Divorce is a process where emotions run high. When negative emotions like anger, resentment and a desire for retribution dominate the spouse’s thinking and outlook, the likelihood of finding creative solutions is greatly diminished.
This was the situation in which Celeste and Anne found themselves. Celeste had felt neglected in the marriage, and Anne’s recent success in having a baby made the situation worse. She ended up in a relationship with a co-worker, and then abruptly left Anne and their baby daughter to move in with her new love. Celeste’s betrayal and desertion left Anne feeling depressed and infuriated, and questioning whether Celeste should have a relationship with their child at all. – Anne’s attorney shared her viewpoint. When Anne’s attorney indicated that Anne planned to move to Chicago to be closer to her family and have additional help with the baby, Celeste and her attorney reacted with outrage. Both parties dug into their positions.
This type of custody case is typically termed a “relocation case” and, if parents end up litigating, a court’s decision as to “the best interests of the child” can be highly unpredictable. Neither parent wanted to deal with that unpredictability for herself or the baby. And, despite their strong emotions, they both had heard horror stories about how expensive and emotionally-polarizing litigation can be and therefore wanted to avoid court.
As the case appeared to be heading towards litigation, Celeste and Anne’s attorneys discussed the possibility of bringing a mediator into the case. Fortunately, both parties were open to the idea and were able to agree on an experienced family law attorney as their mediator. They picked someone who they thought would be neutral and effective, but most importantly, compassionate towards both parties.
The choice of mediation proved to be a good one for Celeste and Anne. The mediator helped the parties “unpack” what their real interests were – with regard to themselves and their baby daughter. Being able to interact with both parties enabled the mediator to gain an understanding of the marital dynamic that was not evident to their attorneys. Further, she compassionately listened to each party’s narrative and positions, without agreeing with either side. Utilizing that information and deeper understanding, the mediator gave each party her objective assessment of the potential exposure if the issues were to be resolved by a judge. All of this enabled the mediator to gain the parties’ trust, and to craft creative proposals that appealed to both parents.
The key point about using mediation in this case is that the parties were open to utilizing the process and it worked. Not only did they reach an out-of-court settlement, but they also managed to remain on amicable terms with respect to their daughter. This allowed both parents to focus on continuing to work together to ensure their baby daughter would be affected in as minimal way as possible from their separation, and grow up with two loving parents involved in her life.