Get on the path to results today with separation mediation
Get on the path to results today with separation mediation
May 17, 2021
Once again the home page picture has changed orientation. Upside down is hard to look at; it's disorienting, confusing. I won't leave it that way for long, I don't like it either. But as before, I do it to make a symbolic point: separation can be disorienting and confusing. And you don't want to leave it that way for long.
Mediation can help return things to normal.
Have a non-disorienting day.
May 11, 2021
Mother's Day come and gone. Hard day for some. Those that had to face reduced time with their kids as a result of a separation arrangement might wish the day to pass quickly. Days like Mother's or Father's Day, Xmas, heck, any traditional annual mark on the calendar can come with mixed feelings, and straight up dread for others in their life after separating.
It's trite to advise accept and move on. Unfortunately it's also true. We all have to accept loss and grief, some more than others to be sure. Not seeing your kids on Mother's or Father's day, or on an anniversary of significance can hurt and hopefully you can tell yourself that it's not all the end of the world.
That was the criteria I had with my daughter when she was very young. If something unfortunate happened, she would it into context: "But it's not the end of the world is it Dad?" "No, sweetie, " I'd say, "it's not the end of the world." Smart kid.
The Home Page picture is rotating. It's symbolic of of the ups and downs of separation, the tug of war between spouses - over the kids, over money. But it's also symbolic of imbalances.
In our mediation training we are taught to watch for imbalances. These can manifest during interviews for example. One spouse may dominate the conversation, leaving little room for the other to tell her/his story, their version of events. Or it may be a financial imbalance where one has greater financial resources and tries to use that to the others' disadvantage. Now, as we know, all assets and liabilities accumulated in their time together are sharable and such behavior will eventually be countered by reality, but when it happens it can momentarily shake the process. And yes, one may be well positioned to earn much more than the other, but even that can be countered by support payments. Mediators must watch for imbalances and assure the potentially injured party that help is on the way.
May 4, 2021
Hope you found the Marriage as Flight essay helpful. Here's another:
Your mother was right: Play nice
Are there really 50 ways to leave your lover?” The short answer is no. Paul Simon mentioned only a handful and truth be known, there are only a few. The ‘Traditional Way’ which, when all parties work together, results in a good legal separation agreement in an acceptable time and at a reasonable cost. But that’s if everyone works together – all 6 of you: you and your spouse and your representatives. The position-based, adversarial nature of the traditional divorce, when all are not moving in the same direction, can be expensive, bruising, stressful, and time-consuming, not to mention the potential damage it can do to your kids. The participants take a position and fight to protect it.
Today, we’ll explore the other ways - ways more focused on mutual interests, ways we have grouped under the ‘Play Nice’ banner.
Financial and emotional capital
The deep insult so many divorcing people feel is exceedingly hard to ignore. Both spouses can feel betrayed, harmed, and can, with great clarity and a mountain of evidence, show proof of the injury the ‘other’ has inflicted on their well-being. Injury begets anger, anger begets revenge, and revenge? Well, revenge is expensive. Financial and emotional capital can be spent for years to right perceived wrongs. And you will see yourself as a victim. Victimhood is righteous and, in its own odd way, comforting. But it can bankrupt the rich and healthy.
Play nice you say? Not me! On the contrary, playing mean has a much more attractive aroma. Surely revenge will taste sweeter. And indeed it may, but only for a while. It soon turns bitter and sour. Your once pleasing visage becomes that of a baby with a lemon slice - pursed lips, a look of growing reflective shock.
The main issues in divorce are financial and the kids. Under "financial" are family assets and liabilities as well as support payments – spousal and/or child support. Under ‘kids’ lies the greatest treasure you have and to get to a resolution on your children, you need to be counter-intuitive and pay attention to the money first. As we mentioned in the Marriage as Flight article, figuring out the finances first will free you to take that deep breath to discuss with your spouse how to co-parent the kids. The ‘but’ you will have is: But how do I get through the money issues without a lemon-face? He/she will want the RRSPs, the boat, the BBQ and the [fill in the blank] and I’ll be left with nothing, and I’ll be damned if I am going to give in! How to get to “playing nice?”
