When Lucy and her husband decided to divorce, she started calling around to find out their best options. I remember speaking with her for about an hour and describing a range of options: from the two of them writing an agreement at their kitchen table, to involving collaborative professionals, such as mediators, to going to court (aka litigation). Lucy quickly determined that mediation would save them money, time, and a whole lot of stress. She initially thought that she had to go to court to separate, so she was relieved to hear that that was not the case.
Their daughter was a teenager, so Lucy and her husband decided to respect her wishes when it came to creating a parenting schedule (fair enough). In terms of assets, they owned a home and two small investment cottages. She told me that she and her husband had a pretty good idea about how they wanted to divide these. This sounded great! I say to families all the time: “the more you can work things out on your own, the better and the easier any process will be!“
Lucy was very eager to start mediation and asked me to send her more information to share with her husband. I never heard back from her. Well, until …
Three years later, Lucy called me – again. She was living in a basement bachelor apartment; they had sold all of their properties and the funds were frozen (aka locked) in a lawyer’s trust account. She and her former spouse have already spent $67,000 in legal fees. Sadly, her daughter does not want to have anything to do with her.
In an exhausted-sounding voice, Lucy said to me that they were both ready to start mediation. I sincerely doubted this. I am a firm believer that no one, ever, should make a decision because they’re just “tired of it”, “sick of it” or “pushed into it”. So, I requested an opportunity to speak with both of them separately, to assess their readiness, to understand where they’re at and see if we could even help at this stage.
I learned that, three years back, after my conversation with Lucy about mediation, her husband’s newly retained lawyer told him that “mediation is a waste of time and money”. Hearing this, Lucy also retained a lawyer who told her the same exact thing: “mediation is a waste of time and money”. So, she came to believe it herself!
After speaking with them individually, we decided to move forward with mediation. We completed their financial statements and discussed terms about unfreezing and dividing their (locked away for 3 years) accounts. Everything was finalized in 2 weeks!
And we talked about their daughter – how desperately she wanted her parents to stop fighting! It was their first time in three years that they got to speak to each other instead of through their lawyers – that’s right, three years. There was hurt, mistrust, anger and sadness. Finally, they both recognized and acknowledged each other’s pain. And sadly, they even understood, at a deeper level, how much they have suffered by not being able to simply talk to one another during the last three years … as they had during their 23 years of marriage.
Lucy’s story doesn’t have to be your story. If your lawyer tells you that mediation is a waste of time and money, call a different one.
Last week, I received a call from a woman – let’s call her Jane. Jane was ready to proceed with mediation. She already knew about our mediation process and informed me that she and her husband were “ready to go”! Not so fast. Yesterday, I received a follow-up call from Jane telling me that she will no longer proceed with mediation because her newly retained lawyer advised her that “mediation is a waste of time and money”.
I wonder where Jane will be three years from now. My phone will still be on (I think!).
And so, the next time a lawyer tells you that “mediation is a waste of time and money” – ask them if it “is a waste of time and money for them or for you!?”
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