Navigating the Points Predicament in Divorce Mediation

Ed Kerns |

Jack and Mary have been married for three years and they’ve decided to get divorced. Both are professionals making about the same income and Jack travels a lot for his job.  It’s the second marriage for both and they have no children. Things have been amicable up to this point and they’ve successfully worked with a mediator.

They’ve both found it surprisingly easy to go through the process until now but at the last minute, an issue has come up.  Mary was talking to a co-worker who asked her about reward points. Knowing that Jack had traveled for his job for several years, she assumed that he’d likely accumulated a lot of points and was simply asking if Mary was getting her share.

This issue hadn’t come up in previous discussions. Is it possible that even though the divorce process has been rather smooth up to this point, something as simple as reward points could derail their efforts?  It happens.

An asset such as membership reward points might fall lower in priority when compared to items like the house, cars, investment accounts, or a pension. There can still be a degree of complexity and a lot of emotion tied to an asset like points depending on the individual spouse’s position and interests.

From Jack’s perspective, he earned almost all the miles while traveling for work. This is the main reason why he never brought them up in the first place. It took a long time for him to earn all those points. He worked hard all these years and sees them as part of his reward for having to travel so much. Furthermore, he’s achieved a high-status level with his favorite hotel chain. When he shows up, they roll out the red carpet and he couldn’t imagine giving up a single point.

Mary, on the other hand, never had to travel for her job. She wanted to travel with Jack (at least that was the plan), but he was always too tired to go on trips with just the two of them. She sees these as “our” points, not Jack’s alone. How could she possibly entertain receiving anything less than half of the accumulated points?

While these may be the individual positions, or demands that on the table, the real issues surrounding why they’ve come to this impasse stem from their underlying interests. Understanding these interests is the first step in resolving the stalemate.

During the next mediation session, Jack learns that Mary feels resentment toward these reward points. She feels she’s owed a vacation since she was always left out of the travel picture during the marriage. Jack also has plans for the points. He’s planned a bucket-list trip to Hawaii for his parents. Mary, who loves Jack’s parents, knows how special that would be for them.

With both parties learning more about the true interests of the other person regarding the points, each saw the asset in a different light. The good news is that, by getting to these underlying interests through the mediation process, there’s several ways a situation like this can be resolved in order to settle.

With the help of a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® serving in a neutral position and assisting both parties during the mediation, they can help to determine the value of the reward points which will open the door to seeing other negotiation options. For instance, maybe another asset can be given to offset half of the value of the points. Regardless of how a situation like this is ultimately settled, seeking to identify the other spouse’s interests instead of just focusing on their original position is often the way to resolve tricky settlement issues during mediation.