In a supermarket I noticed someone familiar smiling at me. I couldn’t immediately place him, and he laughed and said, “Don’t tell me you don’t remember me, I find it hard to believe our mediation sessions weren’t memorable!” He was a client from a few years ago and he and his ex-wife were involved in a high conflict divorce. They came to mediation to resolve finances. He was right the sessions had been memorable. They had tried to resolve finances for years before coming to mediation and they had little faith that they could be settled outside court.
Attack or be Attacked
He and his wife had developed a toxic pattern of communication. They verbally attacked one another whenever they met. It was painstaking work to move them away from this dysfunctional pattern of communication. I felt like a strict school teacher at times. At one point I had said, “stop arguing or do it outside where it will be a lot cheaper.” It was their mediation and they made all the decisions. However, it was my process and if they couldn’t respect it and let me manage it, then I wasn’t prepared to continue. Mediation is voluntary for each participant, including the mediator. Gradually they saw that rehashing the past and trying to apportion blame, was not a constructive use of mediation time. They couldn’t change the past and were unlikely to ever agree on it. I encouraged them to focus on their individual futures. What were their housing and income needs? How could they best be met? They reached an agreement at their 5th session. They were amazed. I wasn’t. I knew they were slowly but surely making progress and that if they wanted a resolution strongly enough, that mediation was the best place to achieve it.
What Price Peace?
So back to my supermarket encounter. I politely asked him how he was. He told me that he had thought about contacting me and thanking me, but he had never got around to it. He said that he wasn’t particularly happy after the mediation. He had wanted more of the marital assets. However, over time he realised that it wasn’t such a bad deal and that the deal had bought him peace and he was no longer stuck in a rut. He said his ex-wife felt the same way about her share of the settlement. The reality is that a negotiated settlement doesn’t produce a winner and a loser – it means each must make compromises. Walking away with an agreement they can each live with is far more realistic than expecting a big win. Winning is why people go to court – they need to win to justify the big legal fees. However, the court is looking for fairness and meeting each side’s needs; not winners.
I asked him if he would recommend mediation. He said he wished they had been able to sort things out themselves. However, he knew that wasn’t realistic and he said he would recommend mediation to a friend. He said that there was an advantage that he couldn’t see at the time – things had really improved with his ex-wife. He didn’t think it would matter to him; but it did. They weren’t exactly friends, but they were friendly and if they bumped into each other when seeing their adult children, then they would happily chat. He said that mediation had provided closure. He realised he didn’t like his ex-wife disliking him, and he said their children were happier.
Author: Sara Stoner, Family Mediator, Broxbourne & Potters Bar
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