He was a bull of a man. Tall, muscled, clearly tightly wound. He preferred to stand during the mediation. He reminded me of a peacock as he preened and strutted. She was quiet, folded into herself, clearly once a very beautiful woman. She had aged and appeared tired and worn out.
They were married 30 years. The children were launched, the house was paid for and their lives should have been grand. They both were working. She was a pre-school teacher; he was a police officer for a large metropolitan department.
Their divorce was straight-forward and almost formulaic. We were working through dividing their assets. One of the last items to work through was his police pension. He had accumulated a sizable pension in his tenure and it would continue to grow.
The rule of thumb is assets, such as a pension, that grew during the marriage are joint property. The value before the marriage is not joint property, nor is the growth after the divorce. During their 30 year marriage his pension had increased by $ 600,000 simply meaning $ 300,000 was her share.
I explained how this typically worked. He looked directly at me while leaning in uncomfortably close to me. “She is not getting one cent of that money. I put my life on the line every day and that money is mine! It is my blood money!”
Silence hung over the room while I processed what to say next. The pension was clearly personal and very raw. I glanced at his wife and she seemed stunned and mute. “Tell me more about your pension, why is it blood money?”
“You know the police shooting last week? And the riots and the accusations? Every day I get in my squad car and think is today the day? Is today the day I shoot a black kid? Is today the day I am in the news? Is today the day my career is over? Is today the day I die?”
He dropped into a chair and began to weep. I asked if he needed anything and he asked to be alone. His wife and I excused ourselves for a few minutes. She poured herself a coffee. She turned to me slowly and said “I always wondered what has happened to the man I married. I never guessed he was afraid and scared. You saw him; he is a big strong man. How did I not know?”
We returned to the conference room. He was composed. “I need to leave. Finish the property division; I know you both will be fair. She can have $300,000 more of the house OK? The pension is all mine, I need that OK?”
After he left I asked if she was comfortable with accepting $300,000 more of the equity in their home. She agreed. “If he needs to have his pension that is fine with me. I wished he had shared his fears. I would have tried to understand.”
I sent the mediation agreement to both of them but I wonder if they ever divorced. Now that he had shared his secret would she convince him to see a therapist? Would they see a therapist together? I hope so.
I always give a wave to police cruisers when I pass one now. No matter the ethnicity of the officers, their sex, their tenure and experience they always have silent stress and angst. I cannot begin to imagine.