Archive for October 2015

Mediating Your Divorce When the Other Party Is a Bully

San Diego Divorce Mediation when the other party is a bully, Shawn Weber

I will often receive a call from a potential client interested in a San Diego divorce mediation, but who is a little apprehensive because their spouse has had a history of coercion, manipulation and bullying.  The question then arises as to whether mediation is really the appropriate venue to resolve the case.  Many of my peers may disagree with me, but a good mediator can successfully resolve almost any case.  Here are some points to consider for a successful divorce mediation when your spouse is a bully:

Check to make sure you have a well-trained mediator.

Mediating a case where there is a history of coercion or manipulation is advanced work and not for the faint of heart.  You need to make sure that your mediator has the skill, background and personality to ensure a level playing field.  It may be a good idea to bring up your concerns in a  caucus session so that the mediator is aware.

Make sure you consult with an attorney.

Mediation is actually without risk because the mediator makes no decisions in your case.  She can only help facilitate the discussion.  Nothing becomes binding until you sign the marital settlement agreement.  You would be wise, however, to work with advising counsel throughout the mediation process.  Come to mediation sessions armed with knowledge of your rights and what the law may or may not provide.  Under no circumstances should you ever feel pressure to sign any documents without first having had the opportunity to review it with your attorney.  If you continue to feel uncomfortable, you may want your attorney to attend mediation with you.

Consider hiring a divorce coach or a therapist.

You need to bring your best self to the mediation sessions.  To avoid falling into the same old patterns where you may have been manipulated or coerced in the past, it is wise to meet with a mental health professional knowledgable in divorce issues to prepare you for the sessions so that you can avoid getting your buttons pushed.  You can find divorce coaches by looking up your local Collaborative Practice group.  In San Diego, you can go here: http://www.collaborativefamilylawsandiego.com.

Demand Full Financial Disclosure.

In successful mediation, disclosure is essential.  Make no decisions without having had the opportunity to thoroughly review all material financial information.  A financial disclosure should also include back-up statements and documents.  Like in the cold war, it’s “Trust but Verify.”  You may consider having a financial professional such as a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) review the disclosures to uncover any “red flags” deserving additional investigation.

Stand Your Ground.

Bullies often bluster and threaten.  More often than not, the threats are empty.  If you prepare yourself, you need not be intimidated.  Often times, abusive relationship involve a sort of abuse dance.  You don’t have to dance anymore.  You are getting divorced.  You are intelligent.  You are certainly not stupid.  Stand on your own two feet and rely on your support system to be strong.

If there is physical intimate partner violence, think twice.

It is one thing to be a bit of a blowhard and a verbal bully.  It’s entirely different when the situation involved physical violence.  Do not trifle with domestic violence.  If that is happening, mediation is very difficult.  However, even in such situations, mediation can be appropriate with safeguards in place.  For instance, you can be in separate rooms at all times or you can demand anger management counseling.  In any case, make sure you have trained professionals who know what they are doing.  If for one moment, you do not feel safe, you can withdraw.  However, as a general rule, physical intimate partner violence presents a huge red flag.

San Diego Divorce Mediation, San Diego Divorce Mediator, San Diego Divorce Mediation, Solana Beach, Shawn Weber, San Diego Divorce Attorney

Top Five Principles for Successful Family Law Conflict Managers

In my years as a consensual dispute resolution professional, I have gotten to know a lot of professionals who try to manage conflict in divorce and family law situations. Some are very successful… and others not so much. I have compiled a list of my top five principles for successful family law conflict managers.

Mediating manager ponders about new business ideas. A light bulb as a concept of new ideas.

1. PATIENCE

This is not a race. Parties involved in a divorce are in crisis both emotionally and often financially. Don’t expect them to just reach a compromise in five minutes. The temptation is to try to “cut to the chase.” After all, we probably have an idea of where the settlement is long before the parties do because of our experience. But the parties need to “own” the agreement and they can’t if we just decide it for them and then try to force it on them.

