Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | November 19, 2010

The Mediation Process Begins

As I expressed in my previous post, switching from pursuing a “Do-it-yourself” divorce with Penny to Mediation felt like it would be a step backward. We had our first session with the mediator yesterday.

[I started writing this post on Thursday, even though I did not complete it until Friday.]

The session wasn’t so bad. And there is reason to be cautiously optimistic.

(And yes, those of you who highlighted red flags in the comments section of my previous post, I am paying attention. More on all that later.)

The mediator we met with is a lawyer, and so I will occasionally refer to him interchangeably as such, but he stressed the fact that, because we are engaging him to be a mediator between us, he can not act as legal counsel for either of us, and he therefore cannot provide legal opinions — although he would clearly be providing us with informed guidance. Those are my words, not his, and the upshot is that he is not acting as a lawyer in our case, so he doesn’t want us to ever claim he acted as such. Semantics. Okay, fair enough.

He was clearly experienced and professional. He kept things moving right along without ever appearing to be rushed. He started off by giving us his spiel: what is mediation, how does it compare with other options for divorce (DIY, lawyer-represented collaborative, lawyer-represented adversarial, etc.), what services he can and cannot provide as our mediator, how the process works, and so on. He gave us plenty of opportunities to ask questions, but the truth is everything was very clear at the outset, and we didn’t start asking questions until later, when he started asking us questions.

He then met with each of us separately for roughly fifteen minutes apiece. During my session (and presumably, with Penny’s), he asked what brought us to this point, and what were my high-level goals for the outcome of the divorce. He also asked a short list of standard questions: has there ever been any physical violence, any fears regarding our childrens’ or my own safety, any threats, any injuries, any attempts at suicide, any mental diagnoses, any weapons in the house, and so on.

Now, Penny was aware that I was particularly concerned about the potential cost, and she let me know before the session that if I had any qualms or wanted to tell him “we’ll think about it” after the first part of the consultation was done, she’d be fine with that. (The mediator had told me on the phone that after the first part of the session was done, if we didn’t want to proceed, there would be no charge.)

After my brief interview with him, I was asked to get Penny from the room where she was waiting, and she again offered me the chance to back out. I was willing to see this play out, so we continued with the session.

When we resumed, he started us off by asking us both to state our “big picture” goals as he wrote them up on large sheet of paper. Obviously, there was an opportunity here to state our goals differently from what we’d expressed privately. I will observe that I stated pretty much exactly the same goals in front of her as I had in private to the mediator, although by this time around, I’d managed to come up with better words.

Having gotten through “the big picture,” he asked if there was anything regarding our separation that bore particular urgency. We discussed our house situation, reviewed possible ways to attack it, and this led to the first homework assignment of the session: for me to do some specific research regarding different available options.

Since we discussed our financial situation as a part of this, and because he and I had spoken about it earlier, the mediator was aware of our desire to keep this as low cost as possible. He gave us homework assignments regarding developing a parenting plan, tallying our financial assets and liabilities, and also a short article to read about how to help our children during the divorce process. The more homework we do on our own, the less we have to spend on mediation sessions.

We stopped at two hours, and schedule our next session for two weeks away. In the meantime, there’s plenty of homework to do.

Now, I realize that this is a rather clinical description of what we discussed. I wanted to get that out of the way first; I do think it’s interesting, and there’s a great deal to be said for following an established process. Since my blog will possibly be read some day by someone who is just beginning the road through divorce, I hope this will be useful as a description of one possible path.

But while I feel comfortable talking about the process as it is unfolding, talking about the content of the discussions (other than in the most general terms) is, well, out of bounds.

I do want to mention on thing that I don’t think is telling tales out of school, however, and I think it’s fair to say how I feel about how this is unfolding.

First, I’ll note that when the whole session began, we both essentially sat there across the desk from the mediator, quietly taking in what he had to say, asking no questions, and never really looking at each other (or moving much at all, for that matter). As the session went on, I think we slowly started to relax, we did start to interact with him, and eventually, with each other, as well.

When the session was over, we went to the parking lot where we were parked (in separate areas) and had a decent conversation about the upcoming apartment/house hunt. As I noted above, I came to feel a sense of cautious optimism. It could be that having a neutral third party mediate may help alleviate Penny’s fears, and that may, in turn, help the whole thing go smoother. If so… then, perhaps, money well spent.

And while the content of the sessions is confidential, there’s one tiny, specific part that I feel I can mention without breaking the spirit of any rules.

A standard question, which I had expected and which was, in fact, asked early on in the session while we were both in the room:

“Is there any hope of reconcilliation?”

