When Mediation Fails

It really breaks my heart when mediation fails – not only because Frank and I put so much time and effort, heart and soul,  into each client relationship – but mostly because efforts to peacefully separate deteriorate drastically when one party or both decide not to follow through with the mediation process.

Sometimes people come to us and tell us that they agree to just about everything – they just have to put it on paper.  Invariably, within 15 minutes they are disagreeing about some aspect of their divorce.  We always let clients know that they are in control of how long the mediation process will take.  If they can reach agreement quickly, so much the better.  The fact is, most negotiations take some time.  Even so, mediation need not be a long drawn out process. 

When our clients sign an Agreement to Mediate, they agree not to take pre-emptive maneuvers because, as we explain to them, doing so destroys the trust that they build during mediation sessions. 

Recently, we had clients whom we had seen for three visits.  Progress had been slow, but they were indeed taking important steps that would get them to an agreement that would meet the needs of their children, and would set both of them on a solid financial path. 

But, invariably, once they left our office, they resorted to their unproductive communication and tactics that threatened each week to destroy any real progress they had made in mediation.

A couple of days after their third session, we received a call that she had taken the children, who had been living with their father, and refused to return them.  Even when the day arrived that would have been his scheduled day to have the children, she refused to bring them to him.  This was the result of his continual refusal to accomodate her request for equal parenting and custody.

The situation escalated when she went to their marital domicile, where he had changed the locks, to retrieve items that she felt belonged to her.  A heated argument ensued, she attempted to call the police and he grabbed the phone from her.  He was arrested and she was given temporary custody.  He is now facing a court date and lawyers fees that will probably exceed $25,000.  Mediation may have cost him $1500 – $2000. 

This is what we try to prevent in mediation.  Mediation is not an easy process.  It requires honest communication and the desire to work through some difficult issues to reach agreement.  Mediation often seems a slow and, to some divorcing couples, an expensive process.  Compared to hiring lawyers and fighting in court (which can take years and provide the lawyers with a good income), mediation takes relatively little time.  Most mediations can be completed in two to three months.  Some take less time.  Some a little more.  I have rarely met someone who is happy with the settlement they receive through litigation.  Many people come up with unique solutions that work for their situation by using mediation.  If you don’t create your own workable solutions, an attorney or judge will decide.  That is a far from optimal way to divide assets (and children).

It is very sad when parties do not see the mediaton process through to the end.  There is so much to be gained for the parties and the children. 

My advice to those thinking of using mediation is:

  • Choose a seasoned, qualified mediator.  In Rhode Island, you can find these mediators on the website of the Rhode Island Mediators Association at www.rimediators.org.
  • When you start mediation, fully commit to the process knowing that it will not be easy and will require you to address issues that you may not really want to deal with.
  • When it seems discouraging, stick with the process. Often when things seem the bleakest, it is followed by a creative and workable solution.
  • Remember, mediaton is voluntary.  It takes two willing parties to initiate and maintain the process.  Don’t be the party that calls it quits when it is difficult.
  • Trust and listen to your mediator.  We are here to support and encourage you.  We want for you to reach a good agreement.  This is what we live for.

A Parenting Plan – Things to Keep in Mind

Parents often come to see us to help them develop a Parenting Plan for their child or children.  If you are separating or getting divorced, using mediation to help sort out the confusing aspects of developing a plan and making sure the plan is comprehensive and workable is a good idea.  Whether we are talking about small children or teenagers, while their needs may be different, it is always a good idea to have a plan in place to make the transition as stress free as possible.  This will be of great benefit to your child and an opportunity for you, as parents, to assume a new role: that of Parenting Partners.

When creating a parenting plan, there are some important things to keep in mind. 

A.  There is no credible research to support the notion that children cannot move back and forth between two homes.
B.  There is no research to support the notion that children cannot be with each of you at different times during the week or year.
C.  There is a lot of research concluding that children are harmed by parents who are in great conflict.  It is the level of conflict that causes the harm.
D.  It is important to realize that children want to know what is happening during a divorce.
E.  During a divorce or separation, your children need both of you more than ever before.

