Mediation Process - Family Mediation - Howard NightingaleIn 2008, Statscan stopped tracking marriage and divorce statistics, but the last information we have from that report is that 43.1 per cent of marriages were expected to end in divorce. Mind you, some marriages will last upwards of 50 years before breaking up, but over 70,000 Canadian couples ended their marriages in 2008.

Surely no one takes marriage vows thinking that one day they will fall out of love and seek to dissolve their union, but if you’re one of these 70,000 Canadian couples, then you need to know that although the divorce is an end in one sense, it’s also the beginning of the next part of your life. The wisdom comes in the way we choose to make this journey.

As Joan Rivers would say, “Can We Talk?”

True, I’m a lawyer and not a marriage counsellor. But I’ve seen enough divorces to accumulate some degree of understanding, and the first thing I can tell you is that you need to start this new life chapter as positively as you possibly can.

Whether you’ve been married for a few years or a few decades, whether you’re childless or have a family, whether you have few possessions or have accumulated a degree of wealth are all factors that can influence the divorce and its complexity. But the largest single factor is the attitude of the two people themselves. If marriage is an occasion of high emotion, so is divorce, but one in which love can easily become hate. Feelings of anger, hurt, and rage will turn what is intended to be a rational, legal process into a quest for revenge. If this describes you, please read on.

The license plate tells all

In the GTA, there is an expensive model Mercedes with the license plate, “WAS HIS.” Another license plate reads, USE2BHIS. Beyond the revenge factor, the car or house or bank account is small comfort. Hate doesn’t contribute to recovery or health for that matter. When you use the legal system to go to war with your spouse, no one wins in matters which truly count. If you can dissolve your marriage without destroying each other, you have a better chance at restarting your lives. I’ve seen couples end a marriage in the bitterest enmity only to form a working friendship over the years, so why go through the venom?

A child’s birthday wish – Don’t use your kids as a weapon against your spouse.

If children are involved, then the stakes are 100 fold more important. For their sake, you need to put aside any hatred and work towards a fair and equitable arrangement. You have no idea how desperately vulnerable children can be. It simple isn’t true, the belief, “Oh they’re just kids; they’ll adapt.” A little research should convince you that even a “good divorce” is difficult for children. Help them by making their lives as secure as you can, and that means putting their welfare first. For his birthday present, one child wished that his parents would get back together. He didn’t want a gift or a party, just to have his family again. Don’t use your kids as a weapon against your spouse.

Practical Advice and Mediation

How do you take this advice and translate it into a legal course of action? Assuming that there has been no domestic violence, abuse or intimidation, here are some suggestions.

  1. If you can possibly sit down and work out an arrangement together, then by all means do so. But take the tentative agreement to your lawyer (each person should have independent, legal counsel). Lawyers are there to safe-guard you, but if the agreement is workable and doable, then they can help you to achieve your divorce as easily, quickly and inexpensively as possible.
  2. Use a mediator. If you are unable to work together, then why not try having a third person mediate? Not a friend or relative, but a neutral person trained in mediations skills, whose only function is helping both parties to achieve a mutually agreed on, fair, arrangement.
  3. Mediators don’t replace lawyers. You’ll still need legal advice, and should obtain it prior to engaging a mediator as well as during the process and, of course, after a tentative agreement is reached.
  4. A signed agreement is legally binding; you agree to be committed to its terms. However, this doesn’t mean it’s forever; changes in your circumstances might allow for changes to the agreement’s terms.
  5. Evaluating a mediator is important. Check the person’s qualifications and experience, but you must also feel comfortable with, and able to trust, any mediator you select. Lawyers can be mediators, but your lawyer can’t be your mediator.
  6. Do not risk “buyer’s remorse.” Sometimes one party feels so guilty (and might well be) that he (or she) provides for an overly generous settlement, in which spousal and child support payments become a burden. Suddenly, the spouse can barely afford a basement apartment, and certainly can’t contribute to the financial stability of any new, future relationship. This will strain the new relationship as well as create resentment for the old one. Mediators and lawyers can help you to find a middle path.
  7. You need to work on the premise that you’re both starting over, and both will need some financial and emotional stability to get through this period.
  8. Everyone loves to criticize the legal system, but often it is the married couples themselves who misuse it to exact revenge. The system, its courts, mediators, lawyers and all of its services can actually help you to get through your separation and divorce. Let them.

For more information about mediation, please visit “A Baker’s Dozen: Thirteen Q&As about Mediation.” If you need professional, legal advice concerning family law or any other legal matter now, please contact me at Howard Nightingale Professional Corporation, 416 663 4423 or 1-877 224 8225.

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