I wonder if they know that I watch them? Not weirdly or creepily, but I observe my mediation clients once they leave my office. My window has a great view of the parking area, and I can’t help but watch. How a couple leaves tells me so much more than they realize.
Some couples walk straight to their cars, no eye contact, no words spoken. Other couples use their meeting with us as an opportunity to exchange personal items. Sometimes it is just a box; other times, it is a filled SUV with sentimental material possessions. The economics of divorce is complicated – many couples arrive together in the same car because they are both still residing in the marital home. And then some clients hang out in the parking lot for a while. They stand by their cars and talk. Sometimes they even laugh and hug each other. Every once in a while, they even leave together to grab dinner or go shopping for Christmas presents for the kids.
This glimpse through the window reminds me daily why I do what I do and how much I appreciate and respect the people who walk through our door. It takes courage to choose mediation. It requires individuals to come to the table, be transparent and honest, and work through some tough stuff to find an agreement that works for them and their families. They mostly communicate directly with one another and not through their attorneys. They sit together in one of our offices or at our conference table and talk about holidays, extra-curricular activities, retirement accounts, and family businesses. They work through the painful task of creating two households from one, of re-structuring their family in a way that honors their marriage and creates a path forward.
Mediation allows a couple to maintain control of their separation. No one – not judges, not attorneys, not even mediators – knows what is best for a family better than they do themselves. When two people sit down with a trained neutral to create their agreement, it enables and empowers them to think outside of the box and create an agreement that is unique as they are. When they leave and are in the parking lot, I see them make strides forward toward a new normal. I see them make progress – even if it is just a quick goodbye instead of silently leaving. Mediation doesn’t necessarily make divorce easier, but maybe it makes it a little less difficult. At least that’s what it looks like from my window.