David Louis suggests an interim plan: To bring some short-term clarity and understanding, the mediation process can provide an opportunity for couples that are trying to establish a temporary “equilibrium” as their transition progresses.
We are currently living in times that don’t match up to anything that any of us has ever experienced. The uncertainty of how long the impacts of this COVID-19 will last weighs heavily on all of us.
I am left to think about those who, already finding themselves in the confusion of life transitions, now have the weight of this global health crisis piled on. None of us truly can yet know what this will mean for our economy, both in our nation and in our homes.
None of us truly can yet know what this will mean for our economy, both in our nation and in our homes.
Several clients have contacted me to postpone their mediation sessions. While we don’t have to meet in the office and can do so by video conferencing, the truth for these families is that they are faced with economic uncertainty, which impacts their ability to make long-term decisions. Some are seeing their retirement accounts taking big hits; many are concerned about their jobs and future economic wellbeing. It’s hard for anyone to make important decisions when the facts are not clear–in separation and divorce, this dynamic is magnified and can actually be paralyzing.
I can also imagine that those who are in the early stages of discussing separation and divorce are faced with a similar dilemma, which can include questions as to whether it actually makes sense to move forward.
And yet, for those who have started the process of ending their marriage, and others who are ready to begin doing so, the underlying reality that the marriage cannot or should not continue is not disappearing.
To bring some short-term clarity and understanding, the mediation process can provide an opportunity for couples that are trying to establish a temporary “equilibrium” as their transition progresses.
This can actually be very similar to a discussion that often takes place at a first mediation session, namely, what interim plans and agreements are needed so that you can both feel comfortable and stable while engaging in the mediation process?
Given the circumstances and challenges facing us now in the spring of 2020, this conversation may precede the commencement of the divorce.
In the longer term, the essential question underlying the mediation process is, “What are we going to do about where we are?” But in the present circumstances, addressing the short term, the question is being transformed into “What are we going to do for now?”
Here are some examples of topics that can be covered in an interim plan:
For some of my clients, the interim arrangements can be a “test drive” for longer-term agreements. For others, it’s just a plan for now so that life can go on with a minimum of disruption and conflict.
Now, as much as ever, the chance to talk about how to cope with a changing world is what mediation can offer–a bridge to a future that is under development.
For many, the ending of a marriage is filled with a range of emotions that may be as broad as the menu at a good diner. In my divorce mediation and collaborative divorce practice, I observe this variety of feelings by one or both spouses. Most often, I see fear and anger.
A typical client consultation will include this statement: “I/we have never done this (divorce) before.” For the unwilling spouse, whose world has been rocked, a commitment to a lifetime of marriage is on the verge of dissolving. For both spouses, there is often an underlying current of uncertainty. The uncertainty about living on their own, questions about future resources, and concerns about parental roles and access can create a deep sense of fear.
The spouse who “did not sign up for this divorce” often expresses anger. Even when there is acceptance of the inevitable, there is often a deeply held grudge.
Yet, on another level, it’s clear that anger is a part of the process and to be expected during such a major life transition as divorce. In fact, anger is a manifestation of underlying uncertainty and fear.
Most of my clients who come into mediation or collaborative divorce feeling angry or afraid seem less consumed by these emotions at the end of the process. While the passage of time may be a factor, to a larger extent the mediation or collaborative divorce process gives the couple the ability to come to their own shared decisions on parenting, division of assets and debts, and financial support. This clears the fog of uncertainty regarding these key elements.
As the uncertainty about the future is reduced, there is less reason to be afraid. If there is less reason to be afraid, one of the underlying causes for anger is neutralized. By recognizing that fear and anger are “kissing cousins,” we can use the mediation process to help open a dialogue and move through these feelings into a more certain future.
The divorce mediation process creates a special opportunity to provide couples with information that will facilitate their decision making.
Couples often come with limited knowledge regarding specific topics under discussion. More often than not, I hear my clients say, “We’ve never done this before (get divorced), so we need help to understand the steps we need to take to end our marriage.” Fortunately for them, the mediation process offers a classroom to facilitate the beginning of a transformation from uncertain and under-informed to informed and confident as a decision maker.
Becoming fully informed can be especially critical for divorce mediation clients who choose not to utilize consulting attorneys before or during the mediation process.
In a consultation, I explain that there are at least two ingredients to making informed decisions:
Mediators are often asked questions related to fact or process, like mortgage refinancing. More importantly, many questions are an invitation for the mediator to explore the reason for the question as a means of a client’s coming to a better understanding of her/his priorities and needs.
For example, when a client asks about whether a child support agreement can be modified at a later date, it offers me a chance to explore what the parent’s concerns may be about future financial arrangements for the children.
The mediation “classroom” promotes discussion of the resources available to assist a couple in making informed decisions. This can include written resources, Internet resources, or professionals in specific fields whose expertise is needed for a more complex matter beyond the skill-set of the mediator. Sometimes, specific information will be needed from a specific source, like the current mortgage lender or retirement plan administrator. During mediation, we can frame the questions to be asked so that the appropriate information can be acquired and reported back at the next mediation session.
Our classroom is also used to promote brainstorming of ideas where we learn from each other about the possibilities coming forward from within ourselves. When asked, I will use this opportunity to share ideas that other couples I’ve worked with found useful to resolve a particular issue, and encourage the couple to develop their own list of options that may work best for them.
As a mediator I take on numerous roles, acting not only as a neutral who helps couples plan for their futures apart, but also as educator to give clients the information they need to be able to make decisions they can be comfortable with.