I recently listened to an emotional voicemail from a former divorce mediation client, Jenny. She said that her 11 year old daughter, Courtney, was crying hysterically over her dad’s break-up with yet another girlfriend. Jenny wanted to know if a post-divorce mediation session would be beneficial, so we scheduled an appointment. Before I tell you the outcome, I’ll give you a little background.
Jenny and Jon had been divorced for two years. When I helped them negotiate the terms of their divorce, they were respectful to each other (for the most part), and extremely cooperative with each other about co-parenting their daughter. The terms of the custody, visitation, child support, and other expenses were hashed out in my office, and were made a part of their Mediated Settlement Agreement and subsequent Divorce Decree. At the time, I was impressed with their ability to put Courtney’s well-being ahead of any of the issues that brought an end to the marriage. There wasn’t even a red flag when I brought up the issue of future dating.
Future dating when kids are involved can become a hot-button, so I like to ask a few questions during the divorce mediation process in order to help my clients come to an agreement about the complicated path of dating. Depending on the circumstances, we sometimes discuss sex, cohabitation, and even social media. But in the case of Jenny and Jon, we limited the conversation to reaching a consensus about when to introduce new relationships to Courtney. And although they didn’t want to make it a formal provision of their written Mediated Settlement Agreement, they were completely on the same page about waiting to introduce Courtney to a new significant person until each was reasonably certain that it was going to be a committed relationship. Evidently, according to Jenny, her ex seemed to think two dates with the same person constituted a committed relationship, and allowed their daughter to bond with pretty much every woman Jon dated.
So here’s what happened when Jenny and Jon came back to my office. Since they were already familiar with the mediation process, we were able to get right down to the business of establishing ground rules for dating. Jenny described to Jon the heartbreak of their daughter each time Jon broke up with a girlfriend. He was clearly unaware of the impact his dating life was having on his daughter and instead of being defensive, he was happily open to establishing new ground rules for future dating. They discussed and agreed upon three rules:
(1) To take their time before introducing anybody new to Courtney. Although they opted to leave the timeline unspecific, they talked about two to three months of being exclusive with another person before considering an introduction to their daughter.
(2) Since their co-parenting schedule was fairly equal, Jenny and Jon agreed to limit dating to the times when their daughter was with the other parent.
(3) In order to ease Courtney into the concept of either parent entering into a new relationship, they agreed to use the word “friend” in their characterizations. They were especially in agreement to be conscious of Courtney listening to their telephone conversations with others during this “waiting” time.
At the end of the mediation session, I wrote up a simple, one-page Amendment to their Mediated Settlement Agreement, and it became a binding, legal contract. The time spent was minimal, but the results achieved were significant. Another potential co-parenting hurdle avoided by a brief session with a neutral Mediator!
If this scenario resonates with you, and a session with a Mediator looks like a feasible approach, please give me a call. I always offer an initial 30 minute consultation at no charge.