Do you believe your spouse will voluntarily and honestly disclose all relevant financial information?

Photo by rawpixel on UnsplashThat’s one of three questions I ask anyone considering divorce mediation. This may seem a bit extreme considering the nature of divorce mediation where couples essentially agree on the divorce and work with a mediator to come to a settlement. Yet it’s a question divorcing spouses need to consider before starting mediation.

In many marriages, partners assume different roles in the household. Some split up the financial tasks 50-50. In more marriages than you think, one partner will control all the finances with the other knowing little or nothing at all about bills, bank accounts, insurance credit cards, etc. So, when divorce occurs, that person is more than a little in the dark.

Many people in that situation might just go along with their spouse as they have done throughout their marriage in letting him/her handle everything. That’s partly why I ask for the following documents from mediation clients:

  • Three years of tax returns
  • Health and life insurance coverage and policies
  • Statements from every bank account, joint and individual
  • 401 (k), IRA and other retirement fund statements
  • Statements for current liabilities

These documents are necessary when drafting up a divorce settlement. It also provides the spouse who is unaware of finances the opportunity to learn. By simple inspection of these documents, he/she can get a better idea of the overall financial picture and ask questions of his/her spouse. Its’ been my experience that spouses who do not partake in the bill paying and financial duties know more than they think. Either way, once they have the financial records, they can bring themselves up to speed or get help from a third party.

Another important question I ask prior to working on a divorce mediation case is:

Can you sit down at a table with your spouse and explain your needs and concerns without being intimidated by your spouse?

This is a very important question for divorce mediation. The idea is for the two people to negotiate with each other to reach a settlement. As the mediator, I am neutral. If one spouse can intimidate the other into concessions that might not be in their best interest or that of their children, if applicable, I cannot advise the other spouse about the consequences of that concession. (This is one reason that it is helpful to have an attorney to consult with even if they do not attend the mediation sessions.).

Similarly, if one of the spouses has a dominant or overbearing personality that can also play a part. The other spouse may acquiesce to his/her spouse’s demands based on not wanting to set him/her off. This, too, could have a great impact on the final settlement as the mediator cannot offer legal counsel to either party.

Final question I ask is:

How committed are you to reducing the conflict in your divorce for your emotional health, and if you have children, for the sake of both of your relationships with your children?

This is a huge question. Many couples choose divorce mediation as a money-saving measure. If both parties are on good terms, agree to the split and are reasonable, it can be that. Yet if there is no commitment to reducing conflict during the negotiation, it will show. And the results can have some major implications, emotionally and financially, on your lives and that of your children.

This year, 2019, marks my 20th year as a divorce mediator. During those two decades one thing has held true. If your or your spouse cannot answer yes and with conviction to those three questions, you’re in for a very difficult settlement. Even worse, the chances will be that much greater that you will be dissatisfied with some of the terms of your divorce. Correcting agreed upon terms later on can be incredibly difficult. In some cases, near impossible.

If you’re comfortable with your responses to those three questions, divorce mediation can be the most stream lined and cost-effective of the three methods (divorce litigation, collaborative divorce and divorce mediation), of obtaining a divorce. If you’re not and you go forward with divorce mediation anyway, it can be costly monetarily and otherwise.

If you feel your case could be a candidate for divorce mediation, please contact me at 978-356-2934.

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