Why I Became A Family Mediator
Why I Became a Family Mediator
by Virginia L Colin, Ph.D.
The short version? It’s a calling.
Here is the longer version:
My first clue about what I should be doing came late in the 1990′s, when I learned that a friend was in a custody war that had been going on for a year and a half, with many court hearings. He had paid about $45,000 to his lawyers. Most recently, the judge had ruled that the children would continue to live with him and ordered a visitation schedule that neither parent liked. Forty-five THOUSAND dollars and issues not yet resolved? I thought there must be a better way.
Almost everybody thought my friend was a nice guy. Nevertheless, he and his ex-wife hated each other and could seldom tolerate being in the same room. Relying on conflict resolution skills I learned as a Quaker, I offered to try to listen to both sides and help the mom and dad work out a visitation plan that they could both live with. The process was long and difficult. With one parent at a time, I would listen to demands and complaints full of hostility and blame, take out the emotions, rephrase the demands as proposals, and convey them to the other parent. The response would often be full of anger, distrust, insults, and criticisms, but would include comments on the content of the proposals. I would organize the substantive content and pass it on. Again and again and again.
Step by step, I helped the two parents find what was most important to each of them, explore ideas for satisfying each, and, eventually, agree on a schedule they could live with. The mother wrote the detailed visitation plan as a Consent Order. Both parents signed it and the Court approved it. The kids no longer had to live in a war zone. And their Agreement stood the test of time. No no one ever filed another motion to ask the Court to revisit anything related to raising those children.
I was exhausted. But I thought that maybe I should be doing this kind of work, so that some other sets of kids would not have to live through the hostility and anxiety that my friend’s kids and my own kids had endured. I knew I couldn’t do it yet, because raising the kids in my own blended family – the opposite of the Brady Bunch – was going to be enough stress for me for quite a while. But someday.
Prior to that, my own divorce had been a nightmare: two years of fighting with my estranged husband about custody, visitation, child support, and property distribution while dealing with chronic fatigue, sky-high anxiety, depression, poverty, and the need to take care of two traumatized preschoolers. I have heard many similarly awful stories from friends and acquaintances who struggled through litigated divorces. I do not want other families to suffer similar emotional nightmares.
Later, I saw much of the damage my children and my stepchildren carried after their parents’ long cusody battles. No one should do this to their children if they can reasonably avoid it.
As my kids moved through high school, I continued to think about becoming a family mediator. Eventually I completed training about how to work as family mediator legally, ethically, and well and earned certification from the Supreme Court of Virginia.
Happily, I discovered along the way that many ex-couples are not nearly as difficult as my first one. There are couples who, while separating, want to be fair and want to be sure that each has the resources needed to take good care of their children. If they are not very angry, helping them develop parenting plans and make financial decisions is easy. Other couples come to me with high levels of conflict, anger, or fear. That’s OK. My job is to help them make reasonable decisions even with complex emotions sometimes interfering with their thinking or their interactions. Doing this well feels great.
Much of the time, I succeed in helping estranged couples make good plans for their children and themselves. The work is very satisfying. The kids can have safe, caring homes, and everybody can start healing from the emotional changes associated with divorce.
This site is for informational purposes only. Nothing here should be construed as legal advice. All of the mediators in Colin Family Mediation Group are certified by the Supreme Court of Virginia. For a free consultation about whether family mediation would be helpful for you, contact Dr. Colin at mediatorQ@gmail.com or 703.864.2101.