HBO Divorce Series: Issues and Commentary—Episode 4
Episode four is a lesson in how not to handle a divorce. It begins with Robert sleeping in a half-finished home he is renovating, shows Robert and Frances in a mediation session where each of them actively vies for the mediator’s sympathy, tracks Robert’s exploration of starting a new business, and ends with Robert getting advice from a friend about ending the mediation because he is sure to get the short end of the stick.
Presumably, Robert’s sleeping in one of his unfinished properties is only a temporary measure. If he is to have any sort of meaningful relationship with his children, he’ll need to find a comfortable home within close proximity to the children’s school before too much longer. Of course, given Robert’s financial pressures (recall his conversation with his accountant about controlling his spending), that might be difficult. The expense of running two households after a separation can be particularly difficult when a couple was barely getting by while living together. However, it is important that Robert and Frances work out a budget that allows Robert to afford a decent home where he can accommodate the children for overnight stays. If that is a challenging exercise, a mediator might be helpful.
Speaking of mediation, by definition, a mediator is not going to take sides in a divorce. Robert’s and Frances’ efforts to portray the other in a bad light should have no impact on the mediator’s neutrality. It may be important for a mediator to know the underlying circumstances that gave rise to the separation and divorce in order to understand each side’s mindset at the outset of mediation. However, if those issues impede the ability of the parties to address the substantive issues that need to be resolved in a rational way, mediation may not be productive. A mediator does not take sides or make decisions. The mediator’s job is to help the parties evaluate their goals and options and find a mutually satisfactory solution. Even if parties attend mediation without lawyers, a lawyer can be helpful in assisting a party through the mediation process by framing the issues and the possible outcomes to mediation, and evaluating the settlement options that come out of mediation.
Speaking of getting help from a lawyer, it seems that a good friend of Robert’s is advising him to see a lawyer because the friend is certain that mediation will only serve to reinforce the stereotypical outcome where the father is stuck with all of the financial responsibility for the family. The friend believes that a lawyer will be able to fight for Robert and protect him from financial ruin. Recognizing the undercurrent of feelings that are present, Robert predicts that involving lawyers could cause things to become “contentious.” While it is probably a good idea for Robert to consult with a lawyer—he should have already done that—it may not be for the purpose of preparing to go to battle. Most lawyers will use the consultation as an opportunity to explain to Robert that in today’s world, the divorce playing field is relatively level, or at least not automatically tilted in favor of the woman. In the area of custody, there is no presumption in Maryland that joint custody is in the children’s best interest; however, courts tend to recognize the importance of maintaining as much as possible normal parent/child relationships after a divorce. As for child support, Maryland has adopted an “income shares model” where both parents contribute to the support of the children in proportion to their incomes at a level that will tend to continue the standard of living the children would have had if the parents hadn’t gotten divorced. If Robert were to meet with an experienced, well respected family law attorney, he would probably learn that going to war with Frances may be counter to resolving things in a way that will enable the DuFresne family to have a healthy post-divorce life.
Episode 03: Mediation
Original Air Date: October 30, 2016
– Fred Kobb is a litigator at heart. He first joined Wright, Constable & Skeen over 25 years ago to defend the firm’s railroad clients in serious personal injury cases. His practice quickly expanded into the family law area, where he applied his negotiation and litigation skills to zealously advocate on behalf of individuals whose families were undergoing a life-changing event. Read more >>