Mediation with bullying husband

My husband and I are separating, and it is mutual.  We have a house together, and a daughter entering middle school - we're going to try to wait to divorce and wait to physically separate into different houses.  (We have long slept in separate rooms, and lived somewhat separate lives.)  We would like to avoid going to court, but I think that I'm probably going to need a lawyer or some ally to help me negotiate things with him.  I don't think the situation is currently contentious, but, as my entire marriage with him has shown me, if I disagree with his ideas or even just tell him how I feel, he rages at me and bullies me, and it is really emotionally debilitating, not to mention nothing practical gets accomplished. 

I wonder if any people "who've been there" can remark on the success of mediation when one of the parties is a bully?  I know I haven't given a lot of information, and it may be a reductive question, but I've been told by some people that they spent thousands of dollars on mediation only to end up having to spend more on attorneys, and they just wished they'd skipped the mediation part altogether since a person like that cannot collaborate in such ways.

Thank you for your thoughts.


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My experience with a mediator only worked because my ex and I agreed ahead of time on all key issues, and it was the 1st time in 18 years we didn't have to argue. I recommend hiring a good lawyer now.

Well, fortunately for me forty years has passed, and although I was hosed in the divorce and child custody fight, i have now become an attorney myself. Nothing like some tools and skills to deal with bullies. First of all please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline. You can text or talk, if you have a safe place to call from. You will get some good emotional support to do what needs to be done.

Divorce itself can be cooperative and collaborative Family law attorneys are bound by their rules of professional conduct not to be scorced earth litigators to drive up the costs. My research turned up several collaborative attorneys on a recent search. INot sure what you mean by mediator, however.

My ex and I did mediation exclusively. He is a bit verbally abusive, though maybe not as bad an you describe your husband.The mediator basically laid out how the courts would likely divide assets and set spousal support and child support. We both went into it wanting a fair but non-contentious process, and that was what we got. We got a 50/50 joint physical and legal custody agreement with a schedule that worked out for both of us. I declined spousal support, even though I would have been entitled as the lower earning spouse, because I thought him having to write a check every month would cause festering resentment and I wanted to stand on my own feet (and I had enough income to do that). He said at the time that he was willing to pay, but I wasn't confident that willingness would last. As it stands now (7 years later), we still get along and seem to be doing okay at the co-parent thing. 

I thing problems come up when one of the parties a) Wants primary custody, b) Wants an uneven division of assets, c) Feels entitled to more spousal/child support than the courts would order based on income, or d) Bitterly resents paying spousal and/or child support. Or if both parties want to keep the family house rather than selling it. 

As a therapist, I hear lots of divorce stories. I also know a handful of divorce and child custody mediators. While it is certainly true that attorneys can drag a divorcing couple practically into bankruptcy if they are determined to keep fighting, it is also true that mediation can be just as expensive. Divorce attorneys who do trial work want to win and it doesn't matter to them how long it takes. Mediators, on the other hand, want both parties to feel heard and understood and it doesn't matter how long that takes either. 

If you're able to work through issues easily, a mediator is probably cheaper just because they charge so much less per hour. But if you're likely to fight (and it sounds like you think you are) the amount of time a mediator is going to take may well be much longer than an attorney. Plus, if you have a bullying partner, you are really going to need an advocate to fight for you (an attorney) rather than someone who is working too hard to help the two of you process your feelings.

hi. I have been there and strongly recommend you get a good lawyer. I also wanted to mediate with my very difficult high conflict ex husband (he is a total narcissist, but high conflict people come in different flavors), but what I came to realize over time was that mediators are supposed to stay neutral and what I really needed was a strong ally to ensure my interests were being looked after. I was so accustomed to just ceding to him to avoid being berated that it has taken me years to even identify what my needs/desires/preferences/interests are, let alone to advocate for them. At least go and talk to a lawyer-- you could get a one-time consultation with someone experienced. If you give away too much at this point, you could suffer for years to come, financially and otherwise. 

Collaborative divorce is one possible model which might work with a difficult spouse, but it's very expensive, so was not an option for me. I did find their divorce options seminar very useful ( ). After several months of trying to figure out to get mediation to work, I ended up hiring a wonderful lawyer (Donna Gibbs) who was able to negotiate a fair settlement with my ex husband's lawyer so we didn't end up having to go to court. However it was important ultimately to have that threat of litigation, so make sure if you do hire a lawyer, it's someone who does still litigate (not all lawyers do).

It helps you that the decision to separate is mutual. I would leverage that as much as possible so that he thinks he is the one with control and making decisions (as long as they are good for you and your child too!). That will makes things go more smoothly. People like this are typically looking for their own advantage above all (my ex husband did NOT want a divorce-- 5 years later he is still angry about it, despite his remarriage to the 'love of his life' -- he still punishes me every chance he gets through the kids. But I have no regrets-- I wake up happy every day and my kids are managing fine.)

Sharing a household with someone like this is indeed 'emotionally debilitating'-- it's hard to think clearly or act decisively in such a state. Let me state it clearly: you deserve better. no one deserves to be treated like this. I hope you get the support that you need to move forward. I send you a big hug and wish you well. 

I am in the process of divorcing.  I chose to hire a lawyer, and he has a lawyer.  I considered mediation, but felt like it would be more expensive than just getting a lawyer.  The bonus is that his lawyer sends letters to my lawyer.  I only have to talk to my lawyer.  He only has to talk to his lawyer.  Both our lawyers charge a lot, so neither of us is having hours-long conversations with our lawyers.  I am happy I picked this option.  I recommend as a first step, getting a therapist.  They may be able to give you a reality check as to what will be possible with your spouse, as well as supporting you in this process.  I think you have a good handle on the risks -- I do know someone whose mediation went past six figures because the spouse didn't care about the money.  But I also know someone who had a successful mediation.  Good luck.

Hi this is probably too late but just wanted to throw it out there.  SF has a community mediation organization that is very affordable. It is run by volunteers who are trained. So this may or may not be suitable for you and your husband as it is not legally binding.  Basically you call them to set an appointment, they will do an intake with you and then contact your husband (or whomever you have the conflict with). The meeting is 3 hours with at least 2 or sometimes 3 mediators. They help you resolve your differences and come to agreements which are then written out and signed by all parties at the end. You can schedule follow up mediation appointments too.  I think many of their appts are for housing issues - roommates or whatnot but I actually took my mom there over an old family issue that was of a very personal nature. I did so because I don't live in the area so going to counseling together wasn't feasible and I wanted something that was focused on resolution and not reiterating all that old stuff. I found it very very useful and the 2 mediators who ran our session very helpful for both of us. I think I paid about $125 which was a fraction of the price of regular mediators. Just an idea.