The subject of alimony came up during a collaborative divorce case in Morris County during a team meeting with both spouses, their respective attorneys, the divorce coach, and forensic accountant who had valued the husband’s medical practice. The husband presented a range of alimony that he believed he could afford to pay.
The wife began lobbying for a higher range maintaining that the husband could supplement his income as a doctor through speaking engagements and teaching, while she, an elementary school teacher, was limited to her salary. The husband, on the other hand, maintained that the wife had significantly more retirement benefits than he did and he would need more money to save for his impending retirement.
During the conversation, the husband began interrupting the wife every time she tried to speak. You could see that the wife was becoming extremely frustrated and agitated.
I suggested to the team that we try a very effective exercise using a method called affect labeling, developed by a California mediator Doug Noll, which was created based on neuroscience research. I gently told the husband to please allow his wife to finish speaking and listen, not to the content of what she was saying, but rather to the emotions behind her words before taking his turn to speak.
After the wife was finished speaking, I asked the husband what he heard. This time, we could see his face filled with compassion as he said the word “fear.”
The wife’s eyes began to fill with tears. Clearly, this was the first time that her husband had really heard her.
I asked the husband to then take his turn to explain why he believed the range of alimony should be lower and asked his wife to listen only for the emotion behind his words. The husband confirmed and clarified that he was afraid he would have to work not only his primary job, but additional jobs just to be able to pay his expenses and alimony. He would never be able to retire.
When I asked the wife what she heard from her husband, she also described with a compassionate tone that she heard “fear.”
Once both spouses understood and realized that they both had the very same emotional experience around the alimony amounts, they both immediately became calmer and we as a team were able to guide them to reach a mutually agreeable amount of alimony.