Our job is NOT to twist arms. Our job in successful dispute resolution is to help the parties find solutions. In my experience, arm-twisting rarely results in a lasting settlement. It does, however, leave a terrible taste in the mouth of the person whose arm you just twisted. If people feel pressured or forced, we may reach a settlement, but it is unlikely we will have been able to help the parties reach a transformative outcome. Worst of all, they will resent us.

Rather, we should let the case proceed organically. We will guide, inspire and motivate– but never, ever force.

2. HUMILITY

Newsflash! It’s the parties’ case- not yours. Your job is to help guide people to a respectful outcome. You are not the finder of solutions or the sage of wisdom. Your job is to shine a light on problems and help the parties find their own solutions.

I have seen mediators brandish their stats as a weapon in mediation. For example, parties may be stuck at impasse and the mediator says, “I have a 98% settlement rate and you are ruining my statistics!” Your dispute resolution statistics, as far as the parties are concerned, are completely irrelevant to their problems. Sure, you try and find solutions, but the moment you invest yourself personally invested in the outcome as a matter of pride, you are doing your parties a huge disservice.

In my experience, most of the best ideas come from the parties not me. While I sometimes see myself as the “brainstormer-in-chief” trying to provide as many ideas as possible that the parties may not yet have thought of, I never lose site of the reality that the case belongs to the parties. My most important job in brainstorming, however, is not to be the one with the great idea. Rather, I strive to create an environment were the parties can find the solutions on their own. I am the facilitator. I am not the decider. My personal pride is not important.

3. EMPATHY

Perhaps the most important skill a mediator can learn is the ability to listen. I am not talking about the superficial surface listening. I mean deep, empathic listening.

To help parties settle, you have to really understand the conflict. This requires more than just listening to words. You need pay attention to body language and non-verbal cues. Prepare yourself to dig deep to find out what really motivates a party and what his or her interests truly are. Yes, she may be telling you that it is about the house or the best interests of the kids. But maybe down deep, she is really just afraid or insecure about her future. In such a situation, no financial settlement can satisfy the party who is afraid until the fear is acknowledged and addressed. This may take some digging to find, but until you do, you won’t help the parties reach a lasting settlement.

I find that I have to make sure I listen with more than just my ears. I also listen with my eyes, my heart and my soul.

Good dispute resolution requires your humanity.  Remember, this isn’t just a legal process; it’s a human experience. Until we can get into the world our clients are experiencing, we are limited in what we can help them unlock for themselves.

4. FLEXIBILITY

Because I work with people, I have learned to be ready and open for the unexpected. People don’t fit into compartments. My dispute resolution process, therefore, needs to have flexibility built in. A good mediator or dispute resolver can pivot quickly. Rigidity is the enemy of success when people are involved.

My mantra is “People before process.” While we may be very proud of our protocols and systems, the moment we allow them to drown out the needs of the clients, we miss the whole point of our service—to guide and help PEOPLE. We will keep our processes and protocols, but won’t be afraid to modify when the needs of the parties dictate a change.

5. PRINCIPLED BOUNDARIES

While it is important to be empathic and flexible, it is still important to have principles and boundaries, which we don’t compromise. For instance, I don’t ever let a party compromise my neutrality. I also insist on clarity surrounding how a party can communicate with me outside of the dispute resolution process. I guard my weekends and off hours, which are reserved for my own family. These and other principles and boundaries will not only preserve my own sanity, but they also communicate to the client that this is a business transaction and that there is a professional process that is deserving of respect.

While I am all about compassion and kindness, I am not a family member or a friend. I am a professional with a job to do. I do that job best when there are boundaries. Whenever I have allowed a boundary to be compromised, I regret it because the case almost always will go south.

I have found these principles to be crucial to my own practice. Perhaps you have other principles you would like to share. Let me know what works for you!

Read also:

Dolphin Lawyering: Why I can be an advocate without being a shark

We don’t get along very well. How can we possibly mediate our divorce?

Why “Fair” is the F-Word in Divorce Negotiations