sopranosIn Hawaii, a Molokai couple won a $3.9 million verdict against their Homeowners’ Association (HOA) and individual defendants when the Maui jury found that they had been subjected to bullying, threats, harassment and intimidation from their own HOA Board members and others in the complex.  Jim and Nancy Bevill were subjected to what their lawyer, Terry Revere, called a “campaign of intimidation” that spanned over 6 years and went as far as killing pets, vandalizing cars, death threats and constant intimidation at the Ke Nani Kai Condominiums in Maunaloa.  Revere compared the Bevills’ experience to the equivalent of a John Ford western, where an isolated town is run by a villain and his collection of thugs.  More details are here: http://aiminst.com/maui.

A nightmare, to be sure, the case lasted for 4 years – the trial alone spanning 8 weeks – and included an estimated $1.5 million in combined attorneys’ fees, with claims ranging from negligence to federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act violations.  The Bevills’ complaint says that the board members treated the complex like their own “personal fiefdom”, using the resident manager and handyman as the “thugs” to enforce their rule, with the latter having a criminal record and claiming ties to organized crime.

The Bevills, who relocated to Hawaii from California in 2004, were awarded damages including $500,000 in general damages and over $3 million in punitive damages against the HOA Board and Association (generally not covered by insurance), as well as by three individual board members, the former resident manager, and the handyman.

It seems that the trouble all began when the Bevills brought in an independent handyman to complete renovations to their unit, over the objections and pressure of board members, who seemed to trade protection with the handyman. When the Board’s intimidation was unsuccessful, the Bevills soon found themselves at odds with the board, labeled as “troublemakers” and the target of escalated harassment, which included the handyman making lude gestures with his genitalia toward Mrs. Bevill when she was home alone.

Former 2nd Circuit Judge Joel August, who heard some of the case’s early portions, said that the outcome should serve as a strong example of why condo associations should resolve their disputes early and avoid protracted legal action, when possible.  Apparently, Bevill made an offer to settle prior to trial for less than 10% of the eventual verdict, but the offer was rebuffed by the defense.  “This case,” said August, “if nothing else, should be the poster child for the idea that alternative dispute resolution is the way to go.”  He said that resolving this dispute through mediation or even arbitration would have been a “much smarter” choice.

California law has Civil Code Section 919 requiring homeowner certain disputes in associations to be mediated prior to filing any kind of administrative or legal action.  Perhaps if Hawaii had such a law, this situation could have been resolved much earlier and ended much better.

While mediation doesn’t always resolve all of the conflict between people, it does offer those in conflict the opportunity to sit down with a neutral person to facilitate the dialogue and keep it positive and results oriented. For more on mediation, please check out Stories Mediators Tell [http://aiminst.com/stories].

Looking at the Ke Nani Kai HOA conflict, there was an opportunity for the Bevills to request mediation with the offending board members and contractor.  Had mediation occurred early on, especially had it been required under the CC&R’s, things may have been manageable before they got out of control.

Once the lawsuit was filed, August said that both he and another judge tried to assist the parties in settlement discussions, but such attempts were unsuccessful.  This is not surprising, given that the early resolution of conflicts brings the parties together to have discussions before emotions escalate as fully as they did in this conflict.  The later the resolution attempt, the more difficult it is to get parties to see eye to eye and work together toward a resolution. As this case progressed, huge amounts of legal fees were expended, and the entire complex had divided down the middle.  Once a case has become this volatile, attempts at resolution require an extraordinary amount of de-escalation before resolution can be attained.

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Protests (AP image)The uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and elsewhere, are they similar to the uprising in the United States 250 years ago?  Perhaps, but we did it when people penned letters to each other and there were no 24-hour news networks with microphones, bright lights and pundits pressuring day after day for “what will happen next!!”  The Declaration of Independence took 17 days to write and just over a year for us to agree upon.  A year.  Then it took 11 years for us to adopt a brand new constitution.  Here we are almost 250 years after that spark and we’re still fighting, polarized with 180 degree different perspectives on life and how it should be lived.  How can we expect those nations to figure out their direction any sooner?  And yet, with the intense scrutiny of the media in this information age, how can they have the time to think through it thoughtfully and get the same buy-in that took us 11 years to accomplish?

