Divorce Mediation up Close and Personal – Derek and Stacey, Part III

DivorceIn our first installment we discussed the events leading up to Derek and Stacey’s decision to participate in divorce mediation. In the second installment, we looked in on their first session. Now let’s see how things are working out for them during session number two.

Derek and Stacey arrive at their mediation session where two main items are on the agenda: parenting time and further discussion of their financial issues. Saving the child custody conversation for later in the meeting, Ms. Smith first asks them to produce and share whatever financial documents and information they have gathered so far. She also asks if they have reached any agreement about the joint financial expert, and if each of them has had a chance to consult with an attorney.

Stacey speaks first. She says that they have agreed on someone to give an opinion regarding the business, and that they should have that opinion by the next meeting. She then shares a lot of financial information that she has collected, including her W-2’s, the couple’s joint tax returns for the past three years, and up-to-date statements for all of their banking, investment, and retirement accounts. She also says she has collected comps on their home and spoken to a realtor friend of hers about the home value, so she is prepared to offer a figure for that. Finally, she states that she did consult with an attorney, and that he informed her that the home was her separate property, because she purchased it on her own three years before their marriage.

As Stacey is speaking, Derek becomes quite agitated and tries to interrupt several times. Ms. Smith reminds him of the mediation ground rules regarding no interruptions. She urges him to make notes so that he will have all of his points ready when it is his turn to speak. He complies, and when it is his turn, he responds calmly, but with an edge in his voice.

“Listen Stacey,” he says. “I haven’t talked to a lawyer yet, but I have done some research online about the house. I know that I would have a claim to a considerable share of the equity because we’ve made the mortgage payments out of our joint funds.”

“Not only that,” he continues, his voice rising slightly, “I have personally put a lot of my own blood, sweat and tears into updating the kitchen and the bathrooms in that house, and I’m entitled to get something back for those efforts.”

Ms. Smith reassures Derek that they will make sure that these issues are fully addressed, which helps him regain his calm. She asks a few more questions about the home. “Have you ever refinanced it? What was the value of the home when you married?” Stacey answers that they have never refinanced it, and that since it never occurred to them to get an appraisal before marriage they would probably have to estimate that value. Ms. Smith states that according to her understanding Derek would have a claim to some part of the home equity. She urges him again to talk to an attorney, and adds that they might need a financial expert to help them calculate his fair share. Stacey and Derek are both agreeable to tabling that discussion until the next session.

After a short break, Ms. Smith asks each of them if they are feeling calm enough to shift gears and move on to discussing their parenting plan.

Will Derek and Stacey be able to talk calmly about their children after the tense discussion about the house? Was the 15 minute break long enough? Keeping emotions in check while tackling difficult topics can be challenging in mediation, but in most cases the structure of the process and the assistance of the mediator are enough to keep participants on track.

Keep checking back to find out how the rest of the second mediation session turns out for Derek and Stacey.

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