Addressing Bad Behavior in Divorce Mediation

bad behavior in divorce mediation

Last month we talked about some of the personality traits that can lead to bad behavior in divorce. Divorce mediation can be difficult or impossible when your spouse resorts to tactics like unfairly blaming you for everything, using the kids as pawns, or overwhelming you with extreme emotional reactions. The situation can be even more dire if your spouse is financially dishonest or physically or emotionally abusive.

Not all bad behavior results in mediation being unsuccessful, however. Read more

Scary Behavior in Divorce Mediation

divorce mediation horror stories

If you have read this blog before, you know that as a rule, we strongly encourage divorcing couples to resolve their disputes through mediation. Given our strong support of the process, you may be wondering if we ever think it is not a good idea to engage in mediation. Well, the sad answer is yes. There are cases where one or both spouses show such scary behavior that mediation is not possible.

While virtually no one is always on their best behavior during a divorce, if certain negative personality traits take over, it can make things especially difficult. This does not mean that people who demonstrate such personality traits can never engage in successful mediation, but it does mean that if you spot these traits—either in your spouse or in yourself—there is reason to proceed with caution.

In honor of October, here are a few of the scary characteristics that can derail divorce mediation:

Dishonesty

Ideally, you will go into divorce mediation trusting your spouse 100%. Although this ideal is extremely rare in divorce, you must at least trust your spouse to be financially honest. Spouses – even divorcing spouses – are bound by law to be honest with each other about their income, their assets, and their financial obligations. To help keep the parties on track in divorce mediation, they sign a participation agreement pledging honesty during the proceedings. If either party violates this agreement, it can be difficult to repair trust and move forward.

Vindictiveness

Vindictive spouses are out for revenge. They are not interested in mutually beneficial solutions but instead feel the need to win at all costs. Successful mediation is built on the idea that both parties are pursuing a fair resolution. If you believe that your spouse would rather burn everything down than concede anything, mediation will be challenging.

Narcissism

If your spouse seems to lack empathy and yet still manages to come across as somewhat charming, you may be dealing with a narcissist. Narcissists think they are special. They want to be the center of attention and do not consider other people’s needs to be as important as their own. They may take positions aimed at making themselves look better, such as insisting on primary or joint custody just to look like a good parent, rather than out of a true desire to be a good parent. Successful mediation requires a commitment to reaching a fair resolution, so someone who is continually trying to manipulate things to be heavily weighted toward their own needs will not be easy to work with.

Borderline Behavior

A person suffering with borderline personality disorder is terrified of abandonment and yet often pushes people away first to avoid being left. If your spouse vacillates between putting you on a pedestal and treating you like trash, you might be looking at some borderline traits. Life with someone like this is an emotional rollercoaster and trying to mediate with them will be no different. In fact, it may well be worse, as divorce will trigger all their deepest fears. A person who fears being abandoned by everyone, including their own children, may engage in manipulative tactics in a frantic effort to avoid this.

High Anxiety

People with high anxiety often have trouble letting go of perfectionism. This can translate into difficulty with compromise. The anxious person does not mean to be unreasonable but may be unable to manage the overwhelming fear that certain scenarios stir up. For example, they may be terrified at the thought of running out of money or of losing their home and having to move. Anxiety often spikes especially high around parenting issues. A highly anxious parent may be afraid to leave their children alone with the other parent, even if that parent is a perfectly competent caregiver. This can lead to an insistence on primary custody and an effort to control the rules and environment in the other parent’s home.

Negative Traits and Scary Behavior in Divorce

We all have personalities that include both positive and negative traits. Divorce can bring our worst traits to the forefront, which can lead to scary behavior that may stymie mediation. Hiding information, unfairly blaming the other party for everything that has gone wrong, using the kids as weapons, and trying to manipulate the other party with extreme emotional reactions, such as yelling, sobbing, or making threats, are all forms of bad behavior.

Since October is not just the scary month, but also National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it is important to point out that the ultimate form of bad behavior is domestic violence or abuse. If you have any question about whether your spouse’s behavior is veering into this kind of territory, take a look at this post for guidance on exactly what domestic violence is and when it should (or should not) make mediation completely out of the question.

What about the other types of scary behavior? If you have identified your spouse in any of the profiles above, you may have a new understanding of where their behavior is coming from. But what can you do with this information? Does it completely rule out mediation? What can you do to move forward, and how can you know when it is time to move to litigation?

In most cases, there is a lot you can do. Come back next month for some details. Meanwhile, do not let yourself be scared off by this post! In the vast majority of cases, divorce mediation offers a host of benefits when compared to litigation. These potential benefits include cost savings, improved privacy, and generally lower levels of conflict.

If you and your spouse are interested in talking to an experienced divorce mediator, contact us today for an initial consultation.

Parenting Mediation: Focus on the Children

Co-parenting can be tricky even in the summer months but fall often presents a series of new challenges. Just as kids are finally settling into their back-to-school routines, the holiday season looms ahead. All the tumult can make for rough sailing, even for parents who thought they had everything worked out. Whether you are just beginning your co-parenting journey and still trying to hammer out an initial parenting agreement, or you have co-parented for years but find that things are no longer working as they once did, mediation can be a valuable resource. Read more

Mediation and the Family Home – Part II

In our last post we talked about mediation and what to do with your family home during your divorce. Whatever you decide to do on a temporary basis, however, if you are like most couples who choose mediation, it will not be too long before you need to move on to making a final decision about the home.

