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A Hotly Contested Divorce Chills Out With Divorce Mediation

By Dr. Lynne C. Halem

Sean and Ava Prince were a highflying couple. Sean was a high tech executive, one of the lucky few to survive the industry slide, earning $400,000 to $500,000 in a bad year and over $700,000 in a good year. Ava gave up her career in sales when the couple had their first child, Madison, followed 2 years later by Jake. The Princes hired a wonderful, dedicated nanny who, while living in their carriage house, was available for daytime and nighttime coverage. She traveled with the family on vacations, and, in short, provided that extra pair of hands that made child rearing so much less stressful.

Life was good, very good; the couple traveled (with and without the nanny), hosted elaborate dinners, and appeared in the local news as philanthropists supporting many worthy causes. The children attended elite private schools, and the nanny stayed on, providing that still valuable extra hand.

Yes, life was good, very good, that is until Ava told Sean that she wanted a divorce. After 12 years of marriage, she had just fallen out of love. Sean was shocked; he had no idea that Ava wanted a divorce, she had never said a word to him, never told him she was unhappy.

Although Ava was hesitant, she agreed to go with Sean to marriage counseling. The therapist was not encouraging. Ava's heart was not in it. Sean began to get angrier and angrier. He was angry that he was blindsided, he was angry that Ava was so willing to throw out twelve years of marriage; angry that she did not think of the impact of her actions. In short, he was very, very angry. Ava was angry too. Didn't Sean know how unhappy she was? Didn't he listen to her complaints? Didn't he see or hear anything? She wondered how they could have lived in two separate marriages for so long.

Sean called his business lawyer for the name of the toughest divorce lawyer in town. Ava asked her divorced friends for the names of the toughest lawyers they knew. And so the stage was set. The battle poised to begin. For three long years, the Princes waged on; restraining orders, depositions of Ava, Sean, the nanny, the children's teachers, counselors and so on.

The monies flowed, the anger intensified, the children were frightened, hurt and confused. Until one day, Sean's therapist recommended divorce mediation. "What do you have to lose?" he asked. Sean asked his therapist to pass the message to Ava through her therapist. Ava, to Sean's surprise, agreed to try mediation. Restraining orders were modified to allow for the mediation process to start.

The key question, of course, is how would it ever be possible for a couple who had been embroiled for three years in an adversarial system of courts and litigators engage in the collaborative process of mediation? Clearly it wasn't an easy or natural role for this couple, especially in the beginning. The mediator met with Ava and Sean separately. However, it is important to understand that mediation is a problem-solving process and, as such, emotions take a back seat to tangible matters. Anger is put aside to deal with the day-to-day issues at hand. As areas of mutual concern began to be identified, as agreements began to be shaped, tempers calmed sufficiently for the mediator to initiate joint meetings. Within 6 months, Ava and Sean Prince had a completed agreement and even more importantly, restraining orders were lifted and they, as parents, began to speak to each other again and even to express interest in mutually taking part in their children's activities.

The story of the Princes is not a fairy tale; it is a real story of a break up that got out of hand. Thanks to the intervention of therapists, the willingness of the couple to work together and the skill of one mediator, the ending was a bright and hopeful one.

Why is it that couples entangled in heated, contentious suits are able to embrace mediation? The answer is really quite simple; mediation offers couples the following benefits:

  • A means to ending protracted litigation.
  • An opportunity to cut financial and emotional costs further fueled by unknown outcomes and the absence of end dates.
  • A chance to exert input and have control over the outcome.
  • A strategy for structuring a workable post-divorce relationship.
Not all couples engaged in contentious suits can mediate. Yet there are a surprising number who can; it is these couples who become the most vocal proponents of mediation. They see the value of problem solving, the need to collaborate as parents and as individuals, and they appreciate the empowerment that comes with this individualized process. That there voice is heard, that new ideas are considered, all help to build a bridge of cooperation between the husband and wife and a mutual desire to structure a brighter future.

Dr. Lynne Halem, the director of Centre for Mediation and Dispute Resolution, Wellesley Hills, MA, has been serving as a mediation strategist for individuals who are reluctant to surrender their case and its direction to respective attorneys. With more than 22 years of mediation experience, Dr. Halem helps clients to view the big picture and design creative settlements that are geared towards a win-win situation.

She can be contacted by phone at (781) 239-1600 or
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