At my favorite local restaurant last weekend I recognized a former divorce mediation client. She did not recognize me as I was dressed in early 19th century garb for a historical event. As I approached her table to say hello, I saw that she was with her former husband, also my client, and their two children.
Since it was a busy Sunday morning brunch in the restaurant and they were with their two young children, it felt inappropriate to inquire about the nature of their dining together. But I have to assume that it was one of two possibilities: (1) either they had reconciled, or (2) they were enjoying a post-divorce family brunch.
I suspect it was the latter, but either way, both are positive and wonderful outcomes that, in my opinion, would almost never occur had the divorce been a contested/litigated one.
This client, pleased with the mediation process, later referred a colleague of hers to me. When I met with the prospective client and her husband I asked, as I often do, what were the hopes and goals of each for themselves, their spouse and their children. The woman responded that she did not care what happened to her husband and did not want him to have any meaningful time with their children. This should have been a big red flag for me that perhaps mediation was not a suitable process for her.
What I should have said to the prospective clients and in particular the wife is that mediation may not be the right choice since it requires more honesty and fair-mindedness and the ability to value post-divorce family relationships than she might be capable of.
Not surprisingly, the case fell apart shortly thereafter and the parties retained litigation counsel and well over a year later, are still battling. Instead of working together to create a good outcome for all, they are presumably paying opposing attorneys to draft disparaging briefs as to the parenting skills and abilities of the other, which may or may not include false accusations and parental alienation, and filing and serving and complying with costly discovery requests rather than simply exchanging the requisite financial information required in any divorce, and the children are surely bearing the brunt of all this negativity.
My mediation clients who dined together on the other hand, even though there was considerable conflict and disappointment at the beginning, learned to see the divorce as a problem to be solved rather than a battle to be won, and learned to focus on creating a new family model for the benefit of their children. Together they worked in mediation to complete their financial disclosures, ascertain the nature of separate/community property and divide the property equitably. Together they discussed and decided how to co-parent and financially support their children, and in the process created a positive, respectful and supportive co-parenting relationship, indeed a positive, respectful, and supportive new family structure that enables joint outings like this that are sure to benefit their children tremendously.
I felt proud and satisfied that I was able to facilitate a process that enabled both clients and their children to enjoy each other's company together as a divorced and still happy family.
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