The Ten Rules of Divorce Mediation

Depositphotos_55786679_sSo, after the first grueling hour of meeting with a mediator, I learned quite a lot. Now, the question is, will the ex and I follow these rules?

1. No fault divorce means No fault mediation. The mediator really, really, really doesn’t care who hurt who more (I sort of thought she’d at least be curious). She’s not a therapist and she’s not going to advise or counsel on matters beyond the logistics of the divorce agreement (I sort of thought we could submit complaints and she’d rule on who’s out of line). There will be no telling the sordid tale or winning her empathy, sympathy or approval. We have to start from now, sweep the past under our own little rugs, suck it up and forge ahead.

2. The mediator will not help very much with the “how” in determining what’s fair, rather just the “what”. Meaning, for example, the ex and I have to figure out how to catalog and assess the value of our property and how to agree on a separation date. We have to do our own homework and make our own decisions as to how things proceed.

3. Stuff is just Stuff. No way in hell is it worth the cost in time and dollars to sort through every item ever acquired. I’d rather save money and my sanity than argue over piddly crap.

4. Winning the battle in mediation doesn’t mean you’ve won shit. Today, in mediation, I could see my ex’s glee when he took a couple digs at me that seemed to prove I’m an asshole.  I’m just as guilty of reveling in my moments of rightness but when we walked away from our meeting, there was no winner. It occurred to me that there will be no winner at the end of this war negotiation. We’re just slowly and methodically deconstructing our marriage and when it’s over, we hopefully walk with a fair amount of pieces but nothing close to wholeness (though I do believe the wholeness will be reconstructed, in time, separately).

5. This shit is sad sad sad. Just when you think you’ve reached full acceptance, you’re sitting in an office giving your children’s names and ages to a neutral party who is writing on a yellow legal pad. And you want to say, no, these are MY children, extra special children, not just THE children. But, you just state the facts ma’am and force back tears.

6. Speaking of tears. Keep them to a minimum. Emotion is really uncomfortable for some people, even mediators. I got a little teary eyed at one point and had to reassure the mediator that emotions will happen and it’s okay, we can keep going. Seriously, I can’t be the only person who gets a little weepy when discussing uprooting children and the “reality of the situation.” Our mediator was great overall and I appreciated her sensitivity but if she’s gonna worry about me every time I cry a little, we’re going to have to call in Dr. Phil. Overall though, you’ve got to be stoic and show a tremendous amount of restraint to stay focused and get the job done.

7. Women don’t automatically hate women. Okay this seems obvious but I must admit, I was totally terrified of hiring a female mediator. I assumed that since I spent many years as a stay at home mom, she would judge me since she’s clearly a career woman. I also thought my ex could charm her like he did our marriage counselor years ago. But, I was wrong. This woman was so close to neutral. In fact, the male mediator we met with once last year, was much more intimidating. So, all in all, it’s the individual mediator, not the gender that matters. Duh!!!!

8. The retainer aint gonna cut it. Yeah, the retainer covers 5 hours. If my ex and I took 4 years to show up at the table, there’s no chance in hell we’re going to sort the dissolution of our long term marriage out in 5 hours!!!

9. Silence is golden. Well, at least it’s mandatory. Standard mediation agreements apparently include a confidentiality clause. So, I’m pretty sure that’s going to hinder my further documenting my mediation process online. But I haven’t signed the thing yet, thus I’m imparting what I can now. Hopefully, maybe, blogging is an exception but I’ll have to research that. Anyway, you have to go through all the craziness of mediation and NOT talk about it?! How many people have broken rule #9??? I’d venture to guess, EVERY person who has ever mediated!

10. The mediator will break pretty much any rule, upon request, for about $450 an hour. So if you really, really, really want to tell her about who left the cap off the toothpaste or who forgot an anniversary, she’ll be happy to listen, it’ll just cost ya.

5 thoughts on “The Ten Rules of Divorce Mediation

  1. Pingback: Mediation Interruptus | Surviving Limbo

  2. Confession. I was going to argue with your very fine and lucid HuffPo piece (just a little bit, as one of those people who couldn’t even say the D-word as mine was proceeding, and can understand Gwyneth’s “conscious uncoupling” euphemism because I had my own: “restructuing our relationship”), but decided to look in on your blog first. I have to tell you that I have never seen, anywhere, a more accurate statement of divorcing with children than “This shit is sad sad sad.”

    My saddest moment also came when I read my kids names and ages on the documents prepared for my signature. It really was the worst moment, and I still can’t bear to think of it without having my chest ache, but it’s a weird comfort to see that awful moment correctly described. I think seeing the kids be reduced to parties in a legal proceeding gives a kind of perfect clarity about what the divorce really means. At that moment, I thought I could make peace with anyone to save my family, but, of course, I couldn’t. I wanted to consider the divorce a remediation that wouldn’t even require my kids to be resilent, because they’d hardly even notice the private reconfiguration of their parents’ expectations for each other. It didn’t work out, but I continue to believe, if both parents commit to it, that it is possible to remain a somewhat intact family with the parents leading discreet private lives til the kids are raised.

    • Wow. I totally relate. To be honest, when writing an article one must be succinct and generalize a bit. I was referencing “conscious uncoupling” in terms of the very shallow use of the phrase. In fact, the original program which was developed by Katherine Woodward Thomas ( – I’m including the link because she deserves credit) is a complex, time intensive, incredibly powerful program that I actually had the privilege of reading and doing (on my own, not with my ex). There’s a huge difference between the catch phrase and actual implementation. So, I’m sure you and I agree on pretty much everything. I’m hoping to help people by writing pieces that demystify divorce and other other issues so that we can all feel a little more human and relatable. Life is complicated and most of us are doing the best we can. Thanks so much for commenting. Your input means a lot to me.

  3. I’m SO all for divorce information that shares the real (likely) possibility for poor outcomes for families, because I think we have a duty to presume worst case. If, even after presuming a complete apocalypse, the divorce proceeds, hard truths are way better preparation for protecting everyone than best-case, Early Bruce-and-Demi wishes. I think it’s possible to withhold judgment, but still be clear-eyed about what the grown-ups are doing to their kids because they can’t get it together and honor their word, for whatever good reasons. In addition to your piece, I would recommend Gigi Levangie Grazer’s HuffPo piece from a few years ago (Wasbands and Wives: 7 Reasons to Stay Married), and a knock-out short story by John Updike called “Separating.”

    It’s a balance though, because once things are inevitably underway, it IS good and helpful to have examples and models of civility and kindness in divorced families (but not presented as the norm).

    I hope you keep writing on this and other topics :).

    • I love your comments!

      God, I guess if money did make divorce more enticing, Gigi wouldn’t be writing about why to stay married (she was married to Brian Grazer)!! I will find and read both of your suggestions.

      “It’s a balance though, because once things are inevitably underway, it IS good and helpful to have examples and models of civility and kindness in divorced families (but not presented as the norm).”


      I will keep writing. I hope you’ll keep reading and commenting! 🙂

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