Divorce Mediation: Handling the Stubborn Spouse

A stubborn spouse can derail a divorce mediation. Besides self-reflection on one’s own conduct, a cooperative spouse should try to understand the reasons underlying the stubborn spouse’s intransigence.

This post explores how to handle a difficult party in a contentious divorce mediation. The role mediators and experienced family law attorneys play in overcoming a stubborn spouse to attain a successful resolution will also be examined.

Reasons for Stubbornness

Divorce mediation can help parties terminate their union in less time, at lower cost, and with less rancor. A spouse’s obstinacy that thwarts proceedings could mask a desire to reconcile with the estranged mate. The uncooperative behavior may reflect the partner’s fear of financial instability.

Sometimes, the stubborn spouse’s motivation to impede the mediation is vindictiveness toward the soon-to-be ex-spouse. The headstrong spouse may delay mediation sessions through tardiness. He or she may cancel appointments or ignore settlement proposals.

The stubborn spouse’s intractability could be intended to wear down the other mate to gain concessions and an advantage negotiating favored positions. Angry words, argumentativeness and overwrought emotions lead to stressful, unproductive divorce mediation sessions.

Monitoring Your Behavior

Combating an intransigent spouse and keeping the process on track begins with the pro-mediation spouse’s own conduct. Therefore, listen to the stubborn spouse’s viewpoint. Stake out reasonable positions. This is a surefire formula for a successful divorce mediation.

Keep sight of the ultimate goal. You want to forge an accord that is both parties’ and their children’s best interests. Being argumentative won’t advance that aim. Consequently, try to respond to your spouse’s proposals you find disagreeable with alternative suggestions. Remain even-tempered and focus on custody and property disposition issues. Don’t rehash old arguments or assess blame.

Enlisting the Mediator and Court for Help

Use a written list of mediation topics that you want to discuss with the recalcitrant mate. Also, follow-up negotiating sessions with emails or other written communications confirming what was discussed and decided during the mediation. A written record keeps negotiations on point and preserves evidence if the mediation collapses and the parties end up in court.

In a Massachusetts Appeals Court decision a father sought to obtain sole physical custody from a mother who wanted to remove her children to Western Massachusetts. The Court took notice of the mother’s behavior. Specifically, the Court frowned on the mother secretly listing the marital home for sale with a broker. Additionally, the Court criticized the mother’s willfulness and lack of cooperation with the divorce mediator.

If the stubborn spouse’s conduct becomes aggressive and devolves into insults or threats, break-off discussions. Notify your family law attorney of any inappropriate behavior by your spouse. Also, enlist the assistance of the mediator if you believe discussions are stalling because of the other party’s rigidity. To the extent possible, try not to use accusatory language toward your spouse when addressing the mediator.

Divorce mediation can be a stressful, emotionally draining experience. Battling an uncooperative spouse, find solace by sharing feelings with a counselor. Concerns about costs and other factors may cause individuals  to try to go it alone. Representing oneself in a divorce can be fraught with peril. Divorce mediation, particularly, is a collaborative process. Participants should look for support from mediators, counselors, family law attorneys, and other professionals.

 Compromise, Compromise, Compromise…

This post has saved the key ingredient of a successful divorce mediation for last. A willingness to compromise is the best weapon against a stubborn spouse. Look at settlement options from your spouse’s point of view, if possible.

Do not stake out an unreasonable position. You’re not going to get sole legal and physical custody of the children and the entire marital estate. Therefore, avoid outrageous demands and consider the best interests of all the parties involved. Decide the least you’re willing to accept, so that you have bargaining room. Finding common ground is not the same as capitulation. Important, too, is not adding further conditions to issues already bargained over. Doing so shows bad faith and can unravel any mediated agreement.

Attorney’s Role in Divorce Mediation

Consulting with an experienced family law attorney before divorce mediation commences is wise. Moreover, having the attorney accompany you is an invaluable asset. The family lawyer should counsel and educate the client and help keep emotions in check.  The best divorce mediations are those in which the attorney and spouse support each other and both actively participate. Getting to “yes” and being open-minded is more crucial than relying on the aggressive language of a divorce trial. Family law attorneys most skilled in divorce mediation are those who are candid and help their clients to assess their bottom line realistically.

Contact Us

Are you looking for an experienced Newburyport or Andover divorce lawyer or family law attorney? If you have any questions about divorce, custody, or family law issues, contact us. You may schedule a free consultation with our office. If you’d prefer to schedule a consultation by phone, call (866) 995-6663.

Interested in learning more about mediation? Check out our article on mediating college expenses.