Simply because people have a common enemy, doesn’t mean that they agree on anything else.

Breathe, people. Breathe. Give them time to find themselves.  They won’t achieve clarity or consensus any faster than your teen-aged child will figure out the rest of their life. How could they possibly?!

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SCMA LogoThis year’s 22nd Annual Southern California Mediation Association (SCMA) Conference had an emotional start to the day.  The morning began with a Moment of Silence for our dear departed friend Richard Millen that included his son Jeff saying a few words on his behalf, followed by the awarding of the new SCMA-sponsored Richard Millen scholarship at the Western Justice Center in Pasadena, where the bright and promising recipient used his acceptance speech to quote some of Richard’s articles.  It was odd hearing the words of our 89 year old Zen guru mediator being channeled through the voice of a young man in his early 20’s, and with almost equal passion.

As if that wasn’t enough, Laurel Kaufer spoke next about this year’s Cloke-Millen Peacemaker of the Year award recipients – the women who carry life sentences in Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, California, who wrote to Laurel and asked her to come and teach them conflict resolution and peacemaking skills, just as Laurel had done in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina with the residents on the ground there.  We all watched tearful women talk about being murders, with life sentences, and learning for the first time in their lives to listen deeply, reflect back, ask open-ended questions, and how to create peace.  Chilling.

It was no wonder to me that when they awarded me the L. Randolph Lowry Award for education and learning in the field, and I began to talk about what it meant to me, especially being named for my friend, mentor and partner in traveling-the-country-teaching-mediation-and-negotiation, Randy Lowry.  To give you a clearer picture, Randy and I have taught side-by-side, from the gorgeous Pepperdine Law School in Malibu, to  to a group of franchisees San Francisco, a law firm in Chicago, a legal department in Cincinnati, nurses at a huge Dallas Hospital,  for a university in Jackson, Mississippi and Hilton Head, South Carolina, at Randy’s new home at Lipscomb University in Nashville, and to insurance adjusters in 15 states over 18 months.  We have sat side by side telling stories in the airport at 1am as our flight is delayed, knowing we’ll be up teaching at 8am.  We have been through a lot together.  He was there for me when my father passed away five years ago, and he and Rhonda have had me to their home, here in L.A. and also after they moved to Nashville.  Randy trusted me to mentor his son, when John entered the training and consulting business with us.  And Randy was the one who believed in me, that as a non-attorney mediator, I had something to teach to lawyers and judges at Pepperdine Law School and for the California Center for Judicial Education and Research.  He named me Director of Pepperdine’s Mediating the Litigated Case program, a position I held for 7 years, until he had left the University.

So, nobody blamed me when I choked up while accepting the award.  It was the proudest moment of my professional life (so far).

In order to save repeating what others have already done today, I’m going to point you to two very kind and thoughtful summaries of what yesterday’s conference meant to these folks:

Jan Schau’s Mediation Insights:   The Wisdom of My Mentors

Joe Markowitz’s Mediation’s Place:  The Funnel

There is also some thoughtful commentary here from Joe on attorney, judge and non-attorney mediators and what each brings to the table (and a candid assessment on what they don’t).

A final thought, for mediators, attending conferences and training courses is important – not just for what you learn, but for the opportunity to share the experience with other colleagues.  As I said in my keynote yesterday, our profession is an individual one where we are all, as my freind Alex Williams like to say, in our own foxhole fighting our own battle.  Coming to conferences and training courses refreshes us, keeps us tuned up with new tools and refreshing old ones, and keeps us in touch with those around us who share the burden of sitting between two or more people who are in an intractable fight, and thinking that we can do something to help them.  It can be lonely work.  I find it’s always good to get together with friends and colleagues who are doing this work, and share our stories, our challenges, and our learnings.  Just food for thought…

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Obama Supports 'Gound Zero Mosque'Candidate Obama was sharply criticized for not having a plan for the economy or for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He defended by saying that the President’s job is to listen to all positions before acting, and that he hadn’t had the chance to do that yet.  It was the single most threatening concern about his candidacy in the Democratic primaries, and in the Presidential election.

