That’s not a sentiment mediation attorneys will commonly express and I can’t say it’s true with every case. Yet there are some cases where couples go from barely being in the same room with their ex to proactively negotiating and compromising to reach an agreement that puts their children first. It’s difficult not to feel some level of pride if you played even a small part in that evolution.
How does a transformation in two people occur during a divorce negotiation? It varies but at some point, one or both parties make a dramatic realization:
Yes, I’m angry and disappointed with my spouse for how things have gone with our marriage. I don’t want to be here and I want this to be over with. My current attitude is not getting us closer to an agreement. It’s definitely not helping our children. How can I make this better?
Many couples go into a divorce negotiation knowing exactly what they DON’T want. This can be based on previous experience or seeing others they know go through a bad divorce. You know the pact you make that you will never be that couple. Until you become that couple. Many divorcing couples have that watershed moment during the process and it changes everything.
Most couples will start a mediation with the best of intentions. While both parties may not have wanted the divorce, each realizes it’s the direction they are going. So, they agree to negotiate in good faith. Then we start to delve into the specifics of the divorce and it gets real. Things like:
- Who stays in the family home? Or do we have to sell the family home?
- Where do the kids go for holidays? Does that mean just the holiday itself? What about the night before?
- What about summer vacations? Who goes where and when? Does it stay the same every year?
- What about extracurricular activities? Who pays for what? What about transportation to and from those?
It’s a long list and the new reality is a lot of details need to be worked out. Where the growth and maturity comes in is when one of the spouses makes a concession that helps the other out. For example:
A divorcing couple has two children, both have an activity on Wednesday afternoons in different parts of town. The custodial parent can’t pick up both children without one of the kids having to wait for a long period of time. Doing so would require him/her to leave work early, something that’s frowned upon at his/her place of work. The ex volunteers to pick up one of the kids after that activity so his/her ex doesn’t have to leave work early. The ex agrees to do this for up to one year or until other arrangements are made.
Another example might a spouse wanting to stay in the family home even though he or she cannot afford to buy their ex out. This is not an unusual request for the custodial parent to make to lessen the impact on the children during this time of adjustment. The ex, wanting to minimize the impact on the kids, would like to work something out but needs the money from the sale of the house to get on with his/her life and find a place to live.
A solution for the above scenario is not always obvious. But it requires two people committed to compromise and flexibility to trade ideas and work something out because it will be best for the children.
I think what makes me feel most proud about these types of situations, aside from couples getting along well enough to talk, is their realization that they need each other. That sentiment goes beyond reaching an agreement. It’s a realization that they need each other to continue to co-parent their children for now and the foreseeable future. And that’s a powerful thing.