Options for the Family Home in Divorce

The most popular alternatives for what to do with a family home on final judgment of divorce include the following:

  • The parties immediately sell the home and divide the proceeds.
  • One spouse keeps the home and the other immediately receives other marital assets to offset the value.
  • One spouse “buys out” the other with a contract providing for installment payments over time.
  • The parties continue to own the house jointly for some predetermined length of time during which one spouse keeps exclusive possession of the home. The time often extends until the youngest child reaches a certain age or leaves for college. At the end of that period the parties sell the house and divide the proceeds.
  • The parties continue to own the house jointly for a predetermined length of time while the children stay there and the parents alternate living there (nesting). After the children have reached a certain age, the parties sell the house and divide the proceeds. The children then start spending time at each parent’s new home.

Mediation Provides Maximum Flexibility

If this decision is left to a judge, the judge might award the home to one spouse, or might order the parties to sell it and divide the proceeds. While judges sometimes order more creative solutions, they do not usually have the time to consider all potential alternatives. The beauty of mediation is that it leaves the two of you free to consider all possibilities and then spell out the details in your Marital Settlement Agreement. Mediation also allows you to consider issues that may be closely intertwined with the home at the same time. These can include questions about employment, other assets, and/or children’s needs.

Emotional Attachment Can Fuel Mistakes

Many people have an emotional attachment to the family home. It is important not to let such feelings get in the way of reaching common sense solutions that will be best for your future. Common pitfalls to avoid when deciding what to do with a family home include the following:

  • Thinking that all assets are equal.

    • Chris and Sarah have $325,000 in joint pre-tax retirement assets; $50,000 in cash; and a home currently valued at $425,000. They purchased the home several years ago for $300,000, and it currently has a $200,000 mortgage balance. Sarah proposes that she take the house with the mortgage and $75,000 of the retirement assets, leaving Chris with the remaining retirement assets and the cash. While this technically gives $300,000 of value to each party, it is not really an even exchange. Money in the retirement account will not be taxed until withdrawal and will then be treated as ordinary income. If Sarah needs to sell the home in the future, however, she may have to pay capital gains tax on some of the increase. For example, on a sale for $750,000, there would be capital gains tax on about $200,000 ($750,000 – $300,000 basis – $250,000 single homeowner capital gains exclusion).
  • Not planning adequately for future needs.

    • Another consideration for a spouse who is thinking of trading away retirement assets for a home is the difficulty of rebuilding retirement assets. A larger home is nice to have, but losing retirement assets can set a mid-career person back many years in preparing for the future.
  • Failing to consider the true costs of keeping a home.

    • Sarah is committed to keeping the home, even though selling it would give each spouse a net of $112,500 to spend on rent or on the downpayment for a new home. Sarah does not want to rent or downsize, and since the mortgage payment on a new smaller home would be almost as much as the current mortgage, she believes that it makes more sense to keep the current home. There are a few things, however, that she has not considered, including the following:
      • The property tax on the smaller home would be at least $200 per month lower.
      • The utility payments on the smaller home would also be about $200 per month less.
      • Maintenance expenses on the smaller home for things like painting, etc. would also be lower.
      • Renting would eliminate the property tax and most of the maintenance expenses completely and would also result in lower utility costs.

A Financial Professional Can Provide Valuable Help

Scenarios like the one above often require the assistance of a financial expert to estimate the true future value of each asset. A financial specialist in a divorce case is usually an accountant or financial planner who has completed additional training in resolving common divorce issues. The expert may have a certification, such as “Certified Divorce Financial Analyst” (CDFA). If you and your spouse have chosen mediation, you can decide whether it makes more sense for each of you to use your own financial planner or to hire one joint expert. A joint expert will help both of you understand the potential tax effects and other financial implications of your planned property distribution and other financial aspects of your divorce.

if you and your spouse are ready to work on the final disposition of your property in divorce, contact one of our caring and experienced family law mediators today.

 

Mediation and the Family Home

In our March post, we talked about getting ready to resolve financial issues in divorce mediation. Today we will talk about how mediation can help you decide what to do with the family home while your divorce is pending. Read more

Benefits of Mediation for Divorce

Benefits of mediation

Happy New Year! We hope you have had a chance to rest, recharge, and prepare for whatever is to come in 2023. If one of those things is divorce, we also hope you took our suggestions last month about New Year’s resolutions. Read more

Does Nesting Fit into Your Parenting Plan?

Nesting is a parenting arrangement where separated parents alternate living in the family home while children continue to live there full-time. It is usually a temporary plan that can provide children with stability while parents transition into their new lives as single people. Some couples also choose nesting during a period of separation which they believe may be temporary. Read more

Mediation and Legal Custody

Under the New Jersey custody statute (N.J.S.A. 9:2-4), parents begin with equal rights. A court can, however, order any custody arrangement it determines to be in the best interests of the child (N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c). Joint legal custody is the most common arrangement. Sole legal custody, which grants one parent the right to make all major decisions, is far less common. Legal custody is not necessarily related to physical custody. Sometimes parents also share physical custody equally, but often the child lives with one parent most of the time. Read more

Domestic Violence and Mediating Divorce or Parenting Disputes

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month – a good time to review exactly what domestic violence (DV) is, how to recognize warning signs, and when couples with a history of DV may want to consider divorce mediation. Violence between romantic partners is also sometimes called intimate partner violence (IPV). This term can be more specific than domestic violence, which technically refers to violence between any household members. The term “violence” is also sometimes used as a catch-all to refer not only to physical violence, but also to psychological manipulation and abuse. The latter can be much more difficult to recognize than physical violence. Read more

Estate Planning in Divorce Mediation

Couples going through divorce mediation often wish to consider financial matters beyond immediate spousal or child support and property division. Two issues that commonly come up are college planning and estate planning. Not only can such issues impact divorce negotiations, but many divorcing couples are approaching them for the first time and will benefit from the support of a mediator during the process. Even if you already have an estate plan, you will generally need to revise it during divorce. Read more