Playing nice means…
Don’t fight in front of your kids.
Don’t fight at all.
Don’t’ write angry emails or texts.
Don’t leave angry voice messages.
Don’t speak poorly of your spouse (especially in front of your children).
Don’t take that easy cheap shot. Learn to bite your tongue.
If you have another relationship, don’t flaunt it in front of your spouse or kids.
If you don’t have another relationship, wait until after you have your agreement before starting one.
Get help from therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, divorce resource books.
Call a family lawyer versed in mediation and negotiation.
Call a family lawyer practicing Collaborative Law.
Call a service like ours, Dignified Divorce.
You don’t actually have to be nice. That might be more than you can stomach. In that case, just pretend to be nice. The truth can be over-rated anyway, and hypocrisy can be useful when employed for a greater good (please do not quote me on this). The greater good is your kids and if you are honest with yourself, you’ll have to admit that the last few years together was a study in pretending.
So, the stage is set for progress: you promise you’ll be disciplined enough to at least pretend to play nice; you’ll call a pro who knows how to work with couples who would rather be in Philadelphia; and you are willing to take deep breaths, bite your tongue, and listen carefully for a few months.
Our preferred approach is to focus not on position-based thinking, but instead on shared-interest-based thinking. We negotiate for a flat fee, usually in the $3,000 -$8,000 range, which when spit between the couple means $1,500 - $4,000 each for resolution of all issues prior to getting a family lawyer to finalize the plan as a legal separation agreement. As far as we know, it is the least expensive, fastest, and least stressful approach to resolving issues. But there are conditions… You need to be able to be in the same room or virtual room with your spouse once or twice in the process, and you’ll still need a lawyer at the end of it. Our goal is to have you about 90% through the process by the time you need to retain the services of that lawyer.
Another ‘play nice’ approach is collaborative divorce. Collaborative divorce started in California in the 1990s and has quite properly spread throughout Canada and the US. It is a practical and thorough approach involving lawyers, coaches/therapists, and a financial expert. As with the negotiated, resolution approach, collaborative divorce commits the parties to being respectful and cooperative.
Some of you simply are nice and can use the ‘do-it-yourself’ packages out there. I have no opinion on these. Apparently they work fine for some folks, but as my dad, a lawyer, used to say, “Anyone who hires themself as their lawyer has a fool for a client”, so be careful. Overall, it boils down to the age-old advice of moms everywhere: “Be nice, or at least play nice.”
May 1, 2021
A fews ago I wrote numerous articles about separation, family law, and mediation. One of them, likening marriage to flight, keeps coming back to me, so I thought it time to republish it. Here is it, hope you like.
Marriage as flight.
I once traveled to Toronto on the ‘red-eye’, real cheap, 4 am flight. Big rock concert to attend. My buddy and I were all of 20 years old and living the weekend hippie life. As we approached Toronto International, the Captain announced that the light that is supposed to indicate the landing gear was secured would not come on. He said we couldn’t be sure if the wheels would hold once we landed. The procedures for an emergency crash landing were given: fasten seat belts, put false teeth/ pens/ glasses away, cross you arms and lower your head to the pillow on your lap. A flight attendant told me she needed strong, young arms for something special. No problem of course. My job was to sit by the back emergency door and push it open in the event of a crash landing. People were crying, some praying. Myself? I thought I should be paying extra for the thrill of it all. We cruised over the tower several times while the controllers used binoculars to see if the big bolt securing the landing gear was in place. The tarmac was filled with fire trucks and ambulances. The landing went just fine. Apparently it was only a faulty light.
Ah youth! Those carefree pre-marriage days before serious responsibility and commitment came knocking at our doors.
To my mind, a marriage is much like an airline flight to a vacation destination. In marriage, first we get engaged and then plan the wedding, much like deciding to go on a vacation and then booking the flight. Once on board, we find our seats and settle in. In a marriage there is a period of settling in too – kids, careers, parenting. There’s a bit of turbulence during those years for sure but a safe and soft landing at your dream destination is expected.
However on some flights the turbulence become so severe that the warning lights flash, the captain comes over the loudspeaker and asks passengers to fasten their seatbelts and emergency masks fall from the consul above. In a marriage too there are signals that announce the pending failure of the marriage.
