Recently I provided some complimentary training on resolving family conflicts at a senior center in Claremont. Near the beginning of the session I asked each participant whether they had a particular family conflict they’d like to share. One lady told me that one of her sons and his two children (her grandchildren) had cut off all communication with her. She claimed however to be at peace with the situation.
A little later in the session I gently urged her to consider the possibility of taking some action to improve the situation with her son. Less than a minute later she got up and left the training session. I had clearly misjudged the situation. I assumed she was willing to look at and perhaps change her own behavior with respect to her son. But while she was willing to talk about the conflict, she was not ready to do anything about it.
When is the Best Time for Divorce Mediation?
One of the big challenges with a divorce is to find a way and a time to build a bridge over all the upset, disillusionment, and distance at least long enough to allow mutual decisions to be made about separating the finances (and sometimes co-parenting the children). Divorce is often both a major loss with its different stages of grieving and a conflict. And it’s normal for the spouses to be in very different emotional and mental spaces in trying to deal with it – sometimes throughout the whole process.
So how and when does a divorcing couple come together at least enough to agree on a process (such as divorce mediation) to enable them to make the decisions necessary for them to complete their divorce?
For couples who are still high functioning with each other, this is not too much of a problem. Many of them do their own divorces and the others get some outside assistance where appropriate.
Many others come to divorce mediation as perhaps their least painful alternative. This may be because they have already spent a lot of money and made little progress litigating their divorce. Sometimes the awareness that they have difficulty communicating effectively with each other leads to bringing in a third party so that the discussions can be productive. This can be at any stage of the divorcing process, including before it has even begun.
Some people are more open to resolving the areas of conflict early in the process before too much bitterness and rigid thinking has set in. Others need some time to get over the shock of what they are going through before they are ready to engage productively in discussions.
Nearly always, it is one of the spouses who sees the benefit of trying mediation and takes the lead in encouraging the other. Whether this encouragement succeeds depends a lot on how the other spouse is currently dealing with the divorce. And it also depends a lot on how the encouragement is delivered. If it is construed as domineering or threatening in any way, it’s not likely to succeed.
In short, the best time for divorce mediation varies by couple. Ideally they try it fairly early on in the divorce and before they engage in legal skirmishing. But it really does take two who are ready and willing to tango. Fortunately it is never too late. Some couples even resolve their divorce through last minute negotiation or mediation right before their scheduled trial.