It’s Never Too Late to Mediate

Time out from litigation to try mediationMary and William have been divorced for 2 years. They have one child, Donna, who is 8 years old. Their divorce was a hotly contested one that took almost 2 years to finalize. During that time they had been to court on various motions all related to their daughter Donna, who lived with Mary. The disputes ranged from how much time William would have with Donna, to what school she would go to, what summer camp she would go to, what extracurricular activities she would be enrolled in, and how all of those things would be paid for. Both parents lived in Bergen County, New Jersey, close to the George Washington Bridge.

The divorce was not the end of their “war”. It was just the start of new battles, largely about the same issues. For the past year, they did not talk to each other. All communication was by email or texting.

Mary wanted to move to New York City. The reason was that she had an offer for full time employment as a Gym teacher in the private school that Donna attended, which was located in the Riverdale Section of the Bronx. She would be able to bring her to school and take her home every day, a chore that William and Mary were sharing. Before getting that offer, she had not been employed full-time since Donna was born. Since the divorce, she had been unable to find full time employment and she earned money as a personal trainer, going to people’s homes to supervise their workouts.

Mary would triple her annual income if she took the job. Although she was getting some alimony, she could not make ends meet. She had financial help from her parents. Also, her married sister, who was a full time mom, and owned a two family house in New York City. Mary could move into the apartment, which was small but roomy enough for her and her child. Her sister could help out with child care at no cost, and Mary and Donna would have the benefit of having family close by. Daniel’s family lived in Colorado.

It's never too late to try divorce & family mediationMary consulted with an attorney, who advised her that under the laws of New Jersey, she could only move her child out of state if a court order permitted it or if William agreed. She emailed William asking if he would agree to her moving into New York City with Donna. That first email developed into a six month exchange of messages. At times, William would agree, conditionally. Sometimes Mary would refuse to agree to the conditions and sometimes she would agree. Several times, when she said she would agree to his latest condition, he would add others that she felt that she could not go along with . She threatened to move without his consent. They were at an impasse and neither wanted to go to court because of the emotional, and especially, the financial costs involved. The Divorce case had depleted their money, and each had to borrow from their parents before the case was finally over.

As a last resort, William suggested that they try mediation, and after Mary agreed, they called me. The issue was resolved in 2, two-hour sessions. William and Mary spent the first hour of the first session “venting”, exchanging insults, bringing up past complaints about each other, and trying to convince me that the other was completely unreasonable. I didn’t do much more than listen. But during the second hour, each of them explained their thoughts and fears. By the time the session ended, I understood each of their needs and fears. Both were most concerned with Donna’s welfare, but each also was concerned with the impact that a move would have on their own lives. Mostly, the issues centered on what school Donna would attend. William wanted a guaranty that Donna would not be enrolled in a public school. Mary (whose parents were currently paying the tuition) could not commit to that.

William, who had Donna every other weekend and for dinner on Tuesday evenings, wanted to have more overnights with her. Donna did not want her to have overnights on school days.

Also, neither William nor Mary wanted to be required to drive over the George Washington Bridge during rush hours, or on Sunday nights.

William and Mary spent the time at the second meeting, working out an agreement that was best for their daughter and that worked for them. They agreed that William, who was a writer for a financial magazine and who often worked from home, would have Donna on long weekends and certain school holidays. He also had the option, with prior notice, of picking her up after school and spending time with her until dinner on several days during the week. He knew that he would be caught in bridge traffic from time to time, but was willing to do it under the circumstances. Mary would be able to contribute a lot more towards the costs of Donna’s Camp costs, dancing lessons, and other extracurricular activities.

Take a time - out from litigation to try mediationEven if you are in litigation, you can take a “time out” to try mediation! Before you start the time -out you must tell your attorneys not to take any action that would result in financial costs to you during the agreed upon time- out, while you are in mediation.

Consider some reasons for a “time- out”

• While your case is being litigated and attorney costs are adding up, you are not agreeing on issues that need to be resolved before you can finalize your divorce;

• You are not thinking of creative solutions to the complex issues you can’t resolve and the attorneys are not helping;

• You feel as if you are spending time and money and not getting anywhere!

If you are tired of the hassles, the arguments and the months spent rehashing old problems and spending more and more money on a litigated divorce, you may decide to tell your attorneys that you want to try mediation to see if it will work better for you and your family.

Mediation is likely to be easier, faster, less expensive, less stressful, and more helpful in enabling you to come to an agreement that you both can live with.

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