At this time in your marriage, as in your flight, your first instinct is to protect your children. But take heed of this caution:
“If the cabin loses pressure during flight, you will need to put on an oxygen mask or risk losing consciousness. Put on your own mask before assisting other passengers, such as a young child. If you are incapacitated, you will be unable to assist anybody else.”
When travelling through a divorce it is essential that you take care of yourself emotionally and financially so that you are able to protect your children. Dignified Divorce offers you that opportunity.
A common urge of divorcing couples is to panic, to put that oxygen mask on their kids first, a mistake often facilitated by traditional divorce processes. The main issues in divorce are financial and the children, and the best approach is in that order. Yes, the kids are your most precious asset, but get the money figured out first: what is everything worth, what is the total debt, how will we split it, how much and for how long will spousal support will be paid, what about child support? Once these issues are resolved, you’ll be able to breath and focus on the kids and your co-parenting plan. And flying won't be so turbulent.
April 20, 2021
I took a golf lesson recently and discovered that I wasn't following through after I hit the ball. I needed to reach through the hit area and finish high with my right foot ending up on its toes.
I like the metaphor of following through, for couples wondering what to do. They need to follow through. If they have concluded that their relationship is not sustainable, follow through, do something about it. Call an expert and get on the path to results with separation mediation.
April 14, 2021
A sore arm and shoulder for a few days, then some fatigue one day, but that was it. First Pfizer shot is done. By Friday April 23rd, our antibodies should be active, giving us some comfort that life is more secure, more predictable, we hope.
On the outside, nothing much will change; we will still wear masks and socially distance, but in the inside, I know we will feel better. But good grief, the variants and this third wave in BC and across the country is worrisome. Already we have changed some summer plans and others are on hold.
A major concern about the pandemic was its potential for added in-home stress for stressed relationships. Studies are being done and so for now, I don't know how definitive they are but the early signs are not good. Family violence appears to be way up, and rates of separation and divorce will surely follow.
If you are one of those facing a relationship that seems too broken to fix, have tried counselling but nothing seems to help, maybe it's time to call a separation mediator. It costs nothing.
My wife and I received our first Pfizer vaccine injection today at the UBC Pharmacy site. It was well organized, friendly and professional. No side affects so far.
Can a separation agreement be done as easily? Walk in to a short line up, show your ID, answer a few questions, get a shot in the arm, rest for fifteen minutes to be sure there is no adverse reaction, and off you go. For a truly uncontested separation/divorce, it is metaphorically pretty close.
But for most couples, there are many contested issues and that walk in takes months and those few questions are many and there is no rest period. The end result however can be similar: you are protected from future problems from that "variant".
Mediation can reduce the 'pain in the arm' and side affects. The line up is shorter, the questioning is friendlier, the shot is fast and you are home much sooner with more money in your pocket. The lawyers are still invited but only after all issues are negotiated. Protection from infection is accomplished with out further side affects. And there IS a rest period sooner than later.
Trust those that celebrate Easter had a good weekend. For those that don't, I hope the time was satisfying in its own way.
Religious holidays such as Easter and Christmas can serve up more than just food. Additional stress can be large side dish. Relationship already stressed can suffer deeper wounds.
Therapists, counsellors, family lawyers and mediators can see an increase in demand for service. My approach is to screen for real need: have you tried marriage counselling? Are you sure you are ready to start the separation process? I am not a therapist and won't help you fix your relationship. I will however help you find a dignified way to end it.
Not a particularly uplifting message I suppose, but for those who are truly ready, I think it's the right serving of realism and help.
April 1, 2021
The origins of "April Fool's Day" are obscure. Some date back to the 12th century; others attribute April Fool's Day to the Dutch victory in 1572 at Brielle, where the Spanish Duke Álvarez de Toledo was defeated [Wikipedia]. It became a custom in the mid 20th century to allow for tricks on another but only until noon. I recall that rule from childhood.
I like to think of April 1st not as a Fool's Day but one of Spring's milestones. Winter is over, although the weather sometimes is in on that plan. And to those of you fraught with worry about your relationship, make this April 1st the day you address that worry.