Unfortunately, Candidate Obama’s wide-eyed, idealistic optimism has given way to Politician Obama’s having to decide for the media whether he supports or opposes issues such as the plan to build a Muslim Mosque near Ground Zero.  See Obama backs ‘Ground Zero’ mosque.

The President’s job is not to decide whether he supports or opposes a project such as this.  His job is to lead by making certain that there is a healthy dialogue going on.  The pressure on President Obama from politicians and the media, who are all accustomed to dealing in a world of positions, has caused him to do the worst thing he can do as a leader:  take a position on the issues that Americans care about.  The astute politician, and the masterful leader, know how to advance the dialogue without taking a side, and understand that as soon as they take a side, they have alienated all of the people who believe strongly in the other side.

What is needed here is more than a Beer Summit, but it is not as far off as most people would think.

Recently, I brought together two Arizona legislators to hold a mediated dialogue on the immigration issue facing America.  We calmly discussed each group’s underlying interests, goals and values and found that they surprisingly agreed on most of the issues.

This kind of dialogue, however, only tends to occur when a professional facilitator is managing the discussion, when the stakeholders are all present or represented, and when the discussion turns away from positions (black or white, thumbs up or thumbs down) to each group hearing the other – not unlike the President did when he held the Beer Garden Photo Op.  In that discussion, and in that setting, it was a different discussion than the two men had ever had.  That was the same response that I had from the two legislators, who each told me that they had learned more and had a better discussion in the two hours on a stage with me than they had been able to have in sum to that point.

What this issue needs is a real dialogue, facilitated (mediated) by a professional who is expert at managing the emotions, the values and the discussion between representatives of the two groups.  Give me Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and some of his leaders, along with some of the most vocal opponents, preferably from families of those who died in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, and I will guarantee you a dialogue where each walks away having heard the other and having had their eyes opened to things that they had not realized before this discussion.  Televise it, put it on the internet, and broadcast it over the radio, and we will educate hundreds of thousands with one discussion.

This is what we do – those of us who resolve conflict.  Mediators do it every day in legal battles, Ombudspeople do it in the workplace environment and conflict coaches do it with individuals who are in conflict.  My personal passion is to do it in situations such as this.

It is time for President Obama to begin delegating the facilitation of issues such as this to those of us who do it professionally, and return to running the county, focusing on the wars, the economy and jobs,  and the spill that endangers the Gulf Coast.

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Amam Feisal  Abdul Rauf by Tom A. Peter / The Christian Science Monitor / Getty ImagesRadio talk show host Michael Medved got it right when he urged President Obama to “welcome conversation to replace confrontation” in the debate about plans to build a mosque in lower Manhattan near ground zero (the Park51 project).

“If leaders on all sides managed to address the dispute in a broader perspective, it ought to become obvious that Americans actually agree on both of the key issues in the debate,” Medved wrote in “Time for a Mosque Beer Summit?

Issue one:  Muslims have the right to harassment-free worship.  Issue two:  The proposed location is a lightening rod for America’s concern or fear surround Muslims.  Medved asks, “What prevents the various parties to this battle from cutting through the multiple misrepresentations and misunderstandings to reach a meeting of the minds that would benefit everyone?”

That’s a good question, particularly since government officials including the likes of New York Gov. David Paterson has offered to help find a less controversial location for the mosque.

