When people heard my "perfect" marriage was breaking up, most of their advice was along the lines of
"Get yourself a killer lawyer."
"Take him to the cleaners."
"Make sure you get to keep the apartment and the kid."
I didn't take any of this advice. Maybe it's because I wasn't angry enough or because I shrink from conflict on any level. But the real reasons were:
Neither of us had enough money and property to fight over
I knew that I was equally responsible for the failure of the union.
I couldn't imagine anything good coming out of making life miserable for the father of my child.
A few years earlier, when I had an inkling that things were beginning to fall apart, I'd had an informational consult with a high-powered divorce shark who was a friend of a friend and agreed to see me for less than his usual fee. He told me to begin keeping a journal to document how much more child-care I did, how much money each of us made and spent, and any suspicious activity on my husband's part. I was to record any instances of abuse or other sordid behavior. Walking out of his office, I felt like I needed a shower.
To be honest, ours was a 50-50 partnership when it came to parenting, domestic chores, and finances. That may have been part of the problem, since we put so much into our family and work responsibilities that there was nothing left over for just the two of us. But it was also very much part of the solution.
So instead of a killer lawyer, I consulted one who specialized in mediation. I met with her separately before broaching the subject with my husband, which made me very nervous. She coached me in how to bring it up, but urged me not to rush. She suggested we continue couple's counseling and come see her only if and when we were certain we'd reached a dead end. No pressure, lots of understanding. And no journal, thank goodness.
Within a few months, it was clear that the time for healing our marriage had passed and we needed help ending it. Against all advice and conventional wisdom, we embarked on the eye-opening and-yes!-soul-searching process of divorce mediation, sharing a lawyer and taking our time to get it right. The best indicator of how right mediation was is the fact that each of us believed the lawyer sided with us, that we were getting the better end of the deal, and that astonishingly, the other seemed willing to give up and give in to everything that we wanted. The truth is, we each wanted different things-again, both the problem and the solution.
In the years since, I have come to understand that this is the mark of a successful mediation with a skilled mediator, Having watched friends and family members engage in armed combat with their spouses, to be left on a bloody battlefield where there was no victor, but many wounded children, I know we did the right thing in the right way.
P.S. I got to keep the apartment, until I didn't want it anymore, and then I passed it on to him. And we shared the kid, which allowed us both to build new lives as well as to support each other emotionally during his stormy adolescence and stand together with pride as we watched him graduate from high school, college, and graduate school. I expect we'll do the same when he marries. And I hope the example of his parents' divorce as well as their marriage will increase his chances of a long and happy union.
Name Withheld By Request
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