🎶“Hey, wontcha play another somebody done somebody wrong song . . .” 🎶
“Hey Won’t You Play”
B.J. Thomas -1975
These are the lyrics that kept rolling through my head the other night as I stood at yet another cocktail party and listened to yet another sad divorce tale from someone I just met. See, when you are a mediator this is a hazard of the profession. Working in the family law field, when you introduce yourself to someone new and get to the part of the conversation about your profession, everyone’s eyes get big, most people gasp and express what an awful job that must be (actually, it isn’t, I say, I feel very privileged to be able to help good people at their worst time, I say). Then I get to hear everyone’s divorce and custody stories. It is kind of like being a doctor and everywere they go someone wants them to diagnose their mole or rash. Except instead of a mole or a rash I get to hear about someone’s terrible ex or how much money they spent in attorney fees, or the unfair judge who took away their children or their 401K. It is rare I hear anyone tell a story of a good divorce.
And as I reflected on my most recent evening out like this, I realized that these people are traumatized. They are telling their stories over and over again because they feel like they have lost control of their situations and are still struggling to make sense of what happened to them. And, quite frankly, that’s exactly what did happen. Rather than making their own decisions about their futures they had those decisions made for them by the courts. Research shows that people who make their own decisions are more likely to be happier with those choices and are more likely to follow them. (Mediation in Small Claims Court: Achieving Compliance through Consent; Craig A. McEwen and Richard J. Maiman; Law & Society Review; Vol. 18, No. 1 (1984), pp. 11-50). It’s not a big stretch then to think the opposite would also be true.
How can mediation help?
I used to resent getting cornered and monopolized like that at cocktail parties. I used to feel like I had to help all these folks solve their problems. Then I realized I was taking the wrong approach. What they really need is compassion about their trauma and an opportunity to think about things differently. I now use those conversations to reframe the discussion about divorce and custody in general, and not about their specific situations. Especially if there are children involved I’ll tell touching and successful co-parenting stories to drive home the idea that custody doesn’t magically evaporate at age 18 and that you can end the business of being married but you can never stop being co-parents to your children. Or I’ll break out some of my quirkier property settlement experiences to demonstrate the creative and out-of-the-box thinking that can happen in mediation when our hands aren’t tied by the limits of litigation. Inevitably this moves the conversation out of rehashing and problem-solving mode and expands everyone’s thinking to what is possible. And while it might be too late for some people, there are others who can still benefit from this shift in thinking and those who can benefit from mediation going forward. And I enjoy going to cocktail parties much more!
Now, is there anyone here who can look at my mole?
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.