Tailoring Mediation: Eva and Eric Address Parenting Issues

Today we are continuing to follow Eric and Eva as they focus on using divorce mediation to address parenting issues. As we learned in our introductory post, 40-year-old Eric and 43-year-old Eva have been married for 15 years. They have two children, Chris, who is 10, and Laura, who is 12. For the time being, Eva is remaining in the family home, while Eric is moving into a nearby rented townhouse.

In our last post, we learned that Eva has been concerned about going to mediation with Eric due to his more powerful financial position and aggressive personality. She has alleviated her fears somewhat by hiring a consulting attorney and a divorce coach. Eric, on the other hand, has always been willing to mediate, but he wonders if they are too far apart on parenting issues to be able to reach an agreement. He is demanding shared custody with equal parenting time. Eva considers this position unreasonable, since Eric has been pretty much an absentee parent up until now.

Mediating Custody and Visitation

Before their first mediation session, Eva sought advice from both her attorney and her divorce coach. Eric decided not to hire a divorce coach, but he did meet with his consulting attorney. She advised him that neither a mother nor a father has greater parenting rights, but that a parenting plan must meet the best interests of the children. They talked about how the couple had handled parenting in the past, as well as the most workable possibilities for the future. “It’s great that you want to take on more responsibility,” she told him. “Just keep in mind that making rigid demands is not always the best approach. Keep the focus on how you can be there for the kids.”

Facing High Anxiety

Like many parents, Eva found that making parenting decisions was the toughest part of the divorce for her. She knew that her skyrocketing anxiety was based at least in part on her low level of trust in Eric. “He has not been particularly attentive as a father,” she told her divorce coach. “Once he took Chris camping and brought him home with a broken arm.” She went on to talk about how hard it had been for her to even take an evening off in the past. Eric often failed to show up on time, claiming work emergencies. Even when he did show up, Eva would come home to find the kids watching television or chatting with friends, without having finished their homework. When she tried to raise her concerns with Eric, he brushed her off as “overprotective.”

Eva’s coach started by addressing Eva’s state of mind, helping her cultivate a sense of detachment and mindfulness. She pointed out that if mediation was not productive, the parents could consider hiring a joint expert. A child development specialist could provide information and guidance aimed at protecting the children’s interests without taking sides. She then suggested that Eva prepare a neutrally-phrased list of current parenting responsibilities, along with a list of questions about each child’s needs. For a model, she referred to the checklist in this blog post about child custody mediation. Creating the lists would not only help Eva prepare for mediation, they would also help her open a discussion with Eric without putting him on the defensive.

Focusing on Practicalities

As Eva worked on her lists she noted that Chris, in particular, had difficulty concentrating and still needed considerable monitoring during homework time. She also noted that Eric’s job impacted his after-school and summer availability. While she worked at home, Eric worked 60 hours a week or more in an office half an hour away. Finally, she pointed out that 12-year-old Laura had spontaneously expressed a desire to live with Eva instead of “going back and forth all the time.” According to Eva’s attorney, Laura, at 12, was old enough to have her legitimate concerns taken seriously. This did not mean, the attorney clarified, that Laura should run the show. It was up to the parents to work things out first, but if Laura objected, they should listen to her concerns.

Eva went into the mediation feeling calm and prepared. She shared her lists with Eric, and he pleasantly surprised her with several of his responses. First, he expressed regret at how much of the children’s early years he had missed, and at how guilty he felt about the time Eric had broken his arm. He assured Eva that the children’s school success was very important to him, and that he understood that Chris needed extra support. He also told Eva that he was working on modifying his schedule. For now, he planned to work from home once a week.

Eva responded that she was happy to hear all of this. Still, she was skeptical about his ability to commit to being available on any given day. Eric agreed that it would still be challenging, but he added that his mother had promised to serve as back-up, so that the children would not be left alone or with a babysitter if an emergency came up. Eva said she could also try to be flexible from week to week, as long as it didn’t disrupt the kids schedules too much.

Exchanging Proposed Parenting Plans

After Eva and Eric talked for a while, the mediator urged them not to get too bogged down with details. Instead they should go ahead and separately write-up proposed parenting plans. Eric’s proposal gave him three weekends per month, from 7 p.m. Fridays to Monday mornings, one overnight per week on Wednesdays, and half of all school and summer vacations. Eva’s plan gave Eric two weekends per month, from Friday evening to Sunday evening, one overnight per week on Wednesdays, a week during the two-week winter break, and two weeks during the summer.

After they exchanged plans, the mediator urged them to focus on areas of agreement and potential areas of flexibility. Eva immediately rejected Eric’s request for three weekends per month. “It isn’t the amount of time,” she explained, “it’s just that weekends are fun time and family time. I’m okay with extending the weekends through Monday morning, but not with you having more than every other weekend.”

Eric thought this over for a few minutes. He then proposed that he pick up the kids for dinner on Tuesdays every other week. That way they could stay with him for two nights, until Thursday morning. Eva agreed to try this if he agreed to keep that schedule through the summer also, instead of splitting the summer in half the way he had originally proposed. They could each take up to two weeks for a vacation with the kids, with a month’s advance notice. She also wanted the plan to be temporary for now, until they saw how it worked out for everyone. To Eva’s surprise, Eric agreed with all of this. “I’m glad you decided to stay nearby,” Eva acknowledged after they had worked out almost everything. “It will really help a lot.”

Moving on to Other Issues

Eva left this first mediation session with a great sense of relief. They planned to meet again in two weeks to discuss financial matters. Both Eva and Eric would meet with their consulting attorneys in the interim. Eva also planned another session with her divorce coach to reinforce her newfound confidence.

For more information on using mediation to resolve child custody issues,  contact one of our experienced mediators today for an initial consultation.