I want to mediate my divorce, but my spouse is so full of bitterness and anger that he refuses. What can I do?

Bitterness and anger often accompany divorce. You both had great expectations for a loving relationship at your wedding, and now that you’ve “lost that loving feeling”, both of you are hurt, disappointed, and frustrated and may blame your spouse for all that went wrong — whether or not you initiated the dissolution.

If either of you allows your anger to rule your reasoning and you each hire a gladiator/attorney to act out your hostility, you will escalate the conflict and spend a fortune in the battle, and the emotional costs for you both will be enormous (and even worse for your children, no matter what their age).

Because there is little trust between divorcing parties in family law, it’s important to engage an experienced,  neutral mediator to explain the divorce mediation process to both of you. Bitterness may cause your spouse to reject any of your suggestions. Ask the mediator to give you a joint complimentary phone consultation to explain the process to assure you both that you will get a fair agreement based on divorce law.

Let your spouse know that you only want what is fair. Be willing to say that you are 50% responsible for the problems in the marriage and you apologize for your part. Learn to deal with your spouse’s anger by not engaging in verbal matches. Get counseling yourself and learn how to deflect conflict. When you interview divorce mediators, ask them how they will reframe issues so that the anger is dealt with appropriately and both parties will feel heard and understood.

Your spouse may consider divorce mediation when he understands the tremendous advantages. There is a great cost savings because you meet together with one neutral attorney who facilitates resolution and files all the court paperwork (of course you are advised to have independent counsel and a CPA review your final settlement before you sign to assure your comfort with the result). The process is meant to de-escalate the conflict so that you can work out mutually acceptable, positive solutions without increased pain. You will keep your personal and financial information confidential, instead of airing “dirty laundry” in the public court files. You’ll be more likely to get a fair result, because you will have a neutral professional to balance the power and focus on your mutual interests. Most people want privacy, security, less stress, and monetary savings — even angry bitter spouses.

What is most important in the process of mediation?

The real beauty of divorce mediation is confidentiality. And confidentiality leads to trust. If you’re in a trusting environment, you’re much more likely to be able to negotiate a fair solution to all the issues of your marriage.

In contrast, in family-law litigation, there is a lack of trust.  Spouses find it hard to trust each other and to trust that the outcome will be fair.

In divorce mediation, however, spouses can say what they want to say without it ever being used against them. Additionally, they can trust the mediator, because the mediator is a neutral participant and wants to make sure that both sides get a satisfactory solution.

What are some guidelines for explaining divorce to children?

Children need and want to know why their parents divorced. As they begin to understand, most children become more accepting of the drastic changes in their lives.

In many families, however, children have been provided with very little information about the divorce. Some parents assume that their child know the “whys” as well as they do themselves. After all, the parents assume, each child has been a part of the family and has experienced many of the same events as the parents. Other parents want to protect their children from experiencing or even knowing about unhappy or unpleasant events and therefore decide to tell them very little about the actual reasons for the divorce. Still other parents find the divorce to be so traumatic that it is difficult for them to talk to their children about at all.

On the other hand, parents sometimes tell their children too much about the causes of their divorce. Often when a parent is very hurt an desperately needs a confidant, he or she will turn to a child as one woman to an adult friend. One eleven year old girl remembers her mother getting her up in the middle of the night and driving with her through: the city trying to catch her father with his girl friend. This same girl was forced to call various taverns and women’s homes in search of her father. Although this example may appear extreme, it is not uncommon for a very isolated parent to over-involve a child.

Neither extreme – “Don’t tell the children anything” NOR “Get your children on your side” – is what the children need.

Some Guidelines:
There are a few basic rules for discussing your divorce with your children.

  • Tell each child what he or she can understand for his or her age and maturity. The ability to intellectually and emotionally understand certain aspects of your divorce will differ for your child at different ages. Most four year olds can barely understand the concept of divorce if they even know the word they simply think it means “Daddy and Mommy don’t live together”. By the time children are six or seven, they may realize that lawyers and courts are involved and that divorce has meant a lot of changes for the family. By age eleven or twelve, children are very interested in how custody is decided. Older school age children have developed a sense of fairness, and they may want to be sure visitations and custody are equitable.
  • Always tell your child the truth. When your child asks you something about the divorce always answer as honestly and completely as possible, taking into consideration what the particular child can absorb. Fabrication will he discovered sooner or later, and they will only confuse your child about the real reasons for the divorce. Dishonesty about the divorce will also cause your child to doubt your other statements.
  • Do not wait for your child to ask questions; take some initiative. Children are often reticent about bringing up divorce-related issues or questions. This does not mean they have no questions or don’t want more information. It may mean they are taking their cues from you. If you are open, not blaming, and calm in your discussions about the divorce, then pertinent facts, feelings and information will be shared naturally.
  • Do not use your child as an emotional confidant. Sharing the facts amid feelings a child needs to know to be able accept the divorce is not the same thing as discussing everything related to the divorce about which you may have a need to talk. When people divorce, they usually need to go over and over the numerous small events that lead up to the divorce and to share with someone all of the details of the divorce process. Don’t make your children bear this burden. They have enough to deal with already.