Sometimes a solution that seems so simple to third parties doesn’t even address the heart of a conflict.  Many Americans are still angry about Sept. 11, 2001.  Muslims don’t feel welcome in much of America, and holding on to one address in New York may be largely symbolic of their greater battle to win acceptance in this country.  If any situation could use a good mediator, this is it.

When two sides become as entrenched as those we see here, they need to talk in a neutral setting with an accomplished mediator who has the capacity to recognize the emotions behind the conflict, to ensure that each party listens to and acknowledges his opponent’s position, then to help them move beyond to a workable solution.  We call this a “win-win,” when both parties end up with what they essentially wanted in the first place.

It’s hard to get there, though, when people keep shouting at one another, clinging to their rights and refusing to come to the table where a meeting of the minds can occur.

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Am I the only one who is tired of political rhetoric?  Am I the only one tired of turning on the TV and radio only to hear Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olberman, Bill O’Reilly, Randi Rhodes, Glenn Beck and Rachel Maddow earning big bucks for doing nothing more than repeating sound bites, talking points and arguing extreme perspectives on every issue?  How did we get to the point where political debates were so politically correct that our leaders are afraid to say anything that their base might disagree?  How did “We the people” allow our politicians to become puppets to special interest groups and lobbyists with the largest budgets?

It really is time for a change.  In a time where more mediators are running for office, bringing with them the skills that conflict resolvers use, and where for a recent judge seat in Los Angeles County, four mediators were among those running, I think the change is more one of process than of ideals.  While most will agree that President Obama has certainly been a change from his preceding President Bush, many would also say that policy change has not solved the problems we face.  What is needed instead is process change.  Until we change the way we do leadership, in government, big business and in every organization, whether a massive homeowner’s association or a small non-profit board, we will continue to face the same frustrations, the same failures, the same disenfranchising, and the same power struggles.

John KavanaghKyrsten SinemaThis is why I decided to hold our Immigration Dialogue 2010 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles on July 23rd.  Sponsored by the American Institute of Mediation, this will be a discussion of a different kind.  Rather than hosting a debate, where each side slings sound bites and talking points at the other, and the result is that each audience member becomes even more galvanized behind the position they carried with them into the debate hall, we are putting on a facilitated dialogue, essentially a mediation, featuring Arizona Representatives John Kavanagh (R) and Kyrsten Sinema (D).  We will discuss the immigration issues facing our nation, and have some discussion about Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, which is due to become law on July 28 of this year.

These two lawmakers, both intelligent and articulate, along with their constituents, have lived with these issues up close and personally in recent years.  Because of their experiences and their perspectives on the immigration issues we all face today (the fact that there are somewhere between 11 and 12 million illegal immigrants living in this country), we can delve into the underlying interests that they and their constituents hold, that are driving their positions on the solution.

In hosting this event, the American Institute of Mediation is hoping to commence a change in the way we all talk about the critical issues that face our society, and to become more collaborative and a little less competitive; to listen more and argue less; and to explain, describe and attempt to understand, rather than simply repeating sound bites and talking points.

We will attempt to find the underlying interests that they have in common, and build from there because we believe that solutions that are derived from people’s interests are generally strong and long lasting, and we hope to demonstrate this by moving this discussion in that direction using the same skills that mediators use on a daily basis.

If a mere 120-minute dialogue about immigration among stakeholder representatives could curtail protests, boycotts and protracted litigation, wouldn’t you welcome the opportunity to watch such a conversation live and in person?  We expect to fill a 300-seat neutral venue in Los Angeles with members of the public, government, law enforcement and of course the media who would witness how parties interested in the controversial immigration question might come together to have a facilitated dialogue from which every state, not just Arizona, could benefit.

We will do all that we are able to provide a safe, protest-free venue, a respectful audience, media coverage and the opportunity for our guests to speak about their issues freely and fully.

I am donating my time and resources to this project because in my 16-year career as a mediator, I have never encountered a conflict that could not benefit from a structured mediative approach when the parties so need to have their interests understood.  I believe the immigration dilemma has been minimized to sound-bites and protests and is no exception to this rule. Our guests, as thought leaders on this topic deserve to be better heard and understood by those who disagree with them, and we are able to provide that forum.

