Category: divorce mediation

If I don’t trust my spouse, how can I mediate?

Erasing Fear

Mediation requires that parties are willing to make a good faith effort to negotiate an agreement which both believe to be fair. It can sometimes be hard to imagine how you can have any faith in a process when you have no faith in the party you need to negotiate with.

Yet, people who have very little trust and even those who hate each other negotiate agreements every day. How do they do it? By focusing on the outcome they hope to achieve.

In divorce mediation, most people have the important goal of minimizing the impact of the divorce on their children. Many also hope to come to a financial agreement that ensures everyone, especially their children, will be alright. Most want to end up with a fair amount of the marital assets and liabilities. With these goals in mind, no matter how emotionally difficult it might become, with the assistance of a skilled mediator most people can arrive at agreement.

Distrust is sometimes simply because one or the other party has not been involved in the day-to-day finances of the marriage. In mediation, parties must agree to provide all financial information. The mediator helps to facilitate the conversation and ensure all documentation is gathered so that both parties can satisfy any questions or concerns they may have. If either party is unwilling to do so, mediation is terminated.

If you do not trust your spouse because you are afraid he or she is going to harm you or your children, you should trust your own instincts and ensure your own safety. If you are in immediate danger, you should call 911. You can find resources to assist you with housing, counseling, and legal services by calling Alternatives for Battered Women, which offers services to both women and men, at 585-232-7353.

Why is S/he Being So Unreasonable? It may be all in his/her brain…

Heart and BrainWhen people are in stressful situations, the body cannot distinguish between real and perceived threat. The greater the perception of threat, the stronger the biological response is likely to be. This is particularly true if the current threat is tied to a previously stressful or dangerous situation which triggers the memory center of the brain.

Under acute stress (also known as the fight-or-flight response) the body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated by the sudden release of hormones. This triggers what Goleman (1996) dubbed the “Amygdala Hijack” whereby the rational brain is literally shut down. An amygdala hijack exhibits three signs: strong emotional reaction, sudden onset, and post-episode realization if the reaction was inappropriate.

While it takes the body 20 to 60 minutes to recover from the fight or flight response, the brain recovers in as little as six seconds. However, the same response can be re-triggered, sometimes by the person thinking about the same situation. It is therefore important to break the cycle.

What to do?

Show Empathy: Empathy, unlike sympathy, is not saying “gee, I feel sorry for you.” It is demonstrating that you “get” how the other person feels because you can imagine yourself feeling the same way in a similar situation. You can powerfully demonstrate empathy by giving the person your undivided attention. Turn toward them and face them, match their energy level, and use appropriate facial expressions.

Reflect What You Hear: Because there is no way to access the reasoning part of the brain, don’t try. Instead mirror what the person is saying as closely as possible in their own words. Don’t paraphrase or take any ownership or exhibit any agreement. Simply state back way you are hearing starting with the words “So you…” or “You are feeling… because….” Eventually, the person will calm down and you can then start to talk tentatively about what you need to accomplish.

Work with a Mediator: It can be hard to try to do this on your own, which is why working with a mediator can be a great way to make progress. The mediator can manage the strong emotions and conflict so you can both get your needs met.


Source: Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Goleman, D. (1996), USA: Random House Publishing Group

New York State – An Equitable Distribution State….What does that mean?

For about what it costs to have dinner at a nice restaurant, a couple in New York State can zip down to the court house, sign a piece of paper and get hitched. But, if a couple wants to divorce, the financial costs are much greater.

None of us that get married are thinking we will get divorced. When we get married, we’re all caught up in the romance, planning the wedding and looking forward to the honeymoon. We are working, buying a house and planning for children. The long term outcomes of the marriage itself are not even on the radar and “divorce” is something other people do.

So, fast forward fifteen years and you may have three kids, a goldfish and a golden retriever, a mortgage and a couple of car payments – and a spouse you can’t relate to anymore and have grown apart from. You love your children and the fish (the jury is still out on the dog), and you want a divorce.

New York State is an equitable distribution state, and although “equitable” doesn’t necessarily mean equal, it means you need to come up with a fair division of property. Marital property is defined as anything acquired during the marriage where marital funds were used. Cars, houses, motorcycles, sewing machines, guitars, retirement accounts, and yes, even the goldfish. Liabilities like loans and other debt are shared as well.

Property acquired prior to marriage may be considered separate property.  There are exceptions to be sure, and we look into all the specific situations during the mediation, but in general, everything that was accrued during the marriage may be considered joint property regardless of who earned it or who took out the loan and whose name it’s in. In mediation, everything is on the table for discussion to reach the best possible outcome for everyone.

Every family is unique and different. Mediation is sensitive to that by allowing for customization of agreements. Mediation helps couples decide how to divide marital assets and liabilities equitably and in a way that makes sense to the couple.  Mediation also keeps the couples costs down by using one mediator rather than two attorneys and the process can be much less lengthy than a court case, also keeping process costs down.

Although property is owned jointly, most couples in mediation find a good way to create a division that works best for both of them.

Renee LaPoint