Betsy and Jim were at a loss. They fell in love as teenagers and married very young when they found out that Betsy was pregnant. Betsy and Jim were both handicapped and even though they were able to work at a job, neither of them was able to take care of their baby. Because of their youth and disabilities, Betsy’s mother took care of the child in her own home. Betsy visited her as often as possible on the weekends but Jim, extremely shy, felt somewhat uncomfortable with his mother-in-law so had hardly any contact with their child. The relationship between Betsy and Jim deteriorated.
Eventually Betsy met someone and wanted to get a divorce which left Jim feeling desperate and alone. At this point, he rarely saw his child because Betsy did not let him accompany her to her mother’s house. Now not only was he losing his wife, but he knew a divorce would distance him even further from his child and put greater limits on the time he could spend with the baby.
The couple needed help in getting a divorce, had little money, and had no idea how to proceed. A friend recommended mediation, helped them through the process and encouraged them to set up their first appointment with me. When the friend dropped them off at my office, I found a very young, scared and teary couple almost unable to utter a word at my door.
Betsy, in tears, began by telling me how sorry she was to hurt Jim but added that their life together was no longer possible. Jim was shaking in his chair. He talked about the fact that he hardly ever saw his child and now felt that he would never be able to see him again because he had little or no contact with her mother.
“Jennifer is a wonderful person, very professional and available to make the process less painful. I know from my point of view I am very grateful to have found Jennifer to handle our divorce and to this day my former husband and I are good friends, still sharing the responsibilities of two children, something we will have to do for as long as we live. Therefore, having an amicable divorce keeps communication open and makes very sad and difficult choices more manageable.
I would recommend Jennifer, her gentle way and skills, to everyone.”
They told me that Betsy’s mother did not have legal custody of the child. They did not wish to give up custody as they felt that as the child grew and became more self sufficient , he would be able to spend more time living with his real parents.
Betsy agreed that she and Jim needed to figure out a way for Jim to see the child outside of her mother’s home. We did some brainstorming and a question came up regarding whether they had anyone they both felt comfortable with who could pick the child up at Betsy’s mother’s house, bring the child to Jim and stay with him during the visit. They each mentioned a few names but finally settled on Betsy’s brother who, over time, had become a good friend of Jim’s and loved being with his nephew. They called the brother from my office to discuss this with him and were thrilled when he immediately agreed to play that role.
Betsy and Jim left my office that day smiling and relieved that they were able to find a creative solution to what had seemed to be an insurmountable problem that would allow Jim and his son to start spending more time together. They agreed to try this new plan over the weekend and return to mediation the following week to continue working on a parenting schedule, their new living arrangements, and the financial aspects of their divorce.
I saw this young couple for a few more sessions. That first session had brought both of them such a huge sense of relief that it opened up the dialogue between them, allowing them to finally be able to talk and make other decisions. Their transformation from the first visit was unbelievable. I was almost moved to tears seeing them smile, seeing their pride talking about their child’s accomplishments and sharing with one another the pleasures of times spent with him.
The arrangement created by the parents so that Jim could spend time with his son, may seem like a simple answer. For Betsy and Jim, however, it not only solved a problem, but opened the doors to better communication that would allow them to move forward with their lives and continue to make decisions together for their son.
Mediation does indeed build bridges.
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