that you find out where the real fault lines lie. You do come to anticipate what some of them may be but you don’t always spot in advance the absolute sticking points on which mediation, indeed any negotiation, will founder. There really isn’t going to be much shifting the person who really is convinced that a business built up during the marriage was theirs and theirs alone. It’s very hard to budge people who feel absolutely convinced that what their great aunt Jemima left them 10 years ago should be separated out even when that would mean there wasn’t enough left to play with.

It often becomes apparent that very different approaches to money and its management explain at least in part why a marriage has ended. Whilst it’s normal to have one person in charge of day to day finances, I’m talking about the people who really feel they are the sole captain of the finances. Whatever matrimonial law says about the sharing principle, there are people who just don’t get that idea at all because it has played no part in the relationship itself. There are also those, male or female, who have an entitled mentality by which I mean they just can’t accept the new reality and that each set of needs has to be met somehow.

A good dose of legal information, legal advice outside the process and the fear of court and costs can help achieve a settlement. However the fact is that for the truly entrenched, reality will only dawn (and still be resented) when a district judge makes a pronouncement at a FDR or even later. We all have to work with what we have. Sometimes that means just accepting that you may well be an experienced mediator but you definitely aren’t a miracle worker.


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