Find a counsellor. Talk to an expert. You know that worry per se is not productive, so stop worrying and find help. If it's help regarding separation or divorce, call an expert. Mediators can be that expert, but who ever it may be, please do it. Fight to make this April 1st be the last one when you are in this turmoil. Make April 1st 2022 your target date for the next better stage of your life.
March 30, 2021
Thank to to those who have contacted me recently. The Chat button is painless but so is a direct call. I don't bite.
March 27, 2021
Theses days find me posting more. I am also writing stories from my life and have even started a short fictional story. Is it nostalgia or a new found artist outlet, or just the pandemic pushing me around? Don't know, but I do know I enjoy it. My first effort was about a dear friend from my childhood. He was an extraordinarily talented guy, died at 36, much too young. Schizophrenia confused his last years, albeit, I never saw that in our youth which comprised grade school and university years.
My next article focused on time working at a fishing camp as a guide, in north western Ontario. Some nostalgic refection here for sure but also instructive. It brought perspective, and a deeper understanding of a time passed. Guiding in a remote camp with fellow university students, learning the art of walleye and lake trout fishing from Cree and Ojibway local guides gave an education I could not have found in class.
Does any of this relate to separation or divorce? Stay tuned.
March 26, 2021
I'm happy to announce my new membership in the Family Roster of the ADR Institute of BC. You can still find me on Mediate BC's Family Roster, another great organization helping people resolving their differences.
Their websites are:
March 15, 2021
The old saying that time flies when you're having fun is wrong. A year has past since Covid came to town and, while it's been interminably long, it feels like only yesterday when it all started.
Nostalgia, missing family and friends, missing familiar things and routines, everyday being the so much the same - it always feel like it was just Monday, or Saturday.
I think the pandemic is hardest on the young - say 18 to 30 years old. How to find a life partner from six feet away? And the very young are learning to read eyes, not faces. It will pass but the damage the pandemic has done won't pass for many years.
The pandemic has also been hard on relationships, particularly those that were stressed before it started. It appears family violence is on the rise and counsellors tell us that therapy for depression and anxiety is in demand. The good news there is that people are seeking help.
Recently I became a member of the alternate dispute resolution organization ADRBC. Arbitration is one of the primary methods to resolve disputes, be they contract, commercial, strata, insurance, employment, or family in nature. The other primary method of resolving disputes outside of adversarial legal and court venues is mediation. While my primary service is Mediation, I will eventually offer Arbitration as well.
Mediation and arbitration have their respective advantages. Generally speaking, mediation allows participants more control over the outcome with the mediator being a neutral facilitator. Arbitration leaves the outcome up to the arbitrator and may appeal to those seeking a more formal and final one. Both have their place.
Some of my recent communication to therapists:
I have made contacting therapist one of my main efforts because I see an overlap with my profession, mediation, and yours. My clients often tell me they experience a therapeutic affect from being able to talk to a neutral person about the stress they are going through in separating.
I thought it would be a good idea to remind you that mediation for couples considering separation is still a viable option even during a pandemic. And mediation still stands as the healthier optionwhen couples are moving towards separation.
The stress of stay at home orders, of isolation, can add to the stress of an already strained relationship. From MedicalXpress, June 1, 2020
“…police in France reported a 30 percent surge in calls and that China also saw a huge increase in calls for help.”
My own practise bears this out. So, I thought it prudent to reconnect with therapists working with folks feeling this stress.
We do it remotely. No more in-person meeting but a lot more face-to-face meetings using whatever clients are comfortable with be it Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, Whatsapp or other platforms. And of course, the phone still works just fine.
The same principles and practices apply:
Fundamental principle is to deliver a Mediated Separation Plan that covers everything that they need to resolve for a fraction of the cost and time associated with the more traditional adversarial approach. The average legal cost of a contested separation agreement is over $18k per person and can take years. Mediation can get them 95% though the process usually for a under $6k per couple and usually in only a matter of months. All financial issues are resolved – shared property and debts, child and spousal support. And a parenting plan is put together if needed. It all gets expressed in a Separation Plan with their accompanying Net Worth Division Statement. The Plan is then sent to their respective family lawyers for conversion into a legal agreement. But because all issues have been negotiated, the lawyers’ job is limited to drafting and independent legal advice. The major cost contributing to the high cost of lawyer-led agreements is the time spent between lawyers negotiating and fighting for every last advantage for their clients.
