FamilyCraft: The Private Practice of Family & Divorce Mediation

Friday, November 19, 2004

High Conflict the Norm in Private Practice Couples?

It's an all too common misperception that family mediators toil day in and day out with persistently conflicted couples. Of course, we see many, many of these and they create great challenges for us as conflict resolution professionals.

In my experience of 12 years of private practice family mediation, however, this dynamic is more often the exception than the rule, for couples who self-refer to mediation and choose to mediate without attorneys present. Most of these couples may exhibit the anger, anxiety and pettiness of high conflict couples at times during their work together. But commonly, the art and craft of private family mediators is decidedly more focused on creativity in problem solving and expansive imagining, than it is on managing crazy-making.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Sorcery, Family Mediation & Picasso

I'm fond of that great quote from Picasso:
You can't be a sorcerer every day!

the fresh air couple
Yesterday afternoon, I had one of those couples that have such a positive regard for each other -- it's simply inspiring to be in their presence.

the struggling couple
In contrast, in the morning, I worked with a couple who - three and a half years earlier had left mediation because of their persistent struggles over control and trust. Sadly, they were in the same dynamic and they immediately questioned "the other's sufficient commitment to the process," and spoke of beginning a serious divorce war with lawyers. We talked about how much more delay that might entail.

I suggested that they owed themselves and their children (and new significant others!) resolution and closure of their divorce dance. They agreed to put down nearly nonrefundable deposits for two more sessions (we agreed in writing to an oppressive cancellation policy!), so that they might commit to the work and move forward.

Earlier in our work together, the wife stormed out of mediation, after a zinger from her husband. I knew from my experience NOT to go after her. They simply weren't yet ready for moving on; the allure of conflict held too much meaning at that point. I'm STILL uncertain whether "the time has come, the Walrus said."

I urged them to consider Jeffrey Wittmann's wonderful book "Custody Chaos, Personal Peace: Sharing Custody with an Ex Who Drives You Crazy." (It's all about what YOU can do, urges Wittmann, in an entreaty to self-empowerment by forgetting silly notions of changing your spouse.)

No sorcery yesterday, but I tried something different: a process approach (commitment by fee advances) that might just move this couple onward.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Why This Blog?

I'm fortunate to work full-time as a divorce and family mediator in private practice.

Many mediators and aspiring mediators ask me: "What's the full-time practice of family mediation like?"

There's precious little written about this work. There's an amazing chapter by Patrick Phear (a former zoologist from Zimbabwe with a thriving Boston family mediation practice) in the anthology When Talk Works: Profiles of Mediators (Jossey-Bass, 1994). Titled "Control, Commitment and Minor Miracles in Family and Divorce Mediation," this gem inspired me when I left forever the practice of law to be a mediator.

Look, I can do two mediations a day, each of about two hours. And that requires that I spend half an hour beforehand reading my notes, two hours with them, and probably an hour after for doing my notes. That's close to seven hours a day right there with almost no other human contact, just very clinical, very buttoned-down, very, very, hard work. Really, it's hard work to mediate, to listen to the subtleties and nuances of what people are saying, to hear all the emotional pieces. It's difficult, tiring and painful.

And so, this blog.

I hope to occasionally share the joys of this work - I call it "familycraft" - and reveal its challenges. I hope to consider in these musings both the intrapersonal world (how it is personally, spiritually, and psychologically) and the professional/technical world of being a family mediator.