We invite you to join us for this AIM Institute Special Event. Only 200 tickets will be sold, so register now before it sells out. Advance registration is required, and parking is free.  Video highlights will be available online at the AIM Institute site following the event.

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Please join me at the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Solocon 2010 on June 18 at the Pasadena Convention Center.  I am honored to be the luncheon keynote speaker, presenting “Adaptive Negotiation for Lawyers,” strategies to became a more effective negotiator.

Most lawyers negotiate very successfully, but generally have one style that you use in all circumstances—with opposing counsel, with clients, with partners, etc.  We find that a more refined approach can benefit lawyers most by understanding the different schools of negotiation that lead to different styles and methods.  Adaptive Negotiation for Lawyers is a program that illustrates these different approaches.  In 45 short minutes you can enhance your negotiation style from one that has always worked for you before and been most comfortable—because it is most consistent with your personality and your tolerance for risk and conflict.  It calibrates your negotiation style instead to be more strategic, reacting to what the situation before you requires, and making you an immediately more effective negotiator.

LACBA Solo LogoSolocon, co-sponsored by the Bar Associations of Pasadena, Santa Clarita Valley, Century City and Glendale, focuses on how to run a small or solo practice like a business and make it thrive.  Panels include:

  • Technology for Law Firms
  • Tips for Opening & Running a Law Firm
  • Rainmaking for Smalls & Solos
  • Building Your Social Media Strategy
  • Implementing a Solo Business Plan
  • Attracting the Clients You Want
  • When Solo Practice is NOT Solo
  • Credit Cards & Compliance Issues
  • Negotiation Tips

In today’s legal environment, when lawyers are being displaced, firms are merging, imploding and evaporating, new lawyers are having trouble finding employment, and lawyers are seeking a greater quality of life, practicing solo or forming new, vibrant, lean and efficient small firms is an important option.  For these reasons, Small and Solo Bar Sections are thriving.  I can say that this conference impressed me last year, in how it was run, how cutting edge it was, and with the quality of speakers.  I can hardly wait for this year’s conference next Friday!

For more information, visit http://aiminst.com/solocon.

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Saying Goodbye to The Great Teachers

Author: Lee Jay Berman

John R. WoodenJust one week ago, members of the mediation community gathered in Los Angeles to celebrate the life of our dear friend and mentor Richard Millen (see Mediation World Loses a Patriarch).  My friend Phyllis Pollack wrote a wonderful summary of that night in her blog.

Today, we lost the great teacher and coach John R. Wooden, long time and legendary UCLA basketball coach.

I’m wondering with these teachers now gone, will we continue to follow their lessons?  I’m wondering with them now gone, the Dalai Lama turning 75 and Nelson Mandella turning 92 next month, I’m wondering who will be our next great teachers?  Who will walk the talk and live a life that embodies both greatness and goodness?

Wondering this makes me proud to have been in the company of Ken Cloke last week.  Ken was a co-founder of Mediators Beyond Borders and has published prolifically.  Ken is a great teacher who lives a life of compassion and grace.  Erica Ariel Fox is another.  She founded the Global Negotiation Insight Institute and is working on her first book.  I see many other great mediator friends doing incredible work – teaching conflict resolution skills in prisons, or to children.  Most of them are growing and preparing into our next great generation of teachers.

Sports might offer us Coach K at Duke basketball or Phil Jackson and his blend of Native American,  Zen and Christian learnings, known for giving his multi-millionaire players books on philosophy, spirituality and balance.

I don’t think we’re going to see teachers of the caliber of Richard Millen and John Wooden any time soon.  They had so much in common, not the least of which was, to quote Kareen Abdul Jabbar on Coach Wooden, “he sent a lot of good people into this world.”

