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.
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.
I am very sensitive to the fact that the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak is disturbing and is creating significant disruptions in all our lives. In the midst of a very challenging situation, I want my clients to know that I am taking your safety extremely seriously. All appropriate measures for cleaning and disinfecting my conference room are happening before each client meeting. And there is very light foot traffic at my offices.
However, if you feel more comfortable meeting via video conference, I can offer that as well, using a video platform known as Zoom. It is user friendly, and couples can participate from different locations in a group video conference or from the same location. Video conferencing has been an option I’ve provided for clients for many years. We can meet face-to-face or remotely, whatever best accommodates your needs.
May you all be safe and well.
We can all look back on stressful times in our lives and feel pangs of regret for our own poor behavior. Who hasn’t wanted to take back words and acts that have been hurtful to others? We can make choices that turn out to be unwise. We are left with the consequences of our decisions.
The process of separation and divorce can be stressful, and that can impact decision-making skills.
Many divorcing spouses don’t recognize the level of stress they themselves are under during the divorce process. They may not even realize how they were affected until much later. Most are not thinking as wisely as they usually do. In addition, the overwhelming majority of people believe they ARE thinking wisely, when, in fact, after the dust has settled, they know they could have made better choices.
As a mediator, I am trained to help clients recognize needs and interests that may be obscured by emotion and avoid stress-based decisions.
Consider these “danger areas”:
When the stress of divorce is combined with the shock and numbness that lead to irrational decision making, things can backfire with long-term and even life-long negative consequences.
The mediation process acknowledges the presence of emotion within the participants and in their conversation. In mediation I help my clients look within themselves to find the needs and interests that are being held in the emotions of the moment.
While other processes, like litigating a divorce, may throw fuel on the emotional fires of a client’s heart, mediators can use empathy and understanding to assist emotional clients in navigating gently through a difficult transition. With a mediator’s eye on maintaining focus and purpose, I strive for a more positive outcome through honest dialogue rather than a negative backlash from emotionally impacted behavior and speech.
The end of a marital relationship is a significant life transition.
When I am meeting with a couple, either in mediation or in a collaborative divorce, I describe this transition as the intersection of the “road that got you here” and the “road of the future.” I ask my clients to allow the other spouse to be the sole owner of his or her “truth.”
In looking at their lives, two spouses often have a different picture of what happened in the past, why it happened, what it meant and how they felt about it. And perceptions about the present and future will differ as well.“Truths” will differ.
In our inefficient and costly legal system, much effort goes into the process of persuading a decision maker (usually a judge) that the picture of the truth held by one spouse is the “real” truth. In my opinion, this is a difficult if not impossible task. (Putting a square peg into a round hole comes to mind.) Is there a camera that recorded every second of these lives and can interpret the thoughts of the participants? I think not.
As a mediator or collaborative practice facilitator, I ask my clients to allow the other spouse to be the sole owner of his or her “truth”. Most importantly, I ask permission to enforce a simple rule–that one spouse not attempt to speak for the other. As much as we may think that we know our partner (even as we are ending a marriage), it’s an important boundary to give both partners a safe space where each can speak freely.
When we allow each other to speak our personal “truth,” we in turn can listen and we may even find that “our truth” may change–not through persuasion, but through understanding. This is a key step in moving toward mutually acceptable outcomes that help us to embrace the opportunity in our futures.
Winter means more darkness than light, similar to the emotional weather surrounding separation and divorce—sadness, uncertainty, fear and anger.Yet as the year turns, we begin to notice the daylight growing a little longer. Mediation as a process is the chance for planning to overcome the dark spaces and assist both parties to define brighter future realities.