My work representing divorcing clients started in 1984. By 1988 I added an important tool, attorney/psychologist team mediation. The intensity, creativity and transformative power of mediation fed my soul. The stress of family law litigation and mediation also gifted me a lifelong membership in the insomniac club. Now in the age of Trump, Brianna Taylor and Covid 19, I depend on podcasts to sing me to sleep and back again when I wake up at midnight, 2am, 4am, 5am…
The other night I started listening to The Ezra Klein Show podcast, while waiting for my sheep to jump me into dreamland. “The transformative power of restorative justice” lulled me to sleep while beautifully addressing and connecting many lessons learned in my 37 years working with divorcing couples helping them find peace and justice in and out of family court.
In this blog post I want to share insights from the podcast with you the reader who is considering investing in making your divorce into a transformative experience using Integrative Mediation (IM). Divorcing is a traumatic transition, a rupture, death of a dream. Divorcing families experience grief, stress, and overtaxed resources as they create two households from one. Using IM, divorce can also bring freedom, profound self-knowledge, maturity, wisdom. When you are divorcing you pay a high emotional (and often financial) cost for the lessons, why not get your money’s worth? You will experience a trauma, why not demand transformation as well? There will be unavoidable pain, why not resolve the damn thing in a way that won’t cause you unnecessary pain? IM is for people who know that the only way to get to the other side of something unpleasant is to go through it. Working with my clients during my career, I often referred to myself as their tour guide through hell.
The overlap with Restorative Justice is that the family law litigation system, like the criminal law system, answers questions that may not be the right questions for you. As Ezra’s podcast points out, our current criminal law system asks 3 questions: Was a law broken? Who broke it? What should the punishment be? Restorative justice asks: Who was harmed? What do they need? Who is obligated to meet those needs? Our criminal law system ignores the needs of the person who was harmed, traumatizes them further through the trial process, and uses enormous societal resources needed for environmental restoration, health, education, housing and other priorities. We seek justice/healing and what we get in the criminal law often leaves an open wound.
Our current family law system asks 3 questions: How do we divide your community property 50/50? How do we divide your joint earnings to provide a temporary support safety net? How can we coerce you into meeting the basic superficial needs of your kids? Integrative Mediation asks: What do you and your kids want and need to be safe, healthy and happy? How do you want to allocate your time and resources to best meet your needs and desires? Are there creative solutions that will help you make a bigger pie while you figure out how to divide that pie? In the USA the family law system ignores the needs of the parties if the needs are not easily represented in financial terms, forces parties to appear in court during one of the worst times in their lives, punishes them for being reactive and volatile when they are under great stress, and forces them to make life altering decisions while in the midst of a fight/ flight/ freeze stress response. Families seek justice/healing and continue litigating for years, neither party feeling that justice has been served, both parties sharing an open emotional and financial wound.
Restorative Justice allows survivors of crime to process the harm they have experienced in a way that meets their needs. Often they want to know the answer to a simple question: “why did you do this to me?” They also want to know “what can I do to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else?” The perpetrator of a crime is encouraged to see the harm caused, address it and make amends, often finding that making amends / restitution is harder than spending time in jail. Restorative justice is facilitated at a fraction of the cost of litigation and brings lasting healing and transformation to the community.
Integrative Mediation, by addressing the whole person, the whole family, the financial, psychological and legal needs of the family, brings lasting and profound healing. A divorce that does not address the whole person can bring the family back to court year after year, bankrupting the entire family, seeking a feeling of resolution that simply cannot be achieved through the litigation model.
I encourage you to listen to The Ezra Klein Show, episode 337, June 17, 2020 “The transformative power of restorative justice” to hear how a victim of child sexual abuse was discouraged from seeking justice by the criminal law system, found healing in restorative justice, and has become a major proponent of this new model for transforming our system. It will help you think about your divorce and the transformation you want to see in your life and the world around you.