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

Frayed Rope about to Break

What is it really like to have your divorce mediated? For 2015, we are presenting something new in the mediation blog – a case study following one couple’s journey through divorce mediation from the very first steps to the ultimate resolution of their case. Today, in Part I, we will meet our divorcing couple, Stacey and Derek, and take a look at their marital situation and their decision to divorce. The problems in a marriage often predict how smoothly a couple may be able to navigate the divorce mediation process. As we move through this process with Stacey and Derek, we will see that in spite of some mutual hostility and a few complicated financial issues, they are ultimately still excellent candidates for mediation.

Stacey and Derek have been married for 12 years. They live in a home that Stacey purchased separately about 15 years ago. They have two children, Rachel, age 11 and Ethan, age 8. Stacey is 42, has an MBA, and works full-time as the CEO of a non-profit organization. Derek is also 42 and is a CPA. He has been self-employed for the past ten years. The children attend after-school and summer programs so that both parents can work full-time, and both parents are significantly involved in child-care. Stacey typically drives them to school in the morning and Derek picks them up in the afternoon.

Stacey and Derek have been arguing over financial and life-style issues for their entire marriage. Stacey feels that Derek could earn more if he worked harder, and that he wastes money going out drinking with his friends and making frivolous purchases. She blames him for their high credit card debt (which currently stands at approximately $40,000) as well as for the fact that that they have yet to put any money aside for the children’s college educations. Derek thinks that Stacey is obsessive about saving and should just relax and have more fun. This past summer a major fight developed between them over whether or not they could afford a family trip Derek wanted to take. At that point Stacey decided that she could no longer tolerate the financial anxiety she was experiencing and told Derek she wanted to file for divorce. At first Derek was adamantly against this, so they decided to attend couples counseling for a few months.

During their sessions with their therapist, Mr. Jones, LCSW, Stacey expressed her disappointment with what she perceived to be Derek’s deteriorating ambition and work ethic. Derek responded by stating that he was “bored and burned out” with his accounting practice and wanted to start some other kind of business venture. Stacey called him “selfish” for putting his own needs ahead of the family needs and stated that she had no intention of “bankrolling” some “half-baked harebrained business idea.” Derek then accused Stacey of being unsupportive and “emotionally abusive.” Stacey then revealed that she had been involved in a “flirtation” with a coworker for several months about a year earlier. She claimed that it was nothing serious and that the coworker had since left the company, but that the experience had made her realize how unsupported and lonely she had felt with Derek for a long time. Derek, furious about what he saw as Stacey’s betrayal, decided that there was too much negative energy between them to continue their marriage and that they would be better off going their separate ways.

After Stacey and Derek made the difficult decision to go ahead with the divorce, Mr. Jones suggested that they try to divorce using the process of mediation rather than go to court. The therapist pointed out that keeping the conflict as low as possible would be the best thing for everyone, especially their children. He also noted that many divorcing couples he had worked with had gone through the process of mediation and liked the results. He had some handouts on mediation provided by a local law firm and also recommended that Derek and Stacey consult with a few attorney mediators for more information.

Stacey and Derek were both very angry and barely speaking to each other, but they listened carefully when the therapist talked about the potential impacts of the divorce on their children and subsequently agreed to at least interview mediators. They met with two of the people on the list he had given them. Each mediator asked a few basic questions, such as how old the children were, and whether or not there had been any issues with domestic violence or substance abuse in the marriage. They then described their qualifications, backgrounds, and fee structures, and explained a little bit about how the mediation process would work.

Stacey and Derek were impressed with the amount of control over decision-making mediation would allow them. They decided to schedule a session with the second mediator they interviewed, Ms. Smith, Esq., a family law attorney with many years of experience both as an attorney in the courtroom and as a private divorce mediator.

Stay tuned to find out what happens when Stacey and Derek go to mediation. New installments will be posted here soon!