They were among a select few couples that I see: they were getting divorced from each other for a second time! If there is common ground among these couples it is a certain pragmatism. There is also an extra hurt and despair beyond the usual sadness of a divorce.
There is pragmatism, because they really have been there and done all this before. Usually, the great cost of the first divorce shows as a major hole in their resources. They can see how this will all end. There is extra hurt, because for all the emotional rollercoaster of the past, after the upswing to re-marriage there has come a final low. To have lived most of a life, on and off with each other, their life together has finally yielded a void. That void always looks extra empty when peering in from the outside.
As a mediator, I had wanted to start with a joint session, because I always feel that I learn fast from seeing the interaction of the parties that way. Some of these couples just come in knowing what to do, and a joint session works. Here one half was willing, but the other was not, and perhaps that told me all that I needed to know. I paid attention to one of the lawyers who remarked that there really would be no continuing relationship. That is usually a good reason to go the caucus route
We focused on the one optimistic and future looking part of any divorce: it is a place from which to look to the future and address real needs, rather than just battle over dollar positions and past slights. The lawyers were quickly able to identify and value the pieces to the puzzle. They divided them up so that one had enough to keep the house, and the other could move on. Not a totally symmetrical division, but one that worked to meet the needs.
The interesting way in which pragmatism determined the outcome was the “decision tree” approach that each party took to evaluating options. In caucus, each consciously thought through where they wanted negotiations to end, and made a higher first offer that was in the zone of potential agreement, but carefully titrated to come just within that zone. Neither wanted to insult the other and precipitate an unneeded trial, yet they each wanted the max! Bargaining proceeded towards middle, although someone took a little less than their stated bottom line. The deal nevertheless got done.
Perhaps the couple had listened to Dylan in their younger years, but now they were really paying attention to the lyrics. In their separate rooms, they were each sitting patiently; waiting to find out what price you have to pay, to get out of going through all these things twice. Oh, Mama, can this really be the end!