Long before I was a family mediator a friend went through a divorce that would have been made so much easier by mediation. This is the story of one couple who could have saved time, money and relationships by choosing mediation.
Way back in the eighties I married a man I knew for only six weeks before becoming engaged. We had it all – bridesmaids, flowers, big music, lots of people – a dream wedding. After the honeymoon was over, the gifts were opened and the dress sealed in a special box, reality set in. I didn’t know this guy. And, what I did know, I didn’t really like. No detail is necessary other than to say that we were young and mistook lust for true love. Not an original story at all.
After five long and challenging years of trying to make our marriage work, we finally realized that this was not going to be our happily every after. It was surprising to no one, except me, when the whole thing went south. Rather than researching divorce options, I ran away from my life in Burnsville and back to my parents in Wisconsin. That was my first mistake.
After a brief attempt to save our marriage in counseling, I decided to do what I had been dreaming about for years. I filed for divorce after retaining an attorney. My soon-to-be ex and I spent the next nine months fighting over which state had jurisdiction over the dissolution of our marriage. And the legal bills began to mount.
We had no children, no house and no significant assets to fight over. We fought over pride; and despite the simplicity of our situation, we didn’t want to make easy for each other. From revoked credit cards to cancelled health insurance, cash withdrawals from savings and liquidation of retirement assets our anger, mistrust and fear brought out the worst in us. Every one of these misdeeds required intervention by our lawyers. Finally, eleven months after I ran from “home” my divorce was final. It was angry, bitter, exhausting and expensive.
My attorney fees exceeded $5,000. His lawyer charged more than mine, so I estimate he spent $7,500. In 1993 we spent about $12,500 getting divorced. In today’s dollars that is equivalent to $19,500. We spent nearly $20,000 on a divorce we both wanted.
If we had skipped the lawyers and hired a mediator at the start our process would have been much different. After a free one-hour introduction session that would have explained the process and prepared us to negotiate our divorce settlement, we would have selected a mediator and scheduled a two or three hour session to hash out the terms of our divorce. Since we didn’t have substantial assets to divide, we likely could have gotten the whole thing done in less than two hours.
Mediators today charge approximately $250 per hour. Three hours in mediation negotiating our settlement would have cost $750. Add another hour for drafting the paperwork and $400 to file with the court and our total expense would have been just $1,400 – $700 for each of us. The retainer I paid my lawyer was more than that in today’s dollars. Using mediation instead of attorneys (and the adversarial court system) would have saved us about $18,000.
We had a simple divorce. We had few assets and no children, or even pets to fight over. What if we had all of those things. Working through lawyers in an adversarial system, our anger would have grown and we would have created a terrible foundation from which to raise our children. Not to mention the trauma our children would have gone through as the battles played out around them on a daily basis.
Using mediation not only would we have saved us a great deal of money, we might have saved some semblance of a friendship. We certainly would have saved immeasurable amounts of stress and agony. I discuss this with the distance of almost twenty years. That makes it easy to be dispassionate about things that once had me coming apart at the seams. If we had used a mediator, I believe I would have gained some of this perspective much earlier. I could have experienced non-monetary benefits relating to reduced anger, conflict and bitterness.
I wish I had used mediation.