Coach Wooden had said that his proudest accomplishment as a player was being named Scholar Athlete of the Year at Purdue.  Richard Millen, a humble young man from Tennessee  became a Harvard Law graduate.  The national college basketball players of the year (man and woman) receives the John R. Wooden Award; the Southern California Mediation Association’s peacemaker of the year receives the Cloke-Millen Award.  Both men were selfless – Coach Wooden was paid $32,500 in his final year at UCLA in 1975; Richard Millen also made a small fraction of those mediators who he mentored.  Coach lived by, “Success is the peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of being.”  While Richard Millen would agree, perhaps his favorite was, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say:  ‘we did it ourselves’.”

Who will lead us next?  Who will be our next great teacher?  Who will be worthy of us learning from?  Will it be you?

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Lindsay_LohanLindsay Lohan is in trouble again.  She’s in trouble with a certain judge in the Los Angeles Superior Court… again.  This time, she may have gone too far.

Lohan is stuck in Paris with an allegedly lost/stolen passport and her attorney, Shawn Chapman Holley says Lohan will not be able to appear in court Thursday morning, May 20, as ordered.  Lohan’s hearing is to determine whether the actress-singer has complied with the terms of her probation order for her 2007 conviction for driving under the influence.  See:  “Lawyer:  Lindsay Lohan will miss court date“.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Marsha Revel extended Lohan’s probation hearing from a year ago in order to allow Lohan to complete her mandated alcohol abuse education.  Upon granting Lohan the extension last October, after first issuing a warrant for Lohan’s arrest for failing to comply with the requirements of her sentence, Judge Revel warned Lohan not to “thumb your nose” at the court, saying, “This is the last time we are going to be talking about re-enrolling and doing what you need to do.”

If she fails to appear, she will have violated her parole two times:  once for the failure to appear as ordered by the court, and a second time because Lohan was to have completed her alcohol abuse education program by this date, and according to Holly, Lohan has, “been in substantial compliance” but has apparently not been perfect in her ordered attendance.

Upon being notified that Lohan was unable to fly back from the Cannes film festival in time for her hearing, the judge indicated that she expected Lohan to effort all means and expense possible in order to appear.  Lohan’s father is expected to appear to plead with the judge to send his daughter back to rehab.

This is when I wish that there was an opportunity for a mediator to intervene in the process.  If that were possible, a mediator might first sit with the judge alone and ask her if she was able to allow for the possibility that Lohan’s passport might have actually been stolen.  The mediator could ask her if she could be open minded to the possibility of Lohan’s true innocence.  And that mediator might ask her what, if anything, Lohan could do to make it better with the judge – what proof would satisfy her, or what apology would trigger her forgiveness.  The mediator could remind judge Revel about her choices and about her goals and her moral compass, and about her career and her integrity, all to make sure she is making her ultimate decision with an open mind and with a clear view of all of her important perspectives, rather than out of frustration or indignation.

Then that mediator could sit with Lohan and do the same, asking her if she realizes the gravity of what has happened and whether she can see how this looks on tabloid TV when they show her partying in Cannes and then missing her court date immediately after.  The mediator might ask her to consider how the judge would look if she were lenient with Lohan, and ask Lohan how she thought she could take responsibility for her actions in a way that would convey real remorse and contrition.  By reminding her of the choices that she has – choices about what to do and how she goes about doing it, and walking her quickly through the likely outcome of each of her choices, the mediator could assist her in focusing on her big picture life goals and help her to avoid focusing just on this hearing and this ruling and miss the forest for the trees.

Individual coaching with each side in an escalating dispute is often helpful to keep them balanced and to try to help them keep their emotions from driving their decision making.

Eventually, a mediator could bring the judge together with Lohan and Holley and let them talk.  The judge might want to make it clear to Lohan that she had violated the court’s order and that there were a range of options at the judge’s disposal, including jail time.  Lohan would likely try to explain clearly the events that led to her passport’s disappearance and to come armed with a police report about the theft and a copy of the affidavit and request filed with the U.S. Consulate in Paris, and for Lohan to genuflect deeply and sincerely and apologize for putting the court in such a position.