What do you need to think about prior to developing a Parenting Plan?

A.  What do YOU need for a successful parenting relationship with your children?
B.  What do YOUR CHILDREN need from the parenting plan you create?
C.  Do your children have special needs?  Do you  have any concerns about the children?
D. What do you need and expect from the other parent to have a successful parenting plan?

To get started on developing a parenting plan, it is important to discuss and develop standards of fairness with your parenting partner.  This is critical to developing a successful plan.  The standards of fairness you develop together will be the starting point for your new relationship as parenting partners.  It will give you the basis for building new communication skills and a spirit of cooperation.  The standard of fairness you agree on is your unique creation; if it works for both of you, that is what counts.  You will want to discuss the details of how you will communicate with each other in the future about issues concerning the children.

There are two components to a parenting schedule:  The weekly recurring schedule and the holiday schedule – which includes vacations, school breaks, and special arrangements for visiting with extended family, such as grandparents. Don’t be afraid to look at arrangements that may not have occurred to you before.  There is no right or wrong way to develop a schedule.  Your goal is to create a schedule that fits both parents’ work schedules and the children’s school/activities schedule.

Besides a parenting schedule, there are important topics to discuss relating to a parenting plan.

A.  Education 
How you will inform the school about the details and factual information of the divorce – separate residences and so forth.
      How you will learn about school events.
      How you will convey education concerns to the school.
      How you will address extracurricular activities (sports, music lessons, etc.).
      How you will share the costs and transportation responsibilities for those activities.
      How you will share the costs of higher education, if any.

You will need to determine who will provide future medical insurance and dental insurance coverage.  How will you pay for any future uncovered medical expenses?

Dating and Remarriage
You may wish to consider how each of you will introduce a new relationship to the children.  Establish some protocols to help the children in their adjustment.

Obtaining the Children’s Feedback
After you have reached a tentative agreement on a parenting schedule and child-related issues, you may wish to share with your children the arrangements you have made before finalizing the parenting plan.

Planning for Future Changes
You will want to consider a process for addressing future changes or problems in the parenting plan.  It is my experience that a parenting plan/schedule will not work forever, especially if your children are small when you separate.  After 3 or 4 years (or it could be sooner), you may find that your parenting plan is no longer meeting everyone’s needs.  This is a good time to go back to mediation to discuss what isn’t working and update your plan.


Freedom and Power – New Possibilities After Divorce

Divorce –  We are left feeling depressed, angry, rejected, hurt.  I know.  I have said it before and will say it again:  I was divorced.  Eleven years ago.  I know the pain, the anger, the rejection, the blame. 

Books and newspapers are filled with stories of divorce, how bad it is for the children, the family, society and the world.  By the time my divorce was finalized, I had transferred all of those thoughts expressed in books and articles (which I seemed irresistably drawn to read, maybe because I was looking for a shred of hope) into “MY MARRIAGE HAS FAILED; THEREFORE, I AM A FAILURE.

The thing is, it is a very easy step to take:  I am a failure.  And with that, came more depression, anger, and blame – mostly I blamed myself.  As you can imagine, I was left with little freedom and power (read that as NONE) and no possibility available to me through this thinking. 

I discovered that the very first step to freedom and power after divorce lay in taking the conversation out of my head that was all about blame and fault. 

We live in a world focused on blame and fault.  For the self-proclaimed victims: “It’s NOT my fault”.  “It’s YOUR fault”.  For the perfectionists out there:  “It’s MY fault.  I am to blame for this failure.”   

Freedom and power cannot exist in the face of fault and blame.  A year or so after my divorce, I met someone who was so despondent, so angry and completely possessed with blaming his ex-wife for his divorce.  He had joined a father’s group that pushed for father’s rights after divorce.  While the group had an important mission, he used his involvement to fuel his anger and blame, which left him closed off to new possibilities in his life.  I asked him how long he had been divorced, and was flabbergasted to learn that the divorce took place 18 years ago and his son is 22.  He had been caught up in blame and fault for 18 years!  With no freedom or power in sight.

