I mediated the first session of a divorce case in September. When the couple, Jim and Tess, first walked into the mediation room, they sat far apart and Tess refused to look at Jim. Jim started off by telling me his story of the marriage -- when the couple met, how long they have been together -- and describing his children. We eventually talked about physical custody of the children. Tess listened angrily to Jim without interruption and took some notes. When it was her turn to speak, she had a very different perspective from Jim regarding their shared history and what physical custody should look like for their family.
Toward the end of the two hour session. Jim and Tess eventually reached a major agreement regarding physical custody. They both were very surprised that, in the midst of so much emotion and disagreement, they had arrived at a decision that worked for both of them. How did they get there? In large part, they achieved this progress by exploring all of the concerns that each parent had and discussing how each issue might be addressed.
Today, at the end of the sixth mediation session, Jim and Tess signed a mediation agreement that resolved issues such as custody, visitation, health insurance, and child support. There were many ups and downs between the first session and the last session. As I read the agreement to Jim and Tess and watched how at peace they both were with the decisions they had made, I felt an enormous sense of accomplishment. I think they did too.
Ellice Halpern, J.D., is a Virginia Supreme Court certified general and family mediator.