In a mediated divorce we are trying to make sure that everyone gets a fair share of all available resources, including the assets and debts, the income, and time with the children.
But in a litigated divorce there’s an extra item to distribute: Blame. Unlike everything else on the list, there is usually more than enough blame (and its accompanying finger-wagging) to go around. Unlike everything else on the list, everyone wants to make sure to give each other as much blame as possible.
What are the assets, income, etc.? Never enough to go around. And, as much as there is barely enough to go around in an amicable divorce, there is even less available in a litigated divorce. For two reasons – one is that more resources are legitimately being spent on lawyers, court costs, discovery expenses, and the like, depleting a family’s assets. The second reason is that in a contested situation, people are more concerned that they are being cheated. There is very little, if any, trust. A simple example is that when two people trust each other, they can speak in a sort of short-hand:
“What’s the balance in our joint checking account?”
“Oh, around $10,000?”
… a few months of distrust and litigation later:
“Is there still $10,000 in the joint account?”
“No. There never was. It is closer to $9500.”
“Where did you spend the other $500?”
In a mediated divorce (also called cooperative divorce, collaborative divorce, or amicable divorce) the first thing we get rid of is the blame. There is no room for it, no need for it, and all it does is gum up the works.
Then we look at the remaining resources of the parties. These may include the standard asset/debt list of real and personal property, savings and retirement accounts, vehicles, jewelry and other tangible goods. But the resources might be a longer list if we include the intangibles of cooperation, good will, and trust.
$500 a week in alimony and child support goes further if you don’t have to spend much of it on child care because you and your ex-spouse can easily share childcare duties. All parties benefit that way. The kids still have two parents, the parents still have relationships with the children, and the limited money can be used for school supplies (or – vacations?!) instead of babysitters & daycares.
Having to purchase two sets of school clothes, sporting equipment, computers and electronics costs a lot more than the ability to work together and share responsibility for a kid’s belongings without worrying that things will “disappear” during an alternate weekend visitation.
Our goal when we mediate a divorce is to ignore what went wrong, and why, and focus instead on what can go well in the future. Increasing the ability of each party to pitch in and take responsibility is easier after we have moved aside the questions of fault and blame.
What We Love: Increasing the available resources by simply changing our focus.