The Role of Mediation & Collaborative Practice in Non-Spousal Family Disputes

Contrary to what many think, divorcing spouses are not the only individuals who can benefit from Mediation or Collaborative Practice (CP). Family disputes of any nature can often be resolved using these non-litigious, more affordable options.

Conflicts Between Adult Children and Parents

The relationship between children and parents takes many twists and turns throughout various life stages. The first big change often comes when children come of age and the parents begin to adjust to their children’s new independence, and later to an empty nest. As children form their own identities and families, parents often find their new role as a confidante or grandparent.

The parent-child relationship takes on another dimension as parents age and may begin to need extra care. This is where conflict can often come into the picture, and where family members may find the need to seek out Mediation or CP. The disputes can come in the form of elderly parents disagreeing with their adult children over their need for additional care, or due to children not agreeing with each other’s opinions of what should be done for Mom or Dad. A parent may now live alone and be falling or forgetting things more often, but does not yet feel ready to give up his or her remaining independence, while the children may worry constantly over his or her wellbeing. One child may live close to the parent(s) and see first-hand what the reality of the situation is, but cannot convince the siblings living farther away that this is the case. Read More >>

The Challenges of Stepparenting

Stepparenting is not for the faint of heart. Even in fairy tales, stepparents get a bad rap, often being designated with the adjective “evil.”  While perhaps many would not willingly choose to become a stepparent, it often comes with the territory when a parent remarries after a divorce.

There are important considerations to keep in mind as stepparents navigate the often tumultuous waters in establishing new relationships with stepchildren.

Allow for Natural Relationship Development

Good stepparenting is a balancing act. Trying to get too close too soon can easily backfire, especially if children are still adjusting to the reality of their parents’ divorce. They may resent the stepparent for trying to replace their biological father or mother, or be angry that their parent chose to remarry (as they may have hoped their parents would eventually get back together). Go slowly and allow time for gradual adjustments rather than trying to force the issue. Let stepchildren warm up to you on their own terms, and make it clear that you do not intend to replace the relationship that they have with their own same-gender parent. Perhaps you can take each child out one at a time for a fun activity, such as getting an ice cream or going to a movie, to begin the process of getting to know one another.

If new stepsiblings are part of the package, it is especially important to allow relationships and bonds to develop naturally over time. Trying to force closeness unnaturally will only complicate matters.

Divorce and remarriage are confusing enough for the adults involved; remember that it is infinitely more confusing for the children. They may not know how to process their emotions. For example, they may think that showing affection to a new stepparent is being disloyal to their biological parent. They may feel guilty for really liking their new stepparent (perhaps even more than their biological parent). If they have new stepsiblings, they may bond well with them over time to the point that feel like the new family unit is their “real family,” and are lonely when they go to the other parent’s quiet home. Read More >>

Adjusting Parenting Plans Post-COVID-19

The Scottish bard Robert Burns once wrote, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” This truth has been readily apparent throughout the last few months, as the global pandemic has created disruption and chaos in every aspect of society.

Many divorced couples who share children together are suddenly finding themselves in need of making adjustments to the parenting plan they had put in place before COVID-19 changed everything.

Problematic Scenarios with Parenting Plans

Right now, many parents are experiencing job loss or are needing to work different shifts or varied hours. This could mean they are not available during their scheduled time to watch the children.

Additionally, some parents are now experiencing 24/7 responsibility for their children, with schools and daycares being closed. They are having to learn how to homeschool their children while simultaneously juggling their full-time jobs remotely. That is a lot to have on one’s plate!

Another concern is daycare and summer camps–will parents be able to afford them, or will they want to send their children and risk exposure to the virus? Read More >>

Divorce Settlement Modifications in a COVID-19 World

The staggering number of individuals who have experienced a job loss, pay cut, or reduced hours over the last few months due to COVID-19 has resulted in unemployment levels not seen since the Great Depression.

After the initial shock of being furloughed or fired wears off, employees have a number of practical issues to consider, not the least of which is finding new health insurance coverage (which becomes even more critical during a global pandemic). The same is true for small business owners, many of whom have seen their revenue stream plummet.

These pressing logistics become even more complex for divorced couples who are part of a settlement that based financial responsibilities going forward on their economic positions pre-coronavirus. Suddenly, many former partners are experiencing the reality that their alimony, child support, or health insurance arrangement is no longer tenable. The payor may truly want to meet his or her financial obligations, but a job loss or pay cut makes that impossible.

What Part of a Divorce Settlement is Negotiable?

