GPSolo Magazine - July/August 2006
Mediation, Collaboration, and Parent Coordination
My first job as a lawyer, in 1979, was with the Criminal Defense Division of the Legal Aid Society in Manhattan. I found the work to be challenging and stimulating, but ultimately I felt alienated by the culture of the adversarial system and the harshness of the criminal justice environment. After five years I left the job and decided to leave the law, too. I didn’t expect to ever come back to it. I wanted to find a different way to be of service, in a more intimate and interpersonal context.
After considering a number of options, during the next four years I obtained a master’s degree in social work and pursued psychoanalytic institute training, and I started a private practice in psychotherapy. I enjoyed working with people who were trying to understand themselves and their relationships to others and to the world.
A few years later, when my daughter was two years old, her father and I separated and ultimately divorced. Although he and I were committed to remaining friends and raising our daughter together cooperatively, it was difficult for us to find role models for successful co-parenting at that time. Everyone I spoke to seemed to believe that being divorced meant being enemies. Everyone had an awful story to tell about how bad divorce was, for parents and for kids.
I was already divorced when I first heard about divorce mediation. To me it represented a far gentler and more compassionate way to navigate through the end of a marriage—truly a paradigm shift from the aggressive, “winner takes all” approach so often seen in the courtroom. Mediation offers a supportive environment for spouses to discuss issues of mutual concern and reach decisions together that are uniquely suited to the needs of their family. The adversarial framework applies rules of law, whereas mediation offers participants the opportunity to incorporate their personal values and the interests, needs, and concerns of all members of the family. Mediation is a facilitated conversation between the participants, so it promotes, strengthens, and shapes respectful, cooperative, and civil communication, which is vital to the ability of the participants’ children to adjust in a healthy way to the new family structure.
I have been practicing divorce mediation for ten years now, and I find it to be the perfect blend of my training in law, mental health, child development, interpersonal dynamics, family systems, and my own experience as a divorced parent.
In the last several years I have added collaborative law as a complement to my work as a mediator. Collaborative law, like mediation, helps people to reach out-of-court settlements in a respectful and cooperative problem-solving environment, but instead of a mediator it involves two attorneys working together with their clients to reach a resolution of the issues in a series of four-way meetings. When collaborative law is working well, it is difficult to determine which lawyer is representing which client because each attorney is trying to understand the points of view of both spouses in order to help them reach a result that they both can accept.
Most recently, I have added parent co-ordination to the services I offer to already-divorced, high-conflict families. As a parent coordinator, it is my role to educate parents about the impact of divorce on children and to teach parents communication skills and coach them on how to resolve parenting disagreements.
I feel fortunate to be doing varied work that has so much personal meaning to me and that supports a better outcome for people facing what is likely to be one of the most disruptive times of their lives.
June Jacobson is a family and divorce mediator, collaborative lawyer, and parent coordinator practicing in Manhattan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.