Questions & Answers

Q.  Iím totally against what divorce does to children.  When the two of us try to talk it out, things just seem to get worse.  How can I get through this mess without the kids being hurt?

A.  Divorce changes your kidsí lives in big ways, and thatís a fact.  But these changes are not what is likely to hurt them.  Itís the way you and your spouse talk to each other and treat each other that will make the difference between hurt and hope.  Even couples with a history of squabbling can follow the guidelines of mediation and settle messy disputes fairly.   I use an approach where you learn a tailor-made framework for communicating when the subject is stressful.  This seems to be the key not only to making face-to-face negotiations work, but to nurturing the kids through it all.


Q.  After years of trying to save our marriage weíve finally decided to get a divorce.  But the process of divorce seems to turn most people into porcupines, or worse.  Is there a prayer that we can remain friends?

A.  Yes, especially if you make this your aim as you go through the steps of divorce.  But feeling prickly or even downright angry isnít what turns divorcing couples into adversaries.  Anger is one of the normal stages in working through a major loss such as divorce.  My mediation approach provides a safe framework to clarify these underlying concerns, transforming them into practical solutions both of you find to be fair.  What ultimately restores cooperation and even friendship afterwards isnít whether you fight over divorce issues.  Itís your integrity in dealing with each issue fully and honestly.  Even if you are miles apart on money questions or about how the kids should be parented, you can still commit to the kind of mediation which respects the real needs you each have.  The way I do mediation makes it safe to disagree while building confidence step-by-step.  This is how to protect each personís integrity and, in turn, promote cooperation and even friendship afterwards.


Q.  When my sister got divorced it made sense that she and her husband went to mediation because they both had a basic sense of fairness.  Now Iím faced with divorce myself but my husband isnít showing any signs of being fair.  Whenever we discuss things, he gets furious and tries to roll right over me.  My strategy is to say as little as possible and just stand firm by what I know is reasonable.  How can people like us get anywhere in mediation?

A.  Youíre right that mediation is easier when both people share the same sense of fairness.  Sometimes people want to be fair but find themselves getting so upset that they either boil over or they pull back and say almost nothing.  It may seem that your views are so far apart or your discussions so aggravating that you will never agree on whatís fair.  But a mediator skilled in handling this will use a combination of tactics to turn things around:  Structure and rules to contain outbursts.  Special questions to clarify valid intentions.  And help in interpreting the consequences of what each of you propose.  This may give you some idea of how mediation actually moves beyond fairness to design alternatives you both agree can work.


Q.  Weíve decided that, after the divorce, my wife and the children will continue to live in our house.  What we canít agree on is how to make this work, since so much of our marital assets are tied up in the house.  How could we ever work this out in mediation since even my lawyer says she canít tell me whatís best

A.  Your lawyer knows that joint home ownership after divorce is successful only when you and your wife can come to agreement on certain questions.  For example, how long will your wife live in the house?  Who may be permitted to buy out the other and when?  How will responsibilities for major repairs be divided?  There are other options you can select based on the needs each of you may have. These choices are made much more easily when you can meet face-to-face with a mediator who knows how to structure and guide such discussions.  I have helped many clients put together agreements giving each of them what they are entitled to without having to sell the house too soon.  In combination with the choices you make in mediation your attorney can help you understand the consequences.


Q.  Iíve heard from more than one person that Mediation/Arbitration works better for divorced parents than just Mediation.  Is this true, and how does it work?

A.  Mediation/Arbitration is a sub-specialty practiced by some mediators, including myself, with special training.  For any particular issue which is raised, I first work with the divorced parents to mediate a mutual decision.   If one or both parties is unable or unwilling to find common ground, I switch to the role of arbitrator.  As arbitrator I have the power actually to render the decision which the couple wasnít able to make.  My decision is then binding on the couple very much like the ruling of a judge.  Now is this a better approach than mediation alone?  To determine this for any particular case I ask three questions:  First, are the children being hurt because their parents canít or wonít agree on important matters?  Second, have they already tried to mediate with a skilled mediator?  And finally, are both parties willing to sign a contract to participate in Mediation/Arbitration and be bound by the results?


Q.  How do I get mediation started?  Can I just call up a mediator and make an appointment, or does it have to be ordered by the Court?

A.  Most people come to divorce mediation in one of three ways: (1) they are referred by their lawyers, (2) they are ordered by the Court, or (3) they make the decision on their own initiative.  If you have a lawyer, she or he may already have proposed mediation to you.  Or, if you have a court date set for final orders on unresolved divorce issues, the Court will order you to try mediation first.  But many divorcing couples start mediation on their own.  To begin, each of you can propose the names of one or more mediators and then telephone these mediators to ask about qualifications, experience, style, areas of expertise and other matters to help you decide.  If you have already begun to work on your divorce agreement, the mediation process will move ahead from there.  If you have not yet started the process, an experienced mediator can guide you so that your initial decisions, filing a divorce petition and completion of affidavits are done properly and with the least hassle.