In our last installment of our continuing mediation case study, we left Derek and Stacey in the middle of their second divorce mediation session. They had planned to make child custody the major focus of the session but were derailed early on by a tense discussion concerning the family home. Let’s see if they are able to get back on track after that and address their parenting issues.
After a 15 minute break, both Derek and Stacey tell the mediator that they feel ready to move on to talking about their parenting plan.
Derek speaks first. He states that it makes more sense for the children to stay with him because his schedule is much more flexible than Stacey’s. He works at home about half the time and in a shared office nearby the rest of the time. Stacey responds that on the contrary, even though Derek does have a more flexible schedule, she actually spends more time on childcare and the children rely more on her. She also points out that although right now she and Derek are simply living in separate bedrooms, he will soon need to get his own place. Since she plans to keeps the house, it makes much more sense for her to have primary custody of the children.
Derek is insistent that it only makes sense for the children to live with him. “Stacey,” he says, “you may spend a lot of time on childcare when you’re home, but you’re at work so much that letting the kids live with you would be like child neglect.”
At this, Stacey begins to cry. “Derek,” she says, “that is so unfair. You know that if you would just work more yourself, then I would have more time to spend with the children.”
At this point, Ms. Smith says that she can see that both of them are upset and suggests another short break. Stacey asks if she can talk to Ms. Smith separately instead, saying “I just don’t know if I can be in the same room with Derek anymore.”
Ms. Smith asks Derek if he would be agreeable to each of them talking to her separately for a few minutes. He agrees, and Ms. Smith holds a brief “caucus” of about 15 minutes with each of them.
During the caucus, Stacey says that she believes Derek’s language is becoming abusive. She also says that she is happy to agree to something close to equal parenting time, but she wants the children to keep the house they are in now as their “home base,” so she would like them to be there with her at least one more day per week.
When Ms. Smith speaks separately to Derek, she reminds him of the ground rules regarding courteous communication and cautions him about using inflammatory language. He tells her that he is just upset with how Stacey takes such hard lines about finances all the time. He feels at a disadvantage due to his job situation and is afraid that she is not going to be fair about the house. He also says though, that the only thing he really wants regarding the kids is to have a fairly equal split of parenting time.
After clarifying with each of them what she can now share as their consensus, Ms. Smith brings Derek and Stacey back into the room together. She says that her understanding is that Derek is happy with equal time and that Stacey wants to have one more day per week than Derek so the children feel they have a home base. After a tense but fairly brief discussion, Stacey agrees to try an equal time schedule as long as they can revisit the issue in a later session after seeing how the children are adjusting. Derek agrees and they decide that for the next two months, Stacey will be responsible for the children on Monday and Tuesday, Derek will be responsible on Wednesday and Thursday, and they will alternate weekends and split holidays. This will give them time to work out their financial issues and living arrangements, and then revisit the plan and make any adjustments before they finalize the agreement.
So—a few bumps in the road, but so far nothing that this former couple can’t handle! Stay tuned to see what happens for Stacey and Derek in mediation session No. 3, coming soon.