Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Oh, the foolishness of man

A story in the August 25 Canadian Globe and Mail newspaper tells that a Vancouver couple, married for 42 years, spent over $1,000,000 on their divorce. Good Grief! This couple "fought vigorously over almost every item that was part of their lengthy marriage: an inheritance that the wife believed was a personal, not a family, asset; expensive items such as works of art, jewellery and gold coins; and minor assets such as airline points."
They have three children.

How sad. Almost every aspect of this case could have been dealt with more reasonably, more sanely through mediation. Division of property is usually the easiest to mediate, as it deals strictly with numbers and opinions. And, although this was apparently a very wealthy family, money is rarely the motivating factor in a divorce. It's a matter of the heart.


Our court systems (including Canada's) were not designed for domestic matters. They were set up, and work fairly well, for criminal or civic cases, such as one company suing another over a matter of contract. But divorce and family matters following divorce are essentially matters of the heart.

The couple may not love each other. They may hate each other, but these are still matters of emotion. Especially in cases where there are children in the family. Families begin in love and often end at the opposite pole, at hate. And, while the loving beginning should be a public affair, including at least friends and family as witnesses, the end is most effectively managed privately.

Privacy is a keystone of mediation. Not only do the mediation sessions take place in secret, between only the two separating spouses and the mediator, but all records of the discussions are private. In fact, they are protected from public record by law. As a licensed mediator, I am restrained by law from letting anyone know who is meeting, much less what they discuss. I cannot even be subpoenaed by a court to reveal what is discussed. And I make it a firm practice to destroy all mediation notes in front of both clients at our final session.

This Vancouver couple opened their bank accounts, business dealings, their closets, attics, and basements, and their hearts for all the world to examine. Every dirty secret, every private moment, every broken promise and crushed hope became public fodder. Mediation would have protected them and their whole family from this humiliation.


The story tells of the wife in this case that, "Despite her success, [she] felt the results at trial were disastrous for her and the appeal court ruling scarcely any better. She also was not pleased with the high cost of her divorce."

And that's pretty typical for litigation (lawyer-based court cases). National statistics show that around 85 percent of domestic litigants feel like they lost. Wait. Shouldn't that be 50 percent felt they lost and 50 percent felt they won? But it's not that way. Litigation drags the disputants through so much negativity and so much anger and hurt that they almost all feel it was a loss for them.

Mediation clients state almost the exact opposite feelings. Nearly 85 percent state they feel they won their cases through mediation. This is because - whether the couple is sorting through a full divorce, some part of their divorce, or the many conflicts that come up in the years following the divorce (child support, visitation, medical expenses, etc) - whatever the conflict, the solution is created by the couple. That means, when the dust settles, both members know exactly what they agreed to and they created the settlement.


So, what have we learned at the (very high) expense of this poor couple from Canada?
  1. divorce is a painful, expensive process, best avoided if at all possible
  2. litigating your divorce (dragging it through courts) is damaging all around
  3. litigation leads to disappointment, even when you "win"
  4. mediation saves money, time, and dignity
  5. whether before, during, or after divorce, mediation keeps the couple in charge
  6. mediation is better for families than court-based litigation
If you have questions about how mediation can help to improve or preserve your relationships, or how you can use mediation to settle a family conflict, or any other questions about mediation, please feel free to visit my private site or email me directly.

Bob Collins, Pontifex Familia

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