You know what annoys me most when I think back to my own divorce settlement? The vacuum cleaner.

Why the vacuum cleaner?

Vacuum cleaners can be expensive. I learnt this, after I separated.

As it turns out, replacing a good quality vacuum cleaner with an inferior product is something that will plague me until the day I die. Because cheaper, less effective, vacuum cleaners are a constant ‘little remnants of dirt on the bottom of your feet’ style reminder that walking away (see what I did there?) from a relationship can have a better outcome.

When I left my former husband, I had no clue where to go or what to do. Or who to contact. Not really. I was finishing up my law degree, but had vowed not to touch family law with a ten foot pole, because it was ugly and messy and I didn’t want to be one of those people. Or deal with those clients. Now I was one of those clients. And wished so much I had taken that subject so I had a vague idea of what the hell to do or what to expect.

I did my own research, the Family Court of Australia website (may it rest in peace) had an abundance of resources to guide me through on my way to a ‘just and equitable’ property settlement. I felt pretty confident I could do it myself. I was basically almost nearly a lawyer, and it couldn’t be that hard. So away I went, collating my information, calculating on arbitrary numbers that may or may not have properly reflected the outcome I should be seeking, and I responded to my former husband’s family lawyer (who had already bombarded me with nasty and, now in hindsight, probably unethically threatening letters to an unrepresented party) with a proposed property settlement based on aforementioned calculations.

In short, they responded with a counter offer, I came back somewhere in the middle, but at a point that I expected they would accept because it was pretty strongly in his favour. I didn’t want to fight. I had fought long enough. Fought him in the relationship. Fought to make that relationship work. Fought to support him to battle his demons. I was sick of losing, but I was more sick of fighting.

So I let him keep the vacuum cleaner.

What I learnt from this experience was that family law is complicated, and the notion that it can be done from ‘go to woah’ by a husband/wife/mother/father without legal support or assistance is far from ideal. You might get an outcome. It might not be the right one, though.

I used the court resources. I even had a free consultation with a family lawyer (who did, in fairness, explain the difference between consent orders and the binding financial agreement I so had my mind set on). I didn’t know how I could get my hands on the $2,000 to pay the lawyer up front. I didn’t know how else I could deal with my situation. So I took my money, my dogs, and the few bits of linen and crockery I was allowed to take, and I got out of that situation.

I could have separated better. Now I know how, and I want to help other people do what I wish I could have done – move forward equitably and empowered.

Mediation is the forum in which you have the power to determine the outcome. Not the courts. Not the lawyers. You.

Family dispute resolution comes at a cost, but that cost is an investment in yourself, your family, and the prospect of achieving an outcome sooner with less stress. Not only could you avoid ongoing legal expenses and court costs, but the potential financial burdens involved in living a life in limbo, like paying rent on temporary accommodation, property maintenance costs of a home you no longer have use of, penalties for missed payments when there is confusion as to who is responsible, and very often the expense of therapeutic counselling for yourself or your children.

The best case scenario of mediating is that you can agree on the outcome and walk away with certainty for the future. The worst case is that you can move forward knowing where your former partner stands, and why, giving you a better position to negotiate toward an outcome down the track.

Mediation might just get you a better vacuum.*

*Don’t worry, I finally bought myself a Robovac and I am thoroughly impressed.