As a judge in Family Court for 19 years I can tell you the divorcing process can be jagged and unpredictable. The people are usually raw, frightened and bewildered. It is hard to imagine that given these complexities a court of law can design a better fate for families then they can for themselves.
After the years of witnessing the adversarial process one thing has become clear to me. Mediation is one of the most important tools that exist to resolve conflict. So deeply do I hold that belief that at the time of this reading I will have made a career change to become a mediator.
Mediation is an alternative to the formal process of divorce court. A mediator helps facilitate agreements out of court. They are an objective neutral party who acts as an intermediary. A mediator may make suggestions but does not force an agreement. There are the five things that happen in life, everybody’s life, that we cannot change. It is when we resist dealing productively with these five life events that we cause ourselves more suffering. Inspired by what I read in David Richo’s The Five Things We Can Not Change I have found it crucial to apply these concepts to divorce and the breakup of relationships.
Those inalterable truths go something like this;
People are not loving and loyal all of the time.
Pain is part of life.
Life is not always fair.
Things do not always go according to plan.
Everything changes and ends.
Over the years couples have come into my courtroom and very often the first things that are communicated by the parties are; the ‘unfairness’ of the break-up, the unfairness of their spouse or mate, or the unfairness of the process. It is true their life didn’t go according to plan, and because they felt unjustly treated by their spouse they believed the court system could right these wrongs and injustices. The strategy was that emotional vindication could be obtained in the courts.
Divorcing people feel betrayed in many ways. It is not just the breaking of vows, but the breaking of all the emotional promises implicit in making a life long pact.
Looking for emotional vindication guised as legal issues is what usually drives people to court. The courts were created and are only meant to deal with the law. The courts do not offer this kind of emotional relief and in fact emotional instability is even increased.
For all of us these five truths happen over a life time. For divorcing people these five injustices can happen in rapid fire and compressed into a short time. The average divorce takes two years. That is clearly a long time to experience so many stressful events. Divorcing people are unprepared for the rigors and feelings of dis-empowerment by a process that they don’t understand. Difficult times can change us in ways we don’t even realize.
These are some of the reasons I was drawn to the idea of mediation. A sense of fairness is attainable in mediation, while the need to vindicate an emotional injustice is not fostered. I am also convinced that one of the most powerful strategies and defensive techniques to minimize the impact of these stressful events is mediation.
With mediation you can keep your power and have your emotional needs dignified. I will go into full detail in later articles but I can tell you this now; It is less threatening, more empowering and people don’t feel as helpless. Because people don’t fully understand the divorcing process it feels ambiguous. Ambiguity can create catastrophic fears, and increase anxiety. In the court system people have to be on guard and defensive and therefore problem solving and decision making process can be compromised. On a practical level mediation saves time and money by shortening the process and reducing tedious adversarial entanglements. The mediator is completely neutral, objective and has no stake in the outcome. Everything that is said is completely confidential. Perhaps most importantly mediation can reconfigure communication between parents who will raise children together in a way that they were unable to do themselves. In other words, mediators act to resolve issues and maintain a positive emotional terrain between the parties. They do so by controlling or diffusing negative emotions, reframing potential insults, enforcing behavioral ground rules, setting time lines and keeping parties focused on the issues.
There is no total immunization to pain, only ways to minimize it. At any point in the proceedings mediation is a potent neutralizer to protect yourself and your family.