We can rid ourselves of this conversation inside us.  To be sure, we will never get rid of the voice that insists on popping up all the time, saying: FAULT, BLAME, FAULT, BLAME, FAULT, BLAME.  But, we can recognize that IT is just a voice in our head; IT has no power over us.  Just because a thought occurs in my mind, does not mean I have to dwell on it, or give it my time and energy.  IT came into my mind and can just as easily be discarded. 

“Your mind can only hold one thought at a time. Make it a positive and constructive one.”
H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

We make lots of choices in life.  We choose what thoughts we will give the power to.  Unfortunately, we often let the thoughts of blame and fault overtake us and control our path in lilfe.

So, my thought for today is that we have freedom and power in our lives, in our work, in our relationships.  Divorce does not change that.  We can transform divorce by not giving it power over us.  And through the freedom and power we gain for ourselves, we open ourselves to new possibilities after divorce – possibilities for self awareness, growth, strong relationships, and happy families.

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Life After Divorce: Parenting Partners – All About the Children

Divorce is a difficult time.  But it need not be a hopeless time or a helpless time.  Divorce is a period of change, but it need not be all anger and pain. 

Frank and I are starting a new series of free public presentations geared toward life after divorce. 

Divorce is the end of a relationship; it is also a time of opportunity:  opportunity to grow as an individual, to recognize our mistakes of the past and open ourselves to being the person we have wanted to be all along – perhaps creative, perhaps more loving.  Maybe we have never taken the time to learn what it is that would really fulfill us in life; never gotten to know who we really are. 

This is our goal: to look at life after divorce as an opportunity, an expansion of what is available to us in life.

While discovering ourselves is so important, if we have children, we want to recognize that this new period in our children’s lives is also full of opportunity – a chance to share mom and dad without the pain of constant fighting, anger and being put in the middle. 

The first presentation in our new series is geared toward Parenting Partners – All About the Children.   It’s about mom’s house and dad’s house, about joint decision making by parents who are focused on their children’s needs. It’s about creating a brand new world of improved communication, growth of the human spirit and creating two loving homes for the children to thrive in.  When mom and/or dad remarry, the family expands and new opportunities and challenges present themselves – so we will talk about how to help you and your children grow through through this experience.

Above all, children need committed parents in their lives – parents who play with, comfort and express love so the children have a chance to grieve their losses and be open to new opportunities and challenges as they move forward in their altered lives. 

Please join us for this presentation.  Light refreshments and coffee will be provided.

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Divorce Mediation: Who is it For?

I have heard that in Massachusetts there is a mediator on every corner.  Not so, in Rhode Island.  (We know the joke is that there is a DD on every corner in Rhode Island.)

As we promote mediation in Rode island (something close to my heart), it is important to pay attention to what is said about mediation – the truths and the myths.

In speaking with people, I have heard the following myths:

Mediation isn’t for those who have a power imbalance in their personal or family relationship.  Or in terms of information or network.

Mediation isn’t for those who show anger, who retreat or who cry frequently when talking about their situation.

Mediation isn’t for those who are submissive.  If domestic abuse is present, if alcohol or drugs are involved, or if only one person wants the divorce – these people cannot be helped with mediation.

These are the myths of mediation.

Mediators who have had significant training and years of experience know how to deal with these issues. 

But not all mediators have the same level of expertise or comfort dealing with issues such as domestic abuse or alcoholism.

Those interested in mediation will want to seek out a mediator who can effectively  help them.  it is important to meet with the mediator prior to beginning sessions and to share fears and concerns. 

Also, look for a mediator who participates in continuing education and training, in addition to years of experience.  In Rhode Island, you may wish to begin by looking for a mediator with the designation to the right, the M with a blue background. 

