In episode 207 of THE Amicable Divorce Expert Judith shares an article from Diane Neumann, a divorce mediator, titled “The Psychological Stages of Divorce”. Diane takes the five emotional stages of divorce and demonstrates how mediation can be used during this time.
As a divorce mediator I have typically engaged in mediation with couples after the Petition and Response have been filed, and the Disclosure forms exchanged. The Disclosure forms list the assets and debts, both separate and community property, and the income and monthly expenses. These forms are necessary to divide anything that belongs to both spouses via the laws of the state people are living in, and to calculate child and spousal support/alimony.
But lately, I have been asked to mediate for couples before they file. This may be a new trend. Couples are starting to want to plan for a two-household future, organize their finances, and discuss the co-parenting schedule well before they file. From where I sit, that’s really smart. This level of pre-planning allows for a very smooth transition and far fewer bumps during the legal divorce, the filing of papers required to secure a divorce or legal separation.
Mediating prior to filing comes with benefits and challenges to both the spouses and the mediator. Challenges to the mediator:
- Must be adept at juggling the emotions of the spouses if they are still in blame mode
- Must recognize when the emotion has to be cut off and focus returned to decision-making
- Must have professional referrals ready for more research needed in order for the couple to make decisions regarding the house, pensions, significant credit card or other debt that may influence the options available in the division of assets or debts for the settlement
- Must know when to end the mediation if one person is making decisions out of frustration or exhaustion or fear
Challenges to the spouses:
- The ability to communicate through strong emotion
- The ability to listen to the other spouse while still angry
- Mediating before receiving legal advice and making decisions without understanding the law
- Focus on the future while reconciling the past
One element of mediating before filing that Diane Neumann advanced, is one of the most critical aspects of divorce, co-parenting. Diane stated something that no other mediator whom I have interviewed has said, and that is that it’s almost impossible for parents to properly focus on their children while the parents are in emotional turmoil themselves. I have always wondered how the state, attorneys, coaches, and other mediators can expect parents to establish an amicable co-parenting relationship while sorting out their emotions. How is this possible? How can all the professionals in their lives not address this conundrum? “Best interest of the child” is a phrase that I understand and support, but never thought it realistic to expect until the parents have settled their own relationship so that they can co-parent in a healthy way. Putting the children first is important, but only after the parents have ut their own emotional health first.
Neumann went through what she considers to be the five stages of emotion in the uncoupling process and how mediation in advance of filing can help spouses and parents get through the emotions of the pending divorce in order to calm down, focus on necessary decisions, focus on information gathering, focus on process, and thereby move through the emotions and become future-focused, which is the goal of divorce. When this happens, parents can start to build a co-parenting relationship that will exponentially benefit their children.
Children can easily become casualties of their parents’ inability to reconcile their marriage. But this can be prevented if parents engage legal professionals like mediators, therapists and coaches early on to help them move through the emotions of the divorce and into future planning of a better life for everyone in the family.
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