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.