Steady On

By Laura Melton Tucker, February 13th, 2014

Listen to this entry.

On an early morning errand today I kept my car at a distance behind a bicyclist straining for traction on the snow and ice covered road.  I moved into another lane to pass him, and glanced back to see his face.  He was older than I thought he would be, given his vigor as he stood to peddle up the hill.  I admired his steadiness and ability to stay balanced on the treacherous incline.  My car crested the summit and I imagined the bicyclist’s relief as he greeted the downhill.  Keep peddling and stay balanced, I thought…not a bad mantra for the uphill portion of our journey.  In the difficult work of life, we sometimes forget that as surely as the landscape changes, so does our mentalscape.  As surely as the weather changes, so do the circumstances of our lives.

Divorce is one of the “uphills” in a life’s journey. When a divorcing couple recently contacted me they asked about the timing of their first appointment.  Was it necessary to see a lawyer first, they wondered?  In the early stages of their process, they were concerned about not making mistakes.  Friends had advised against letting attorneys get involved too early, suggesting that they could make the process more contentious than necessary.  This couple wanted to stay friendly with one another.  They believed they were in agreement on almost everything.  Since they hadn’t filed for divorce yet, would it be advantageous to see a mediator before meeting with an attorney?

I appreciated their thoughtful question.  Mediation is a wonderful place to start the process, I advised.   Many couples dread the difficult decisions surrounding their impending divorce, and put off the process as long as they can.  Making an appointment with a mediator ensures that you will sit down and talk.  Because the mediator is a neutral stranger in the room, the talk stays respectful and productive.  The first mediation can function as a brain storming session.  Intentions are stated.  Worries are aired.  Problem solving flows as needs are expressed and different scenarios are put forth.  Often the initial mediation session helps a couple grow more clear and decisive as they discuss how to divide assets and debts, and, if children are involved, how to share care and protect the welfare of their children, together, as co-parents.

In the case of this couple, the decisions were as specific as what words they would use to tell their daughter they were divorcing, to as general as whether or not they would use one lawyer or two.  During their one hour session they generated an initial agreement, along with lists they will use going forward.  Following the session I emailed them a draft of their agreement, followed by “things to consider” and “understandings.” They will have these to take to their attorneys.  Once they have their court paperwork, they will email me their case number so that I can forward their mediation Certificate of Attendance to the clerk of court.

The takeaway is that mediation is a good way to keep peddling and stay balanced. This couple models an ideal way to navigate rough roads in bad weather.  Their decision to mediate early, before meeting with attorneys, is a good way to begin their process. They are meeting the challenge of their divorce head on, working through problems as they arise, in a kind and respectful way.  They are placing their daughter first.  They are stating aloud their intention to remain family, even as they go separate ways.  I am mentally picturing their relief as they summit this crest and enjoy the downhill.  It is just over the horizon.

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