· It starts with an initiating call or email from one of the parties. Basic information is gathered, screening for violence, some rapport established, ask that the other spouse call me.
· A very similar call with the other spouse should allow for consensus to proceed, or not.
· Assuming they proceed, I send a questionnaire to gather more information and then arrange for signing of their Agreement to Mediate, a two-page document laying out the terms of engagement, ground rules, and their flat fee quote. If that fee is $5k, it is shared equally at $2.5k each, and can be paid over time.
· Full financial disclosure is the next main effort followed by creation of a Net Worth Statement and Division, determination of child support then spousal support [can be contentious and may lead to delays.]
· A Parenting Plan, when needed, is typically left to the end but on occasion it is a primary issue and needs to be dealt with sooner.
· Calls and video conferencing done as needed. In fact, with the pandemic, I am finding that I actually see my clients’ faces more often.
If you are treating an individual or couples, and see that some information on separation and mediation may be of value, I would welcome a call. It cost them nothing to talk to me.
Thanks for your attention.
Paul Sweatman, M.Sc. CFA, Mediation Cert. CDFA
April post: It's April already, good grief. My commitment to blogging is questionable. I am told that media savvy folks stay committed and make regular submissions. My lack of activity is due to laziness but for separating couples, dedication to activities that are meant to help your life, your business, can feel like an impossible chore. Motivation can disappear. "Why bother? It's only going to get worse. Nothing works anyway. I'm so angry. This separation is so hard, so lonely, so..."
As a mediator for couples getting separated in the Greater Vancouver area, I've heard folks express deep sadness, anger, confusion, and some hope. I listen, reflect, restate "So I hear you saying..." and then listen some more. When I hear that expression of hope, even the tiniest bit, I grab on and redirect. "If things were better in 3 months, 6 months, what would that look like?" We are programmed to move on, to get to the next place, the next better place. It's hard to shake that inner optimism. Try staying down forever. Its hard work, takes concentration, dedication. And when the world looks gloomy, IS gloomy as it so often is in the midst of a separation, such morose dedication is in abundant supply. So the hard work of staying down gets done. But unless one suffers from depression, most people come out of it sooner rather than later, driven by that inner optimism. It's not a surprise we are programmed for optimism. After all, when staring fearfully from their cave thousands of years ago, it took not only courage and an empty stomach to induce that first couple to venture out, they had to have some optimism that something was better just beyond the hills. Nature selected for the most successful optimists.
I don't make light of that gloom. It's real and it can be debilitating. And if the process of separation and divorce goes on and on, as it can when contested and fuelled by antagonism and anger where every asset seems worth spending more on legal fees than the item's actual value [how crazy it that?], then the outcome can be a dedication to depressiveness. How unnecessary.
The Captain who tormented Paul Newman's prison character in Cool Hand Luke said: "What we have here is a failure to communicate." Now, good communication skills come in handy in life and most couples will swear that they have them and their spouse doesn't. But both inevitably receive clear communication that settles their struggle. Everything eventually gets settled - either by a judge in a court room, or by exhaustion of emotional or financial capital, or by themselves through more gentle methods. Those gentler methods include collaborative divorce or mediation. Both are great inventions. My preference is of course mediation but I have tons of respect for collaborative practise.
If you are facing separation or divorce or know someone who is, call a collaborative family lawyer or a family mediator. Mediate BC has a Family Roster with many good names to chose from. I am there as well. I hope I can help you or someone you know.
April 26, 2018
Just a little bit more on That Gloom mentioned above: did you know that the Spring is associated with higher rates of divorce filings, and suicides? We have heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD and many people use light therapy to counter the affects of little sunlight in the Winter. But why such gloom in the sunny Spring time? There are lots of theories but little of definitive explanations. My point in bringing it up is this: Vancouver British Columbia is a beautiful place and this Spring seems to finally to be shining through. But if you are one of the unfortunate to be facing separation or divorce, as well suffering an inexplicably severe bout of depressiveness this Spring, get help. Getting separated or divorced or being depressed is NOT a character flaw and both can be 'treated'. If you know of anyone vulnerable to depression keep an even closer eye on them, and especially if those same people are considering separation, keep both eyes on them.
