Earlier this week, a mediation client of mine whose case recently settled walked into my office to drop off a signed document.
I invited him into my office and he told me how pleased he was that he and his wife decided to mediate their divorce. He said that he's moving forward with his life, that their co-parenting relationship keeps improving and that he hopes that they can one day develop a friendship. He also mentioned that throughout the process, his mother kept thinking she was helping by attempting to derail the mediation process and have him take a competitive approach, rather than a cooperative one.
His experiences with his mother are extremely common and covered in an article of mine titled, "When Divorcing, Beware of Meddlers!"
The reason I'm sharing this story is because a great many of my family law attorney colleagues and others believe that mediation is only appropriate and effective when the decision to divorce is mutual, among other things.
Now, I'd like to share with you an excerpt from the first email I received from this mediation client of mine before being retained:
"I don't want to go through with this as I still believe reconciliation is still the way to go in respect to our marriage. It is something I still strongly believe and hope is still possible."
I responded as follows and we were "off to the races":
"I hear and appreciate your frustration, concern, fear and other such things.
That being said, divorce is a 'no fault' process, which means that it takes two to marry and only one to decide they want a divorce. Your wife has made it clear that she wants a divorce.
I'm afraid that whether or not you want the divorce, it's going to occur and my involvement isn't going to change that reality.
The average cost of a fully litigated divorce in the State of California as of 2015 was between $90,000-$95,000.00 in total. A mediated divorce is a fraction of that cost.
I'd hate to see the two of you end up litigating your divorce because one of you wants it and the other doesn't. Apparently, it's your decision as to which process you want to use because the default process is litigation, if you both don't agree to opt out and handle your divorce through mediation or the collaborative law process. The decision is yours to make and I would suggest that you don't make an emotional decision that you'll later regret, particularly since you can't force your wife to remain married to you.
If you change your mind and want to proceed with mediation, please let me know."
In my 7-part series How Family Law Attorneys Tend to Think, I addressed the various myths that people have, including family law attorneys, as to when and why mediation isn't feasible.
Interestingly enough, last month, I published an article titled "What's 'Best' Varies, Depending upon the Needs Involved", in which I discussed a mediation case of mine in which the decision to end the romantic relationship was not mutual.
Yesterday, I received an email from the party involved in that mediation who wasn't interested in continuing their romantic relationship, which stated:
"First of all, congratulations on the Psychology Today article. Perfectly factual and I hope it will help others."
In response to that email, the party who wanted to work on improving their romantic relationship and not dissolving it sent the following:
"Thank you for putting all that together, it will help us moving on with peace and feeling pride and gratitude.
Thanks Mark for your patience, support and exemplary professionalism.
You have been such a help.
You have acted like a 'light house', guiding me in the most emotional time of my life; it would not have happened without you."
Are attorneys and others helping or hurting people by feeding them myths and causing them to unnecessarily take competitive (divisive/combative) approaches, rather than cooperative ones?
A therapist on LinkedIn commented as follows to my article titled Who Are the Editors in Our Lives?:
"I have always been curious as to the reason we value the questioning of our biases, beliefs, assumptions, and values if they are working for us. It would seem this activity would be detrimental to our personal survival."
Bias is "a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling, or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasoned."
A belief is "acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof."
An assumption is "a willingness to accept something as true without question or proof."
Values are "the moral principles and beliefs or accepted standards of a person or social group."
I interpreted the therapist's comment as saying that he believes we should allow people to live in ignorant bliss, even though their lack of knowledge or information may be harming others, including those near and dear to them.
According to this therapist, "we have no right to interfere in that individual's life even if we think that individual is a grunt or stupid. That being said, I find your willingness to interfere in someone else’s life based on your judgment that they are ignorant, distressing."
A great many of us "interfere" in one way or another, don't we?
Are those who believe that mediation is only suitable and effective for divorcing couples when the decision to divorce is mutual, "interfering" by the advice they do or don't give to people?
Are well-meaning friends, relatives and bystanders "interfering" by offering advice on how a person should manage their divorce, even if that advice is based upon myth?
Are my efforts to "myth bust" by providing people with facts and evidence to question their biases, beliefs, assumptions, expectations and values "distressing"? If so, are my efforts more or less distressing than other sorts of "interference" or a refusal to "interfere" by enabling people to make more informed decisions?
Everything's a matter of perspective, isn't it?