Divorce mediation – A dad’s guide

In early February last year, I discovered something rather obvious to some people – the brain can be both a blessing and a curse during times of stress.  One day, you can be quite keen to defeat anything in your way; the next, you will struggle to get out of bed at the weight of even the slightest task.

I felt these polar opposites as I opened a large brown envelope and read the title of the court document – Notice Of Petition To Divorce.

I knew this was coming, but my marriage and family life were about to be blown into oblivion.  I didn’t think about the time I’d miss with my now-ex-wife, nor of the family home I knew wouldn’t be a home again.  All I could think about was: how would the break-up of the family affect our daughter?

For our daughter’s sake

Those first few weeks were filled with acrimony between myself and my former partner, all after the little one had gone to bed.  The only bond between us now was our daughter.  I had to try and focus on a 6 year-old little girl, who held her mum and I in the highest esteem.  We were – are – her role models and we needed to continue to show her the love we both felt from the moment she was born.

The only issue with this fantastic plan was that my brain decided to stop dead and tell me that I was the worst father in the world for ‘allowing’ the break-up to happen.  I even used the worst reason ever to try and keep us all together  – “Please, let’s work at it for our daughter’s sake”.  But once I came to terms with the fact we would no longer be together, my ex-partner and I agreed to go to mediation; I started seeing a counsellor to help with my self-confidence during these sessions.

The preparation

Before we formally began mediation, we attended a compulsory evaluation session; I decided it was best to go along separately.  I set out my version of events and what I wanted to get – as much time with my daughter as possible and a right to a share of the ‘Former Matrimonial Home’, as it’s called in legal terms.  Each of us then had to go away get triplicate copies of bank statements, tax codes, details of loans and credit card details: what seemed like trees’-worth of paper prepared carefully to help decide our future.

And so it begins…

I was initially concerned about how fair the mediation would be to the father, but our mediator, Steve, put me at ease at the beginning of the three-session course.  “The mediation path is best for you both as you have both expressed how important your daughter is to both of you.  This is a great sign to work towards a fair outcome for you both.”

I felt my shoulders immediately relax, a huge weight lifted as I envisioned a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel for us all (yes, even for my ex-wife).

Once I’d set out my requirements I was thrown a curveball by the mediator: “Let’s start by talking about finances.” Whoa, this wasn’t where I’d planned to start!  But looking back, this was a great place to start.  We put all our cards on the table regarding our finances – all our credit card statements and the loans we hid from each other – and saw we were paying out more than we were earning.

We were given an option of getting a consolidation loan and each paying a fair share. We both walked out of that session angry but, after sleeping on it and discussing the situation on neutral ground, we decided to remortgage the former family home and add on the consolidation amount to the mortgage.  I would then retain an equal share of the house when it was eventually sold.

Middle ground

With the finances sorted out quite easily after the first session, the next time we saw Steve was when we would – finally – discuss our daughter.  I’d developed a huge bond with the little one; I’d be ‘Funny Daddy’ one minute, ‘Caring Daddy’ the next, ‘Discipline Daddy’ when needed, but all to turn this beautiful blossom into a well-rounded flower as she grows up.  I was now being asked to not see our daughter from one week to the next.

The mediator stepped in with a compromise – my (at the time) partner would drop our little one off at school each day, I’d pick her up and give her tea and help her with her homework at my new house before her mum came to pick her up.  We’d then each have alternate weekends with her.  We agreed this would be best for our daughter and walked out of that session relieved; the middle ground had been found.

A phoenix of hope

The final mediation session was more of a formality.  We even left that session and gave each other a hug – not so much out of affection, more out of a sense of relief that we could act as adults when it came to the welfare of our daughter.

At this point, we decided to sit our daughter down to tell her that Mummy and Daddy wouldn’t be living together any more, that she would always be loved and that would never change.  There were a lot of tears and hugs between us all, but we managed to get through it and live to tell the tale.  It wasn’t the end of the world as I thought it would be, it was a new start for all of us – a phoenix of hope rising from the flames of anger and resentment.

Moving on…

Our divorce was finalised almost a year after the mediation process.  I am in a new house and seeing a new partner.  My daughter knows that she was born out of love and that love is still as strong today as it was the moment we first held her in the maternity suite.  She now knows that, even though we’re in separate houses for part of the week, both her mum and I will always put her welfare before anything that may happen in our lives.

“I’m glad you’re smiling again, Daddy.  I missed your smile,” she says.

I am, too.

For more information on mediation, visit http://www.divorce.co.uk/divorce-approaches/mediation-on-divorce

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The opinions raised are those solely of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Dad Network.

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