From there, the judge would do as she saw fit.  She could find Lohan in contempt of court and order jail time, fines, or rehab, or she could believe her story and proceed with the hearing.  But whatever she chose, she would do so having had a sincere dialogue and from a place of being informed.  And Lohan, even if ordered to prison for a week or two, would at least feel like she had her opportunity to be heard.  But making a rash decision without looking into her eyes and seeking the truth would be unwise.

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Larry King + Shawn Southwick E! entertainmentOne of this week’s most talked about legal issues is whether or not Larry King will divorce his wife Shaun Southwick.  See “Larry King Divorce ‘Full Steam Ahead”.  Last week the media speculated about the state of Tiger and Elin Woods’ marriage.  The week before it was all about Sandra Bullock and Jesse James, and the week before that Charlie Sheen and Brooke Mueller.  Next week another couple with a marriage in crisis will take the spotlight amid accusations of cheating, disclosures of prenuptial agreements, divisions of millions in assets and child-custody battles.  Like many failed marriages, however, when the focus goes away the discussion about those matters will remain toxic.

Every day, famous and unknown families are torn apart by divorce.  Here’s a story that didn’t make headlines.  While it did not have a happy ending, the couple involved are still speaking to each other and making joint decisions about their children’s care.

He was a professor, she was a surgery nurse, and their girls were three and five.  Just like most folks in their forties, they had a house, individual retirement accounts, some stocks, some love and some anger.

This couple chose co-mediation, where they met with a pair of mediators:  she was a family law attorney and he was trained in psychology.  After the mediators facilitated rational conversation and give-and-take, the couple agreed on everything from dividing their belongings and support issues to a collaborative parenting plan for the girls.  They spent less than $2000 for the entire process, and more importantly, they remain civil and friendly to each other.  And they decided the outcome.  They retained control of their own lives.

Some people still choose to get divorced the old-fashioned way – where they let their emotions overtake their logic.  They fight over everything, including things they don’t even care about.  All they really care about is hurting the other one as the conflict escalates.  This method requires lawyers and judges.  One such young couple had $30,000 in community property and no kids.  When they finished fighting, her legal bill alone was $40,000.

Couples with children who choose to fight do damage in another way, too.  Their kids are watching and learning how to engage in conflict from their parents’ example.  These kids will grow up thinking it’s normal to have parents who don’t have the skills to get along and who have to be carefully seated separately at graduations and weddings (stealing the spotlight at their kids’ events).

Some may say that a couple’s approach to divorcing depends on whether it ends by mutual agreement or by deceit and betrayal.  I submit that it’s the other way around – that the way they approach divorce depends on their choice of process.  Maybe like other contracts, there should be a marriage contract with a pre-dispute mediation clause in it, meaning, “We love each other now, let’s agree now that if anything ever goes wrong, we’ll use mediation to sort it out civilly.”

It’s a mediator’s job to keep a divorcing couple on the civil path, where it’s a lawyer’s job to advocate for their client’s interest above all others.   The only thing divorcing couples have to do – celebrities or not – is make the choice to go the more civil path, and then let their mediator help them keep it there.  They should make this decision for themselves and for their children.

Nobody knows how many celebrities use mediation to divorce, mostly because mediation is confidential, but judging by the magazine covers in the supermarket, far too few consider it.  Maybe it’s because the financial cost of the divorce isn’t as daunting to them.  Maybe it’s because they have an ulterior motive for having their names on the front pages for an entire week.  Most of the couples in the news lately, however, have small children who are going to have to live for years with the consequences of their parents’ decisions about their break-ups.  I hope at least one of them reads this post and looks into mediation.  As you read this, you may know a couple who is in need of this advice.  It could save them a lifetime’s worth of regret.

What do you think about the viability of a prenuptial mediation agreement?

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