The Back Story – What drives decisions in divorce

Heart or BrainI attended mediation recently with a client of mine; a college professor well-versed in business and finance.   Our mediator was an equally cerebral type, a experienced lawyer and CPA who holds advanced degrees in tax law.

Yes, I openly admit to being the dumbest guy in the room.

Quickly, these two very accomplished men dove into a detailed analysis of marital assets, comparing the relative tax impact of each, and pondering different division strategies.  Throughout the day and into the evening, we sent our mediator to convey a variety of settlement proposals to the wife and her attorney.  Each proposal failed, and rather than bringing us closer to resolution,  brought counter-proposals, each one more bombastic than the previous.

Often in mediation, we find ourselves drifting into some kind of parallel universe, where fatigue and emotion distort reality, and time stands still.  We were rapidly approaching this abyss in our mediation, when my client put the account statements and spreadsheets aside.  He began not only to reflect on his years caught in a loveless marriage, but also he give himself permission to dream about how he wanted to live his life after the divorce.

Looking through this wider lens, my client saw more than a settlement rooted in the numbers.

The deal on the table was ridiculous; it awarded more in assets and support to the wife than she could ever hope to receive in court.  I reminded my client our trial date was a mere two months away, that we could invest minimal time in preparing, and obtain a better result for him by going to trial.

He signed the deal, accepting a property division that could best be described as “lopsided.”

The take-away from my little homily is this: divorce is more than a business deal.  It is the confluence of dry reason and boiling emotion. Knowing this helps me represent my clients, even when I’m not the smartest guy in the room.

When a client entrusts their divorce to me, I take a distinctly human-centered approach – -understanding that both reason and emotion must be given their due.   Every divorce comes with a back-story that  sometimes drives, or even distorts, decisions on the issues.  Sometimes I work with clients to put the back-story in perspective as a vestige of the past so we can concentrate on the issues.  Other times, I have my clients recall the back-story when they need to remember the things that matter most in life.