Note: This post gives a glimpse into what an actual session with a divorce mediator from The Divorce Collaborative is like. The facts are based upon a recent session wit clients from the Milford and Worcester, MA area.
Earlier this week I was sitting with a couple from the Milford, MA area in our Franklin office. It was their first divorce mediation session. The couple has two young children and both parents work full-time. Like many dual-income families, these parents had already decided they would each spend about the same amount of time with the kids, also known as shared parenting.
After listening to the parents talk about their kids for a few minutes, I asked what type of parenting schedule they envisioned. They had discussed different schedules together, and they brought to the meeting monthly calendars with different schedules laid out. Each day had an initial jotted down representing either Mom or Dad. There were scratch outs and notes on the calendars. I left the conference room for a moment and made some copies of the calendars so we could all see them easily. Suddenly, a giant monster crashed through..
Alright, there was no giant monster crashing anyplace. We are in a conference room in our Franklin office…what are you thinking? I just wanted you to keep reading. Now, back to our case study!
The clients explained they were trying to determine a schedule but having some troubles. Not because they were in disagreement, but with the mechanics of the parenting plan. For example, both parents were concerned because there were spans of time where one parent would not see the children for four nights or in some weeks even five nights.
The kids in this family are young, under 6. Despite being cooperative with each other and smart people, they were struggling with getting a schedule in place they felt would work for all involved. They had spent enough time on this before coming to see me that they even hired a non-attorney mediator with a mental-health background to help them create a parenting plan. Clearly, there lack of progress had not been from a lack of sincere effort.
I reminded the clients that since they selected one of our comprehensive mediation packages when they hired us for their divorce mediation, that formulating a parenting plan was part of the package, and I was confident that the three of us could develop a custom parenting plan that would work for them. They had already met with the parenting mediator, but did not make any progress on coming up with a schedule.
Next, I asked what they liked and disliked about the schedules they worked on together. After identifying these things, it was clear that even though they were divorcing, I was sitting with parents that were committed to their children and to supporting each other as parents. For those of you that may be surprised by this, don’t be – it happens frequently.
After a few more minutes, I suggested a different schedule where there would not be more than 3 consecutive nights away from either parent. Both clients loved the schedule. We talked through a few other “what ifs…” and played out a couple of scenarios, including how they could handle situations such as if a parent had a business trip, a child was sick, etc. We even used puppets to act out different parenting scenarios.
Actually, we don’t have puppets. That would be weird. We have a magical trolley and a castle, but absolutely no puppets. You are probably asking yourself at this point “Is Steve a genius?” or thinking “Steve must be the smartest divorce mediator in Franklin or Bedford!”
OK then. Although I am not a genius, I have worked successfully with lots and lots of families that have lots and lots of kids, whether they live in Milford, Worcester, or someplace else. Parents with hectic jobs; kids with different school schedules, dance, soccer, karate, hockey, daycare, music lessons, softball practice, etc. Over the years, I have assisted many families develop workable parenting plans while providing tools and information they need to do the best job they can parenting their kids together. Yes, this couple is divorcing which is sad, but they will still parent cooperatively and support each other. That is pretty awesome, and the biggest winners are of course the children.
Before our two-hour mediation session was over, we had fully developed the shared parenting plan, worked out holiday schedules, discussed summer and school vacations and birthdays. Additionally, we ended world hunger, created peace in the Mid-East, and picked up another strong closer for the Red Sox. The parents looked at each other at the end of the meeting and agreed they would not need to spend more money on the other parenting coach/mediator, and seemed happy about that as well.
So, the next time you see a Legal Zoom television commercial, remember that there is much more to the divorce process than ordering some crappy forms that the court will probably reject anyway. Take the time to find an experienced divorce mediator or divorce attorney that is a good fit for you, your goals, and your family. Instead of thinking about your relationships and family being destroyed and focusing on the past, think about your family being transformed and moving forward in a manner that will promote healthy and happy relationships down the road.
If that is not worth some effort, then I am not sure what is.
By Stephen McDonough, Esq., a divorce mediator and divorce lawyer from The Divorce Collaborative in Bedford and Franklin, MA. For more information about Massachusetts divorce mediation, collaborative divorce and contested or litigated family law matters in the Milford, Worcester, Bedford, or Franklin areas, please call us (877) 842-1199.