When Mediation Is Not Enough – Part I
When Mediation Is Not Enough, Part I
Jack and Ann* have been divorced for a year and a half but are still fighting about their co-parenting schedule (still called child custody in courtrooms). This is a very big problem for their kids. Jack and Ann hate each other. They don’t trust each other. Each suspects that the other has ulterior, self-serving motives for some of the ideas s/he proposes as what might be best for the kids. Each easily notices what the other parent does that seems wrong or harmful to the kids. Neither has much to say about what the other parent does that is good for the kids.
They disagree about what Jack’s role should be with regard to the children’s school preparation and supervision. Ann thinks it would be best for the kids always to go to school from her house because coordinating with Jack about schoolwork has often been very difficult. Jack thinks that his involvement in the kids’ school work is of considerable value to them. He does not want to be just a weekend, recreational dad.
At present the kids spend 10 of every 14 days with Ann and 4 of every 14 days (Friday through Monday) with Jack. Jack prefers handling transitions through the school so that the parents do not need to see each other. One parent can take the kids to school. The other parent can pick them up when a transfer day comes. Jack thinks the kids feel the high level of conflict between their parents when the parents are in the same place at the same time, and this is damaging to the kids. Ann believes that since there is no open fighting, the kids are not exposed to conflict during transitions directly from one parent to the other. She thinks that the children’s lives would be calmer and happier if they did not have to say goodbye to her for four whole days when arriving at school on a Friday morning.
Ann thinks that good co-parenting requires communication, flexibility, and cooperation. She wants Jack to give her a written summary of what happened while the kids were with him and what is coming up for them each time the kids return from 4 days at his house. When the kids go from her house to Jack’s she gives him notes like this about what has happened while the kids were with her. Jack finds the idea irritating. He thinks a mother and father can do a good job as co-parents by sticking to a simple, fair schedule and so making communication about activities and adjustments rarely necessary.
Ann thinks that Jack is often demeaning, inflexible, or unresponsive. Jack thinks that Ann is too easily upset and gets all emotional in front of the kids and in public too often. Both say that there are way too many emails from the other and that too many of them are hostile or accusatory.
The two parents have different views about what the kids want and how they feel. Ann sincerely believes that the kids would feel better if they were in her care for all of the parent time on school days. Jack sincerely believes that they would be calmer and happier with a simple schedule of alternating weeks — one week with mom, then one week with dad, and so on throughout the year.
One possibility that may help explain why Jack and Ann have such different views is that, like most kids, their children want to please each of their parents. Maybe, without intending to deceive anyone and without even being conscious of doing it, they tell each parent what that parent wants to hear about what makes them happy and what is hard for them.
Sometimes when people come into mediation, each hopes that they will be able to convince the mediator that the plan they are proposing is best for the kids, and the mediator will then be able to convince the other parent that this is so. That is not how mediation works. Sometimes the parties discover that they can take parts of what each thought best, add something neither of them had previously thought of, and come to agreement on a third plan. Sometimes, as in this case, mediation is insufficient for resolving the primary matter under discussion.
After a mediator met with Ann and Jack — separately, because they were too angry to converse together even with a mediator present — he thought that they could successfully address these topics in mediation:
– how to reduce the frequency and intensity of negative email communications
– how to choose sports and other extracurricular activities for each of the kids
– the children’s summer schedule
Getting the following topics resolved seemed likely to require a process other than mediation:
– parenting schedule during the school year
– how to stop criticizing each other
– full development of habits of civil communication with each other
To see what else these angry, hostile parents could try, see When Mediation Is Not Enough, Part II.
*These are not the clients’ real names. The photo is a stock photo.
For a free consultation about whether mediation would be helpful for your family, contact Dr. Virginia Colin at mediatorQ@gmail.com or 703.864.2101.