Mediators with this designation may be found on the website of the Rhode Island Mediators Association, at  www.rimediators.org.  The Rhode Island Mediators Association has strict standards for mediators with this designation, including initial training, continuing education and training, at least 3 years of ongoing experience, and liability insurance.  The Rhode Island Mediators Association also encourages feedback from clients. 

Choosing a mediator is about feeling safe.  Just as in therapy, a good match is critical for success.

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Taking a “Narrative Approach” to Mediation

by Michele Gousie Geremia, BSW, MS, SPHR

Today, I feel compelled to tell someone about one of my favorite mediation books, “Narrative Mediation: A New Approach to Conflict Resolution” by John Winslade and Gerald Monk.

While I share this book from the perspective of a mediator, it has value for therapists and counselors, Human Resource Professionals, and anyone involved in conflict resolution.

The ‘narrative’ approach takes the perspective that, as human beings, we organize our experiences in the form of stories.  If we stop and think about it, we can relate to this sense of “organization”.  From the time we are little, we are told and we build in to our lives, stories about who we are, the kind of people we are.  These stories shape us.

As we deal with conflicts in our lives, we build on these stories and they not only direct our thoughts and actions, they also lead us to interpret the thoughts and actions of others with whom we are in conflict.

As mediators, we must deal with “the story” that people bring to us.  Because, in truth, there is always more than one story.

Because each party has his/her own story, doesn’t make each person’s story less valid.  Ultimately, differing stories by the parties is the BIG OPENING that mediators are looking for that will provide for the possibility of resolution.  I say “possibility” of resolution, because while resolution is what the parties are looking for when they come to mediation, and of course, the mediator would love for the parties to reach a resolution that works, resolution is not the ultimate goal in “narrative mediation.”  A narrative approach opens up a world where we challenge the stories we have created, open ourselves to better stories that show people, ourselves and others, as bigger, more loving, more giving, than we had perceived in our original story.

The key is getting from the original stories to that new story that will create the opportunity for resolution.  Without the new story, there is little possibility of a lasting, win-win resolution.

How do we open up a space when confronted with a story that appears to have no openings for change?  Where accusations and anger are so much a part of the story, very often appearing to be the whole story.

All mediation begins with building trust – trust between the parties and the mediator.  It is important that the mediator hear the stories and the pain that each party brings to the table without taking the side of one party or the other.  This is the mediator’s first opportunity to exhibit to the parties that each story is important and has been heard AND that there are two different stories that have been presented.

At this point, the mediator is in a position to identify the key aspects of each parties’ story, so that both parties hear what matters most to the other party.  The mediator may be able, then, to talk about the major problem as if it is external to the parties, something that has happened to them, that came about, that has caused them to feel the way they do.

Once the mediator has externalized the problem, he/she may be able to lead the parties in a discussion of the effects the “problem” has had on each of them.  This discussion enables the parties to get away from talking about each other’s inadequacies and failings and focus on their feelings.

When the parties are able to relate to their own pain and the pain of the other party, and understand how the problem has caused both to suffer, the mediator may ask the parties if they would like to change the direction of the conflict, if they would like to turn the situation from continued deterioration to building trust.

Building trust involves constructing a new story of working together, of participation and engagement in the process of trying to discover a resolution.

I think this process changes people.  We may not see the changes that take place because parties are with us for so short a period of time.  Also, people change in small increments.  I believe that through participating in the process of mediation and through the mediators narrative approach, people move through their lives changed for the better. 

This narrative mediation approach is just one perspective that enables mediators to work effectively with people in conflict.

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article: The Power of Apology

by Michele Gousie Geremia, BSW, MS, SPHR

 I have stolen
the jelly doughnuts
that were in
the teachers’ lounge

And which
you were probably
for teachers

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so gloppy

Too bad
the powdered sugar
spilled all over my shirt
and gave me away            

by Thomas

(from a children’s book of poems of apology and forgiveness entitled This is Just to Say, by Joyce Sidman.)

On the website of “The Responsibility Project by Liberty Mutual,” someone wrote  about an incident that happened when he was in college, how he responded with cruelty and how his letter of apology went unanswered.  As he states, “for 20 years afterward the memory occupied the number one spot of my hit parade of shame.” 

