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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Mediation

The next actual step in the divorce is the mediation.  We have our proposal, they have theirs and we try to reach an agreement with the mediator’s assistance. I feel quite intimidated by this because I’m not sure how it works and I really don’t want to be in the same room with Brad all day going back and forth.  I know he’s going to paint himself in a much better light than I would.  We have two primary items to agree on in mediation – custody and financial settlement.   Brad has repeatedly indicated he wants “50% custody”, and I am clearly opposed to that for a lot of reasons.   The financial settlement is quite a bit trickier because in this case, I am the only wage-earner and the ‘victim’.   I feel he should get essentially nothing, but legally it doesn’t work that way.

The mediation date keeps getting delayed, Brad’s lawyer threatens to quit because Brad has not paid her more since June, when I paid her initial fees.  Brad’s lawyer is pregnant, so we are working within a tight timeline.  We want to get the mediation and paperwork signed before the end of the year.  Finally, it’s settled and we are going to mediation on November 23rd.   My lawyers and I are working feverishly to finalize our proposal, get all necessary paperwork,  I have to call the mortgage company and banks to get copies of old statements, etc.  It’s all very stressful and time-consuming.  In the meantime –what is he doing?  Not much, he finally has job that is similar to what he did before, he still does not have a place to live, he finally gets his own cell phone. 

He is holding this mediation over my head and often makes threats about what he will or will not bring up.  Days before the mediation, he refuses to pay his half of the mediator’s fee in spite of the fact that this is what the temporary orders say, and what is always customary.   I want this done - I don’t want a long drawn out trial, so I agree to pay it, even though it causes some significant short-term financial stress.  
It has been explained to me that the mediation is binding and final if we reach an agreement.  My biggest fear is that we won’t reach an agreement and we’ll have to go to court for a trial,  meaning this will be going on indefinitely.  I want him out of my life as much as possible and all of this drama is not helping.   Two days before the mediation I am already worried and nauseous and barely sleeping.  The outcome of this event will affect my entire life.  The morning of the mediation,  I drop the kids off at school and head to a neutral lawyer’s office for the meeting.  I can hardly focus I am so stressed, I’m practically shaking.  As I get close, I realize the building is less than a block down the street  from one of the locations Brad and I looked at to have our wedding.  How ironic is that.   I call my sister to get some moral support and I head on in.   My lawyer and I are there first.  The mediator, who also happens to be a family court judge,  comes in next and we talk to him about our case and I give him the cashier’s check and explain how Brad refused to pay his portion of the fee.  It is obvious from the judge’s body language that this does not sit well with him.  He hasn’t met Brad yet and he’s already coming across like jerk.  Score one for my team.

Brad and his lawyer get there and by this time I’ve realized we’ll be in separate rooms.   Me and my lawyer, Brad and his lawyer, I am very relieved to find this out.  I can’t imagine anything worse than trying to do this with Brad in the same room.  In fact, I’ve often read that mediation is ineffective in cases involving domestic violence because of the propensity for the abuser to try to manipulate the situation (duh).   
We are pretty far apart on custody,  Brad tries to convince the mediator how he was all “Mr. Mom” and took care of the kids while I worked and how he deserves joint custody and 50% of the time with them.    I quickly dispel this notion.   How could Brad be Mr. Mom when the kids were in full-time daycare?  I explained how Brad did not work and drank too much. I explained that he had never had both kids by himself for more than couple of hours, ever.  I explained about the protective order, I explained about the abuse.   Luckily the mediator was also a judge and knew that in cases where there was a protective order, there was essentially no way Brad was going to get joint custody.  I would be the sole conservator with all decision making rights, and Brad would have visitation rights.   I had done my research and I knew what the standard visitation schedule was for my state.   My lawyer and I came up with a modified version of this and went back and forth with Brad’s team and finally came to an agreement.

The main thing was that nothing would really change until the protective order expired the next year in March, except the weekly calls would be a weekly unsupervised dinner.     Then there was a schedule over the following eighteen months of increased time with the kids until he would finally get what was almost standard for our state, but with fewer lengthy visits.  I am by no means happy with this because I don’t think he should ever have the kids unsupervised since he is highly controlling, prone to anger, and does not deal with his anger well.   Unfortunately, he is assumed ‘innocent’ until he actually does something abusive to the kids.  The courts just don’t seem to recognize that a man who is abusive to his wife will eventually be abusive to his kids.  I know he’s going to yell and scream at them, I know he’s going to call my daughter derogatory names, I know he’ll hit or shove my son.  It’s just a matter of time.   The agreement has some safeguards, he’s not allowed to spank them, he's not allowed to be verbally or emotionally abusive, he has to stay sober, etc.   This is all very hard to prove, of course, but at least it's there.
We come to a financial agreement as well, and again, I am not happy, but I’ve tried to minimize what he was legally due to him.  As an example, I have a 401(k), he does not, but I am supposed to give him half of the 401(k) money that was earned during the time in which we were married - the mediator manages to get him to accept less than half.   Even this amount makes me furious under the circumstances, but I don't have a choice.  I don't feel he deserves any of my retirement. The laws for finances are meant to protect stay at home moms, and I have no problem with that, but in this case they protected an abusive, ne’er do well dad. 

I’ve had a huge adjustment in my expectations of the potential outcome from when I left him until now.  I’ve learned a lot and had to accept a lot.  I am not happy about all the details of the agreement, but I am overall pleased with the result.  I think we did as well as could be expected. I am relieved it’s over, we have a deal, and it’s going to be over soon, or so I think.

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