In recent weeks, I have been pleasantly surprised to have my clients settle a number of very difficult cases in mediation, that had appeared insolvable. What these cases had in common was very difficult issues pertaining to their children. These divisive issues dominated the discussions between the attorneys and the clients, which frequently happened during court sessions.
By starting mediation, the parties and their attorneys were required to step back and look at the “big picture.” In other words, they needed to tell the mediator where they agreed or disagreed on all issues, such as paying child support, paying spousal support and dividing property. What the preparation for mediation showed was that while Mom and Dad may have had a significant difference of opinion regarding the amount of parenting time each was supposed to have, they agreed on other important issues that all must be addressed in a divorce.
They agreed on Legal custody (important decision-making for the children) Child support would be paid according to the state formula; Spousal support that should be paid to the lower wage earning spouse; Property settlement
As it became clear that there was more agreement on all issues than there was disagreement, they became more creative in developing ways in which they could resolve the parenting time disputes. For example, they could agree to work with a child specialist who would advise them on the developmental needs of their children, perhaps talk with the children directly to get the children’s individual perspectives on their relationships with each parent. Or work with therapist who first counseled the children through their parents’ acrimonious divorce and then helped the children reunite with the less favored parent.
This latter phase of working through the parenting time issues would take more time, particularly when the children are teenagers. The parents may agree to continue to work with the therapists and give these issues time to be resolved. However, they can reach the comfort of knowing that the other issues in their case have been resolved. This permitted them to separate, knowing what financial resources they would have so they could make realistic financial decisions. They could get on with having one parent find a new home and the other parent arranging to keep the marital home or place the marital home on the market. They could also know what investments and retirement accounts each would keep. In other words, they could plan realistically for their future. This brought considerable stability and peace to each party.
Beginning the mediation process earlier helped these parties to focus on all their issues and thereby reach settlement.