Lessons Learned in Family Mediation
Some Lessons Learned in Family Mediation
Little stories can be fun and educational.
Working with a different mediator (not a member of our group), one couple had signed an agreement with a detailed schedule describing when their child would spend time with each parent. During the next year or two, each thought the other was violating the agreement over and over. Transferring the child from one parent to the other involved long flights, and the child was too young to travel alone on an airplane, so this was a big problem.
After one parent moved to Virginia, they asked me to mediate their discussion of their child’s schedule for the coming year. Their prior agreement said very clearly that the child would go stay with the father for all of her spring break from school. What it failed to do was define spring break. The father was expecting that he could pick the child up after school Friday and return him to the mother nine days later, early Sunday evening. The mother thought “spring break” meant just the five weekdays when the child would otherwise have been in school, so she had scheduled activities with her son for both weekends. Lesson illustrated: Anticipate possible misunderstandings and include the necessary details in your written agreement.
Once I worked with a couple during three or four sessions spread over a period of six months or longer. Eventually they agreed, but not yet in writing, on almost all of the terms of their separation agreement. Trusting that they would finish the agreement constructively, one moved out, as planned and agreed. Then the other talked with an attorney and wanted to change most of the terms of their seemingly almost-finished agreement. The one who moved out was suddenly in a very distressing situation, unable to obtain the financial support that had been planned and so unable to pay rent without getting a second job while still in school and still involved in raising the couple’s children. Lesson learned: If at all possible, finish and sign a workable separation agreement before moving out.
A young pair of parents with strong family support on both sides had been alternating week-long turns taking care of their baby almost since birth. The mom no longer wanted to let the child be away from her for seven days in a row over and over. Both parents said the baby was thriving. Neither wanted to undermine the other parent’s involvement. Their homes were about an hour apart from each other, and only one had regular access to a shared family car, so transportation was not easy. In addition, each parent had school and/or jobs to consider. They wanted to make a parenting schedule that could be incorporated into a court order. The parents explored a number of ideas about ways to make a 50/50 schedule, but most of them required an unrealistic number of trips for the baby, who was somewhere between 8 months and one year old. After an hour and a half the mom was ready to throw her hands up into the air and just let a judge tell them what to do. The dad asked her to wait and let him think for a couple of minutes. Then he suggested doing half-week turns. The baby would be with one parent from Sunday to the middle of Wednesday every week and with the other parent from then through Saturday each week. Presto! Problem solved. I was surprised that neither parent seemed to care about having full weekends with the child on a regular basis, but that is one of the beauties of family mediation. The mediator’s preconceptions do not determine the outcome. The parents decide. Lesson illustrated: When the mediator gives the parents enough time and attention and stays out of their way, they can develop a solution that works for their family.
The author, Virginia L. Colin, Ph.D., is the Director of a group of Professional Family Mediators certified by the Supreme Court of Virginia. She is not an attorney or a therapist. For a free consultation about whether family mediation would be helpful for you, contact Colin Family Mediation Group at mediatorQ@gmail.com or 703.864.2101.