Dick and Jane had been struggling in an adversarial process for 18 months, trying to work out a divorce agreement. Each was represented by their own lawyer.
At the suggestion of a judge from the family court, they reluctantly made an appointment for mediation. When they came into my office, they were at each other’s throats and did not seem to agree on anything except that they wanted to get their divorce done.
Even on that first day, they were off to a bad start. The wife arrived too early, the husband was late which of course “proved to me,” according to the wife, how things were not going to work out. After going through the preambles and my brief explanation of the mediation process, they looked at me as if to say: “Let’s see what YOU can do for us because we know we will never be able to agree on anything!”
I explained to them that I would not be making decisions for them but would guide them through the process, help them have a conversation and hopefully find a resolution.
The main issues for them were the living arrangements for their 4 year old child and the parenting schedule. The mother worked from 6 pm to 2 am and the father from 9 am to 5 pm. While they were living together, they pretty much could take turns being with their child, but now that they were separating, the mother wanted the child to spend most nights at her house even though she did not get in until around 3 am. The father, whose schedule was more in line with a traditional school schedule, wanted the child at his house but was willing to accept that the mother would have him sleep over the nights that she did not work.
The mother insisted that when she was out working she would have a babysitter or a friend stay with the child so that she could see him in the morning before he went to school. The father was insistent about the fact that he did not want a stranger with their child nor the additional cost of a sitter when he could be there. It was also evident and discussed during the mediation, that the mother was feeling very hurt and rejected. She felt the father did not want her to have her child at her house; that he wanted the child mostly to himself.
The mediation process helps people “think outside of the box” and brainstorm together for alternate solutions. Within two hours, Dick and Jane had explored different possibilities, the last being that the wife would speak to her employer and see if she could work a different shift that would allow her to spend more time with her son.
At no point had this idea even been considered by the wife or her lawyer during the 18 month legal battle. As this idea was being discussed, I could see by the couple’s body language and tone of voice that there was a letting down of their guards and that there was hope for a new and better solution. With this idea in mind, they left my office together!
I got a call within a few days from the wife saying that her employer was very understanding and that she had a new plan. At the next session, everything flowed. The parents worked out a schedule where the mother had the child on the four nights that she was home and the father had him the other three nights. They also worked out a holiday arrangement with little difficulty.
The father was only asking to have the child because the mother was not home five nights a week. From the moment the mother understood that the father did not want to take the child away from her and that he did not think she was a bad mother who was abandoning her child, which she admitted feeling guilty about, everything began to come together for them.
The mother kept repeating how they had spent thousands of dollars, and no one had even thought of her modifying her work schedule. Had she known about mediation, she would have gone that route when they started the divorce process.
Sometimes we get stuck in a “box” with no acceptable solutions in sight. We keep going over and over the same ground, but nothing changes. If we dare step out of that box, and brainstorm possibilities that no one had yet considered and seemed at the time far-fetched, we can view the situation from an entirely new perspective which will allow us to move on to a satisfactory resolution. Mediation fosters an environment which encourages you to “think outside the box.”
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jennifer safian. divorce and family mediator divorce and family mediation upper east side of manhattan (nyc) new york, ny (212) 472-8626 firstname.lastname@example.org connect on