I’ve been practicing law a long time. Today in mediation, the mediator said I had tried, “thousands of cases” and as the day ran on he said, “millions of cases (it can sure feel like it!). Mediators are there to guide the negotiations and not to give legal advice and the mediator today did a great job of listening. Better than me. Because I had heard it so many times. The same story. The same issues. The same challenges.
As we sat in the damp, cold room together, waiting for the mediator to come back in and deliver the next round of offers, I felt my heart break. My client was devastated over the loss of her family. She and her husband had been together for 20 years. Dating and then married. She told me about how they met. How they used to have so much fun. And she cried. And my heart broke more.
In these many years of practicing law, I have often felt that the pain should be pushed aside so we could deal with things more rationally and logically. But today, my client’s pain was so immense. It was a tsunami filling the room.
I stopped the mediator and asked for a time out. I realized, as did he, that my client was not able to think clearly. Not able to make the hard decisions that have to be made in mediation. I respected that the mediator agreed. He could see the anguish. And anguish and logic don’t play well together. I was not going to push her into a settlement. It is not my life she will live once she is finished with litigation.
Sometimes I’ve encountered lawyers who try to push the parties into a resolution. Who don’t see the benefit of allowing people to grieve for their marriage. Who don’t feel the heartbreak. Today as I drove home, I felt the sadness but also felt that I did my best for my client today. We didn’t walk away with custody or alimony. We walked away with our pain. Just a little bit closer to seeing there will be life on the other side.
What does this mean for you if you are going through divorce litigation?
Don’t rush things. Don’t forget to take your time to grieve. Don’t let someone else make you feel pressured to decide on things that will impact you for the rest of your life. Be gentle with yourself. Lean on people who love you. Realize that it will get easier. Don’t let your emotions rule when you are deciding on your divorce settlement.
All of these years of practicing law, I’ve realized that when you make a decision in haste, it’s going to cause you to second guess yourself later. Recently, in another case, in another mediation, a client sent me an email the next day saying she regretted what she had agreed upon. I wasn’t representing her because I was in trial in another county. By the time I was finished and going to her mediation, she had come to an agreement. I was incredulous at how quickly it went. But not surprised to hear she had second thoughts.
Once I was representing a woman who had been married for over 40 years and her husband’s attorney was trying to push us into a divorce within two weeks. She was also heartbroken. I told her that he could wait. She was not going to end that many years of marriage under my watch with a quicky divorce to please her controlling husband. Everyone deserves time to process what’s happening to them.