Often I will find myself mediating a very minor issue with parents who are in a high conflict divorce/separation. While previous agreements or JPA’s may provide some direction, often the parents end up in mediation because of different interpretations of definition or language.
By the time the parents enter my office, they are already exhausted from the endless conflict and threats of being taken to court. In some cases, the parents may have already petitioned the courts and in other cases mediation is a last ditch effort. Either way, the parents often have a hard time seeing how any agreement is possible.
Mediation becomes something to do to say that they did it. It’s something to check off in their hopeless attempt to get the other parent to agree with them.
While I appreciate the best efforts of mediators to focus on communication (helping the better discuss their concerns and find common ground), my experience is that both parents’ negative arousal will undermined every technique.One of the fundamental problems in mediation is that the entire process of communication with the other parent is painful or anxiety producing. In many cases, the parents really just want someone to guide them to a resolution without forcing direct interaction.
In these cases, my preference is to use a very structured approach. Using caucuses, I carefully lay out the options that the each person is prepared to agree. I engage in a fare amount of reality testing and devil’s advocate. The next step, when I bring the parties together, is to use a direct method offer/counter-offer.
Doesn’t this maintain an already dysfunctional level of communication? No. Most people are simply not capable of problem solving when they are in an emotionally exhausted or aroused state. Without going into detail, I’ve heard other’s refer to this stage of divorce/separation being most comparable to PTSD. The goal is to narrow communication down to the elements or level that are most functional for your clients. Keeping it simple actually provides a potential road map for future communication.
If you have any questions or thoughts, please feel free to contact me.
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