It’s About Trust
Updated: May 11
Overcoming trust barriers in divorce settlements By Felicia Soleil, Attorney/Mediator
“I’m not upset that you lied to me. I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” - Friedrich Nietzche
When meeting with a newly separating couple at the onset of their divorce mediation, I often ask them the following: “On a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being the least trusting and 10 being the most trusting, how would you describe your level of trust with the other person?”
If infidelity in the marriage was present, the other party very often opens with this: “My spouse had an affair, so I don’t think I can trust them to be truthful with anything now. I’m not sure mediation will work.”
However, rather than allow the parties to accept defeat at the outset, I learned a long time ago in my practice to always include another caveat on the trust scale. I ask them to describe their level of trust to specific areas of their relationship, as opposed to one overall label. Those areas include financial, such as bill paying, accumulation of assets and debts, and disclosure of relevant information pertaining to finances.
I also ask about their level of trust with respect to parenting. How do they feel about the other parent’s ability to stick to a schedule, their timeliness and ability to reliably get a child to school or an activity, and their ability to refrain from alcohol or other substance abuse when with the children?
Not surprisingly, many of these couples report very high levels of trust in their co-parenting relationship, as well as high levels of trust regarding their money, even though the trust level for the intimate partnership aspects of their relationship may be slim to none. Once we begin to unravel this “all or nothing thinking” by breaking down the various areas of their relationship into categories, the reluctant party can begin to feel more confident about how mediation can succeed.
Measuring trust is a great illustration of the creative use of divorce mediation. It opens the door to gradually rebuilding overall trust, as each party feels safer to more openly negotiate their issues to get to settlement, while helping each party push through their respective vulnerabilities that might be holding them back. The process certainly takes time, patience and accountability, but small wins along the way can help launch both parties to get to an outcome they can feel good about. (A side benefit: The parties can do all this without resorting to telling their stories in publicly accessible court documents.)
Granted, in the words of the wise Lady Gaga, “Trust is like a mirror, you can fix it if it’s broken, but you can still see the crack in that reflection.” The goal in mediation is to normalize the complicated emotions following an affair that leads to a divorce, while not letting them interfere with the practical and common-sense decisions that need to be handled to help each party feel less broken as they begin their next chapter.
Felicia Soleil is a divorce mediator and family law attorney located in Gig Harbor. She helps her clients in achieving resolutions that foster both a compassionate ending to their union and a healthy new beginning so they can focus on moving on, rather than simply moving out. Felicia can be reached at 253.853.6940. All consultations are strictly confidential and currently conducted by appointment via Zoom videoconference or phone.