When most people think of divorce mediation, they assume there is one mediator who moves back and forth between a divorcing couple, trying to get both parties to compromise. While “shuttle” mediation is a real technique, we have found that it grants most of the power to the mediator himself or herself, and not to the couple who is trying to resolve their differences. Sometimes it works, and sometimes couples leave their mediation session more entrenched in their beliefs that they are “right.” (Shuttle mediation may have a role in certain cases, but generally not divorce case.)
Instead, we aim to eliminate conflict by working with both parties. Instead of trying to force a compromise, we create an environment where both parties can feel free and comfortable to express their desires and their fears, and work through the conflicts together. In our process the parties and the mediators collaborate together to find solutions to the parties problems and needs as the family “uncouples”.
Understanding what “conflict” really means, and how it plays out
First, let us clear up a common misunderstanding: not all conflict is necessarily bad. All “conflict” means is “disagreement,” and disagreements are not inherently unhealthy. In fact, a couple who never disagrees about anything could be exhibiting more signs of an unhealthy relationship that the couple who has different viewpoints.
The difference between a conflict and high-conflict behavior
Conflict is a regular part of any divorce, but sometimes, conflicts can escalate. If one spouse becomes angry, belligerent or aggressive, he or she is exhibiting high-conflict behaviors. High-conflict responses can also be the exact opposite of what you assume. Avoiding disagreements at all costs, retreating into oneself and being unresponsive, assuming the outcome will be negative: all of these count as high-conflict behaviors, too.
An example of resolving a conflict in a healthy way
When we say we aim to resolve conflicts, we mean that we aim to help two people who disagree on a given subject find a way to come to an agreement about it. For example: let’s say that you and your spouse have agreed to legal custody of your children (meaning, you agree to make decisions about their education, their healthcare and their religious upbringing together), but you cannot agree how you wish to handle physical custody. You want your child’s primary residence to be with you, and so does your spouse. You know there is no way to exactly divide the nights and days your children live with you – so what can you do?
This is a conflict that must be resolved. Our goal is to provide you the tools and information you need so that you can reach an agreement – or resolve your conflict – regarding the physical custody of your children. One of the benefits of making these decision in mediation is that we can help you design a more creative, individualized parenting agreement that a court could not and /or would not. You can be more creative with vacation time, weekends, holidays and nights spent at your home. You can name specific areas where you might be more flexible (say, birthdays or family reunions), with the understanding that both parties agree to the plan. You know your children and personal circumstances better than any judge will know from hours or even days of contentious litigation. Presumably, both parties care most about the best interest of their children and are in a better position to figure out how to accomplish that then a judge. Unfortunately, judges though they try hard, perceive another garden variety divorce case, but to you this is your divorce…happening to your family… and you can come up with creative solutions if you work together with your spouse and our mediators to find the best resolution.
Conflict is not bad, and neither you nor your spouse should feel guilty about disagreeing with one another about how to move forward. As long as you both agree to be willing participants in your mediation sessions, and to try something new that is designed to leave both parties feeling confident and satisfied with the decisions, you may be able to resolve the conflicts you have and come out as friends (or at least as civil co-parents) when all is said and done. Instead of contentious litigation and legal posturing you will be working together to find the right solutions for your unique family.
At Divorce Mediation Associates, we help clients throughout Northern Virginia find resolutions to their conflicts. To learn more about our services, or to schedule a consultation at our Reston office, please call 703-665-7592, or use our contact form.