We hate to have to say we are sorry.  It’s painful.  Often we feel that it puts us down, It feels as if it reduces our power.  It’s so much easier for us to feel righteous indignation. 

Yet, apologizing is one of the most powerful tools we have available to deal with conflict in our lives, followed closely on its heels by forgiveness.

Conflict is inevitable.  It is a part of our everyday lives.  During the course of our days, we have lots of stories going on in our heads.  These stories may be about who we are as compared to others, what we have as compared to others and what we want that other people get in the way of.  All of this leads to conflict. 

As therapists know, conflict that is not dealt with productively has many negative consequences.  Among them are anxiety, depression, frustration, inability to concentrate, increased illness, increased stress, and loss of sleep.  With this depressing list, we can see how important it is to deal with the conflict that arises on a daily basis. 

Where, then, does apology come in to play?  Sooner or later, in the throes of conflict, we will all say or do something that offends or hurts another person.  Whether or not the harm we cause is intentional, we will need to do something to repair the relationship.  If we try to negotiate with someone who is hurt or angry, their feelings (and ours) will get in the way and derail the negotiation.  It becomes difficult to get the relationship back on track because our feelings interfere with rational judgment.  The hurting must be resolved before any positive conversation can be had. 

In The One Minute Apology: A Powerful Way to Make Things Better, Ken Blanchard and Margret McBride point out that saying we are sorry should be the result of some analysis and introspection on the part of the offender.  Asking such questions as “What mistakes did I make?” “Why did I do this?” “Was it a result of my fear, anger, or frustration?” “What is the truth I am not dealing with?”  will help us to focus on changing ourselves.  In the college incident on the website, the person states, “When I sat down to compose the letter…I was able to remember my insecurity of the time, surrounded by overachievers, unsure of my worth… and I lashed out.”

The good  news is that when we acknowledge where we have fallen short, take responsibility for it, show that we have a sense of guilt and are truly sorry, and repair the damage to the best of our ability, we open a door to greater power in our lives and reduced stress in our lives.  We become a bigger person. 


We are mediating a divorce. The parties have dug in their heels.  It looks a lot like an impasse.  All of a sudden, one of the parties offers an apology  and everything changes.  It is true that mediation is about reaching agreement. And it’s about more than that. It’s about recreating the relationship between the parties –restoring a good relationship that previously existed, helping people to create a better future, letting go of anger. 

Many people who come to mediation are not looking for compensation in the form of money.  Their number one need is to hear an apology.  In divorce mediation, where the parties often have a long history of anger and non-cooperation, an apology can be the determining factor in whether the parties create a good parenting plan and reach agreement on dividing their assets.

As mediators, our job is to meet the parties where they are and lead them gently to where they can begin to once again experience the best that they are. 

Apology plays an important role in that.

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About this blog

At Mouthpeace Mediation LLC, we do divorce and family mediation.  We know that divorce is very difficult.  We can help to make the process easier.  We help separating couples to communicate more effectively, divide their assets and debts, and, if they have children, develop a powerful parenting plan, reach agreement on child support and discuss spousal support.

Our main focus, at all times, is the children.  As much as we adults suffer when we separate or divorce, the impact on children is far worse.  We, as parents, can change that.  By creating a good and balanced parenting agreement, we can help our children (and ourselves) to move forward in a healthy way with support from the people who love them most. 

Just a note about myself:  I am a mediator.  I am also a divorced parent.  I have been through the experience of divorce and wish I had known that there was an alternative.  I wish I had known about mediation! 

I will use this blog to post articles; mostly articles I write about separation, divorce, children, parenting, in the context of mediation.  I think mediation is, by far, the most effective and peaceful way to approach separation and divorce.  I hope the conversation generated here will help you to reach the same conclusion:  that there is a much more effective way to divorce than using litigation.

Please share your experiences and thoughts.  Together, we can make the divorce experience a better one for both the divorcing parents and their children.

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