Washington Post Column: The Expert: Go-Between; Carl Schneider, 61, divorce mediator, Mediation Matters
7 March 2004
THE VOICE OF REASON: When I was working as a psychologist in the 1980s, I saw the damage caused to my divorcing clients by destructive legal battles. That’s why I became a mediator — to offer an alternative. My job is to help you and your former partner have the conversations needed to work out the terms of your divorce.
FAIR GAME: In mediation, couples voluntarily provide information, talk to each other using a neutral third-party facilitator, and make their own decisions about alimony, child custody, etc. They’re encouraged to consult with attorneys, but legal bills are kept to a minimum because the process uses just one mediator rather than two lawyers. (In my area, Montgomery County, a full-time, experienced mediator charges $185 to $260 per hour.)
OWN UP: People rarely start off by saying what they might have contributed to the breakup. Instead it’s, “I can’t believe him!” Or you grab a beer with your friends and they reinforce that she’s treating you like dirt. I invite couples to reflect on how they each may have been responsible. Sometimes an apology can create an emotional shift that allows people to settle their differences. It can be as simple as: “I know you were terribly hurt by what I did. I’m sorry things have gotten this bad; I’d like for them to improve.” But it can’t be excuses.
RESUME, PLEASE: Mediators come from a variety of backgrounds, including social work, law and education, and can get started by completing 40 hours of training. There’s no national certification body, and mediation in the private sector isn’t regulated in D.C., Maryland or Virginia. So if you’re looking for someone, inquire about their education, training and experience. It’s like choosing a heart surgeon — the credentials are important, but what you really want is someone who’s doing this very complex thing every single day. It’s also quite personal, so you have to find someone you’re comfortable with. (A good source is the Association for Conflict Resolution, www.acrnet.org.)
FAMILY FRIENDLY: Kids are great at exploiting any space between parents, but this won’t happen if you continue talking to each other. For example, when Darren complains, “Dad didn’t give us any breakfast,” share that with Dad. Don’t lead with, “Why don’t you ever feed the kids?” Ask what happened. Remember that you’re talking to someone you once loved — the mother or father of your child. The marriage is over, but your parenting is not. As told to Amanda Long.