Let’s face it, the answer for me could be yes, but Penny would have to make some changes that she has never shown any willingness to make, and there’d be a lot more work involved than maybe if this were a year ago. Maybe I answered too quickly. Maybe I answered exactly as quickly as I should have. But after a beat, I answered first:


And the weight of that one word was huge. It felt like a commitment. It felt permanent. Acknowledgement. Certainty. It felt every bit as definite as the commitment I’d made over eleven years ago, when I said two words instead of one.

Words have power. I said it, and once it was out, it was out. The commitment was made.

The word has been spoken, and can’t be taken back.




  1. whew. heavy. but a process will help you, like you said. mediation can be good for a lot of things, and the best thing, in my opinion, is the order and enforced calm of a procedure to follow.

    thinking of you.

  2. I remember being asked that question early on from my lawyer. I remember that moment when I had to answer “no”. It was tough. Because, honestly, like you, had my ex been willing to make certain changes at the time, there might have been a different outcome. But I have learned that we can’t make other people be or do anything that they aren’t willing to do. I can only keep moving forward based on the person that I see in front of me today.

    **hugs** to you. I know it’s tough. Even though my ex and I pretty much have agreed on everything, our divorce process is still ongoing, basically because he has no desire to keep the ball rolling. He just simply doesn’t care. He’s not dating anyone, his life is kind of in limbo. Me, on the other hand, is the one driving the process, and it will seem that if it’s actually going to happen, it’ll be me that makes it so. Frustrating.

    Anyhow…hang in there. I know it’s tough but you’ll get there. 🙂

  3. Wow, I was really gripped reading this for some reason. One of your best posts (well, they are all great, really) for the fact that you laid out how things went, but didn’t cross the line into confidential areas, which I completely respect, and the question about reconciliation…wow. I think when asked that question myself, I didn’t know what my answer would be until I said it to my lawyer too. No. It surprised me a little bit, but it definitely set the tone for moving ahead mentally and literally for me. I think you’ve reached a huge turning point.
    Hang in there!!

  4. No. How odd that a negative word can have such positive context! I consider this admission by you to be a triumph, a statement of fact over desired fantasy. It puts you in a better place so that you can deal with the coming changes.

    But the real issue is: has Penny realized that it’s over? I don’t mean intellectually for she had a role in the decision to seek a divorce in the first place. I mean emotionally. Just as you thought about how you would rather have things before you admitted there was nothing left, did she? You don’t say what her response was.

    There is much to know about her reaction to the question that would indicate how the process will go. If she still harbors a fantasy that she can still use you to shelter her from reality (which may well have been the basis for your relationship in the first place), that fantasy could cause problems later on. She is going to have custody of a struggling business in a lousy economy, and there is the issue of what kind of a deal you can make with the bank regarding your house. You each have a shared responsibility to the bank over the house, and news reports indicate they are back to playing hard ball big time. You have already told us about her concerns for her financial well-being. I wonder if having to accept the responsibility for herself won’t cause her to balk once she realizes what that responsibility will entail.

    Maybe she needs the time until the next session to reach this point that you have already attained. I wouldn’t consider this unreasonable. But if she doesn’t by then, reassess!

  5. It’s that moment of finally admitting it to yourself, and *accepting* it, that I think almost frees us. It allows us to move on.

    Sounds like it was a really good meeting, and also sounds like something right up my alley – dealing with it head on in a straightforward, calm manner. Hopefully it will continue that way!

  6. I too, remember that no.

    Probably the hardest question I’ve ever answered, and all for a two letter word.

    I hope things work out for the best, as always.

  7. One syllable word. Huge meaning. Hang in there. I know you. You can do this. And I’m ready to listen whenever you need me.

  8. I don’t mean to be glib, but how could the answer be anything BUT “no”? This is a woman who has rejected you sexually for years. As well…is it really her fault that she isn’t interested in being physical with you?
    (Or, for that matter, anyone. Or maybe everyone BUT you. Will you ever know? Perhaps not. Does it even matter?)

    If you didn’t have children, would you give this a second thought? I doubt it. I think you are mourning the loss of an intact family for your sons. You are not mourning the loss of a woman who gave you nothing at all in the way of physical affection.

    You will look back on this and say, “THANK GOD I SAID NO.” Of that, my friend, I am certain.

  9. I am just starting the whole separation / divorce process and the issue of reconciliation is so hard for me to tackle right now. I am the one who wants the divorce and my ex has asked more than once for a chance to reconcile – and I find it so hard to say the word “No.”. I shake my head, or say “I’m sorry” or “I don’t think so”. I want the divorce, I know it’s right for me – but why can’t I say “No” when he asks for another chance? Part of it is me not wanting to hurt him and his feelings – but I think part of it has to do with me still in disbelief that this is happening to us. Thanks for this post – it lets me know I’ll be able to say “No” eventually.

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