The experience was interesting. It was quite unlike Basic Mediation Training, which left me feeling warm and fuzzy inside. My Basic Mediation class was full of social workers, therapists and managers who were looking for new ways to approach conflict. In Family Mediation Training, I was the only participant who was not an attorney. I started out feeling rather uncomfortable, to say the least.
On Day One, a woman asked our instructor, “What business does a person have practicing Family Mediation if they aren’t an attorney who specializes in family law?”
The answer was simple, “A mediator isn’t there to give legal advice. A mediator’s purpose is to facilitate discussion.”
The answer was met with shaking heads. The lawyers went on to express their confusion and disapproval…
“How can people agree to divide their assets without knowing their rights?”
“How can I help them if I can’t give them suggestions and advice?”
“I feel like these people should have to see an attorney first.”
Their mindsets were locked in Lawyer Mode and it was hard for them to embrace a concept that contradicted years of work and training. I understood where they were coming from, yet on a very personal level I was offended by their attitudes and approach to the divorce process.
Part of me wanted to scream at them, “You don’t know everything! I gave my ex a ton of what I was ‘entitled’ to, and I’ve never regretted it. Not everyone has the resources to fight it out, and not everyone cares!”
Another part of me wanted to disappear. I was a guppy in a shark tank. What would happen when they found out I wasn’t one of Them?
I got through Day One without confessing my non-lawyer status. I fit in well enough. I’ve been to family court. I could talk about the silly things exes fight about. I knew that pet custody is an issue that’s making its way into many final agreements.
At one point, a man asked me if I worked in the area. I politely told him, “No, I don’t,” and then quickly exited, stage right. (Phew! Dodged that bullet!)
Day Two was different. For one thing, the lawyers were becoming slightly more comfortable with the concepts of mediation. They relaxed, and therefore I relaxed. During a two-person role play, my partner asked if I was an attorney. I explained my “Divorce Encouragist” title to her and then went on to babble about my philosophies on shame/blame, societal pressures and the flawed mentality of so many who go through the process. To my delight, she agreed. “People forget that they used to love each other,” she said.
And from there, the overall experience improved. I ended up telling a lot of people what I do, and they responded with genuine interest. I listened and laughed about the crazy conflicts their clients brought them. I heard some of their personal divorce stories, as parents and as children. I learned about their hobbies and aspirations beyond the courtroom.
Overall, we found common ground. And that’s what mediation is all about.
Although it was uncomfortable at first, I’m glad I had the experience of spending time with so many attorneys. After all, I used to want to be one. My classmates helped me see, again, the difficult position divorcing couples put their lawyers in. As a result, my sense of purpose was reinvigorated. Legal professionals have their place in the process, but that process has room for me too. And maybe I can make their jobs a little easier.Google+