Solving problems is not difficult. I can solve a problem just by telling you what you should do. In fact, that’s often what I do at mediation. It’s not that the mediator, in this case, me, is making decisions; it’s just that I’m suggesting a middle ground that neither party likes but that is not as bad as it could be if the judge decided. And so, the clients agree to disagree.
But there is almost always a better solution to be found if the clients (and their teammates) are willing to do the work. What’s critical is finding the root cause of the clients’ issue and fixing that, rather than slapping a band-aid over the problem. That’s what we do in Collaborative Practice; we find the source of the issue and address that.
One of the first hurdles the team must jump is determining whether the clients are speaking the same language. Often, they’re using the same words, but they mean different things. Here’s a perfect example: “Coming home late,” i.e., after curfew, to Dad means that his son is disrespecting him; to Mom, it means that Dad doesn’t trust their son.
See what I mean?
So, here’s how the issue presents in the divorce scenario. The clients have a fifteen-year-old son; the son’s friends are slightly older than he. Some of them already drive. They also have later curfews. On the weekends, Mom is fine with Son coming home by 11pm, but Dad’s curfew is a hard 10pm.
Mom calls Dad “rigid” and “inflexible.” Dad says Mom gives in too easily. And Son is caught in the middle.
Each blames the other for Son’s unexpected difficulties in school.
The mediator in me would discuss with each parent his or her concerns (all valid, of course). Then we’d explore some middle ground, perhaps an agreed-upon 10:30 curfew. Another option might be that they agree to disagree, with their son expected home at one time in one house and at another time in the other.
Either way, their son ends up angry with at least one of them (Dad), and possibly with both.
Let’s dig deeper. During their marriage, Dad was in the military and often travelled. While Dad worked, Mom stayed home with Son. Thus, Dad doesn’t have the close parenting relationship that Mom enjoys. His recent retirement, however, and sudden hands-on involvement at home, has now caused strife, leading both to the clients’ divorce and also to problems with their child.
Their son is resistant to therapy. Dad wants to force him to go, but that will obviously cause even more conflict between the two of them.
What’s the team to do? How can we help Dad “hear” his son? How will Mom “hear” Dad’s concerns? Many times, one of the team professionals, sometimes even the parent’s own lawyer, can “explain” the underlying concern while the entire team listens and “hears.” It’s easier to hear with the entire team’s support.
In tougher cases, a child specialist might bring the son’s voice (his interests) into the process. Or he might inject the child’s developmental needs into the conversation. Either way, this expert can alert the parents to their son’s interests, reminding them that there are other needs at stake outside their own. And both of them will likely listen better to the expert’s neutral voice than they will to their soon-to-be-exes.
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About this week’s author, Joryn Jenkins.
Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, two of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed in the United States Supreme Court upon those who have provided exceptional leadership in the American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.