There is no easy answer to this kind of quandary. The parties involved cannot plant or access a money tree, nor is the economy likely to recover at lightning speed. They will need to arrive at a solution together that will either be temporary to get them through these challenging times, or else will become their “new normal.”

In the eyes of the Court, both the payor and payee, as well as any children, must have a roof over their heads, working utilities, food on the table, and running automobiles, regardless of any pay cut or job loss. These areas are non-negotiable. Read More >>

Marital Mediation in Light of COVID-19

Making marriage work can be challenging under normal conditions, but throw in a pandemic leading to a lockdown, along with economic uncertainty and possible health issues, and the marital relationship can seem downright impossible!

The arrival of COVID-19 has turned our world upside down in more ways than one. As we were educated on the health issues that would arise and the precautions that needed to be taken, we tried to prepare for them as best as possible. We were much less prepared for the resulting economic collapse that has left many families, businesses, and governments scrambling to try to make ends meet and keep the country moving forward.

How a Pandemic Affects Relationships

One of the more insidious and unexpected elements of the pandemic fallout has been its deleterious effect on relationships. Couples and families have suddenly found themselves quarantined together 24/7. Additional responsibilities, such as homeschooling or new household roles, have been thrust upon people simultaneously dealing with the learning curve of working from home. Individuals are learning more than they ever expected or wanted to know about both themselves and their spouses. Living in close quarters can bring out the worst in anyone. Read More >>

Help at Home for Relationships

These are certainly interesting times in which we are living! I am basically a homebody, but the current restrictions are challenging even for me. For some, the personal toll has been excruciating. My heart goes out to those who are infected, and especially to those who have lost loved ones to the virus. The financial costs of the pandemic (from which none of us are immune) have also been significant for many, with no end yet in sight. Lots of parents have had both the blessing and the challenge of being with their children 24/7. Who knew we would all be homeschooling?

Another unexpected consequence of so much time together has been its effect on relationships. Many of us have learned things we did not know about ourselves and about our partners. For some, this has been a time to deepen relationships. For others, the cracks have widened. Extended periods of time together have forced some to acknowledge relational problems they have been denying or avoiding. Read More >>

Demonstrating Dispute Resolution Skills

dispute resolution skills

When I am working with a divorcing couple using a Mediation or Collaborative Practice approach, one of my primary goals (besides working out an equitable agreement between the two soon-to-be exes) is to model healthy dispute resolution skills in action. My intention in doing this is so that they will learn enough to be able to apply this type of behavior in their future co-parenting endeavors or other interactions with each other.

Teach a Man to Fish

To truly be of long-term help to my clients long after they stop working actively with me, I need to enable them to become problem-solvers on their own. As the old adage goes, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Ask the Right Questions

I have learned that my most important role as a Mediator is asking the right questions, not simply providing answers. One of my favorite questions to ask a couple pursuing divorce is something along the lines of: “If you only have one orange and both of you want it, do we simply cut the orange in half?” This gets them thinking. The quick answer would be, “Yes, that seems like the fair thing to do.” But as we discuss the situation, we usually come to the conclusion that a better answer would be, “No, we should find out why each of us wants the orange.” It may be that the husband wants the orange rind so he can zest it for baking, while the wife wants the fruity part so she can eat it. By talking the matter out together, the couple will learn more about each other and be better able to reach an agreement that suits both of them.

Find Out “Why”

When I bring up curious questions that ask “why,” I am able to go beyond people’s positions and begin to look at their interests. As I peel back the layers, I start to understand their needs versus their wants.

For example, when a parent insists on having the children 50% of the time – even though s/he might need to travel a lot for his or her job, or may have unusual work hours that make such an arrangement impossible – I try to find out what is behind the request. Is it a fear of losing touch with the children? Is it a concern that others might view him or her as an inferior parent? Is it a focus on a parent’s own preferences rather than on what might work best for the children? There are many possibilities, and almost as many answers.

By examining the problem and taking an honest look at the concerns, we can often work out an arrangement that suits everyone. Perhaps we can set up regular video conferencing times if one parent is traveling frequently. We could also arrange for one parent to have more time in the summer when schedules are more flexible. There might even be an option no one has thought of yet until we start looking for solutions together.

Look Beyond the Obvious

A skilled Mediator needs to look beyond the obvious in an effort to help figure out how to meet everyone’s needs or goals (or at least as many as possible). I try to inspire the two parties to approach issues differently than they may have in the past. The way they problem-solved (or failed to do so) during their marriage obviously did not work well for them, or else they would not be where they are now. If they can learn to step back, approach situations differently, and look at things in a new light, they will likely do better in all aspects of their life, which is particularly important when it comes to parenting.

photo credit: Eric