It started out as an ordinary mediation. The couple were angry and hostile towards each other, but both wanted to mediate to save money and for their children’s sake. The wife asked us the typical question before the mediation began: “How can we reach any agreements, when we fight over everything.”
We responded, as we always do: “If you could decide things together, why would you need a mediator? It’s our job to help you reach an agreement despite the emotions you’re feeling.”
We were several sessions into the mediation, discussing custody. The couple decided they would split Thanksgiving. In odd-numbered years, the children would celebrate the holiday with the wife’s family. In even-numbered years, the children would be would the husband’s family.
Then the husband said, “I’m going to really miss Jim.” The wife was taken aback. “He’s really going to miss you too.” They both started crying
Jim wasn’t one of the couple’s children. He was the wife’s nephew – her brother’s twelve-year old son – who had developed a close relationship with her soon-to-be ex-husband.
Marriage doesn’t just unite two people. Its unites two extended families. And divorce doesn’t just affect the immediate family. Overlooked is the fact that two extended families are also affected.
When a couple divorce the traditional route, (hiring two attorneys and paying two retainers and hourly fees) the lawyers instruct you right away not to talk to your spouse!! Every time the lawyers talk to each other, you hear the cha-ching of the family’s money going into the lawyers’ pockets. And your case is delayed because it must work around the lawyers’ and the judge’s schedules.
The result is you and your spouse don’t get the opportunity to address the deeper emotional toll that divorce takes on not just each other, but on everyone in your lives that you care about. You don’t have the time or the money to mention a nephew or a brother-in-law when you’re worried about two attorneys charging $500 per hour!!
But in divorce mediation, it is possible to talk about all the people you care about and how you’d like to both deal with them post-divorce. In the case I mentioned, the wife agreed that her nephew shouldn’t suffer the loss of her ex’s company. Also, the more the couple talked, the more they realized that their extended families really cared about each other. Both agreed that having Thanksgiving together for the first few years would be helpful to all the nieces and nephews.
That result was nothing new for us. We’ve even mediated a divorce in which the ex-wife ended up going to her ex-brother-in-law’s wedding.
If you want the extended family of your ex-spouse to have some role in the lives of yourself or your children post-divorce, mediation is the best – and sometimes only – place to explore how that can work for both you and your spouse.