A #DIYFail in Separation Mediation: see what it cost this couple

April 27, 2017


I’m a big fan of the common use of the term: I work on our home to make it the place we want to live, with occasional inspiration from do-it-yourself home renovation shows.
As much as I do my own homework, though, I know my renovation skills and know-how can’t match those of the people who do it for a living. So when a job is big, and especially when it may be unsafe, I won’t take chances. I call a professional.

As a family mediator, I often meet clients who want to do their separation work on their own, without professional help.

I got a phone call from a man who was so anxious and desperate, he felt he needed my mediation services right away. It turned out that, for the previous five years, he and his ex-wife had been separated. He’d been paying child support. They had decided how much child support was going to be, solely based on what he thought he could afford, and what she was willing to accept.
Well, after five years of this payment scheme, his ex-wife talked to a lawyer to find out what child support should have been. She then realized, after five years, that he was in arrears. By about $50,000.
So she went to him and asked him to pay the amount he should have paid.
Of course that amount of money was impossible for him to pay, so he said he couldn’t.
She then went to court, to get an order for him to pay the arrears.
He didn’t, so she registered it with the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program who went after him to garnish his wages.
They eventually took away his driver’s license.
Life got very difficult for him, even just to work.

The biggest problem with people doing their own separations, without the input of professionals like mediators and lawyers, is they usually don’t know what family law requires them to do. And how could they? Like a home renovation professional knows his or her area because they’re immersed in it full-time, a family law mediator, lawyer or judge is dedicated to knowing what’s fair and right in a separation or divorce.

As a separated couple, you can get yourselves in a situation where you set up a separation agreement you agree to. Even if you sign it and have it witnessed and it’s legally binding, down the road one of you can take that agreement to court to have a judge review it. It’s then possible, as was the case of this man who phoned me, for the agreements you’ve made to be far from what the court would order. The court can overturn it, and you have a whole different life situation on your hands.

A good professional home renovation can put a sturdy roof over your head that doesn’t fall apart or leak on your bed. I sometimes see my mediator role as contributing similar sturdiness to your separation, divorce or family business. When you’re a client, I want you to sleep at night, to put your head down on your pillow every night knowing you have agreements that are solid and durable, so you have certainty moving forward.

Photo courtesy Good Housekeeping.



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