Enough about The Gloom. Most folks take a deeper breath in the Spring and jump right in. I see more runners, walkers, side walk cafe-sitters, bike riders, smiling kids in the park playing rugger, baseball, soccer. Lot's of tennis, golfing, even skiing. Sail boats will be out soon. These are the joys of Spring so grab them!
Can't believe it's been since late April that I last posted anything. It's June 7th already! At least you can't accuse me of over-communicating.
There are changes coming to the Divorce Act. From the CBC website, May 23, 2018:
Barry Fraser, a divorced father of two, says he applauds a federal bill tabled Tuesday that proposes the first major changes to Canada's divorce laws in more than 20 years.
"It would have saved me thousands in legal fees," he said from Guelph, Ont.
Fraser had a rocky split from the mother of his children starting about six years ago, and said the amendments proposed by the federal Liberals in Bill C-78 could help people in situations like his avoid drawn-out and expensive court battles.
Now remarried and a stepfather of three, Fraser said he's glad to see the act redrawn to emphasize less adversarial processes and put the best interests of the children out front, even when one party seems bent on escalating matters.
"Especially knowing that the kids have a say in it will definitely make people stop in their tracks."
Bill C-78 is expected to become law soon. It will align itself with several Provincial laws, the B.C. Family Law Act of 2013 certainly comes to mind, where an emphasis on alternate dispute mechanisms such as mediation were encouraged. This is all music to a mediator's ears. As I tell clients, the average cost of contested separation agreement is $20k per person, and it can take years. No slam on the lawyers, they are doing their job of advocating for their clients. But the simple awfulness faced by those separating and divorcing needs a wider umbrella, a broader mandate than mere advocacy. There are harmful things going on and lives are being upended, nearly destroyed at times, by this adversarial approach. The terrible financial cost is matched by an even greater emotional and psychological cost. Enough is enough. My hope is that mediation will become the first step, not the second or third.
November 9, 2018. The Democrats won the House of Representatives, thank goodness.
Stating my bias about DT makes me impartial when a mediator is supposed to be impartial. What gives? Well, I AM impartial when it comes to my mediation clients, even if they support DT. But why write about Donald Trump in my website blog?
DT makes life more stressful and separation more likely. He's bad for relationships. Couples in which one spouse supports Trump are experiencing strife. Politics have always been part of relationships but this time it's much more intense.
The evidence for the toxic affect he is having on relationships is, so far, more anecdotal than empirical, but it's compelling, coming as it does from couples themselves, from family counsellors, and from mental health experts and practitioners. And there has been an increase in hate crimes and anti-semitic attacks and incidences.
The good news for relationships is that separation and divorce are generally in decline. That's gratifying. To be sure, I recently had a couple that were about to engage my mediation service but who instead decided to try again. I applaud that decision. A few years ago I was interviewing a couple, but around 40, attractive, married for 20 years, 3 kids and who had recently gone a long trip after taking leave from their respective jobs, only to come home feeling their marriage was over. They sat in front of me in tears. I asked if they had tried counselling - No - "Would you consider trying it? - Yes. I sent them away to so just that. Never heard from them again. It seems they were more in a slump than a real marriage crisis. Perhaps I'm wrong but I like to think they survived the moment and are living together still, with a deeper appreciation of what they have and a sense of strength.
The Covid 19 crisis deepens along with the stock market. Efforts to save economies are under way around the world. I have started a new Covid service, see tab, offering reduced fees to reflect falling incomes but not falling need for mediation. In-person mediation sessions are suspended. Online mediation is here. In fact Mediate BC has just launched such a service:
Quarantine Conflict Resolution Service, check it out. I am part of the family roster participants so you can find me there however The Quarantine Conflict Resolution Service is limited to conflicts arising from Covid 19 isolation / quarantine, and is not set up to mediate ongoing separation / divorce mediation. April 2020