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Nancy Fagan Headshot

Mediators are the Nurses of the Divorce World

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A few years ago I found myself in a sort of professional Ménage à trois with Dick, a divorce attorney and his client, Deborah, a soon-to-be divorcée. I was her divorce planner as well as the one who referred her to Dick. The relationship was anything but sexy. It did, however, teach me how important it is for people entering into divorce to be aware of what kind of emotional expectations they have for the divorce professional they will be working with.

As I quickly discovered, Dick was not interested in Deborah's fragile emotional needs or the handholding she expected from him. Dick was a logical attorney who preferred quick, and to-the-point interactions with the clients he represented.

During their first meeting, her free-flowing tears were met with a stern lecture, "This is a no tissue zone. I am here to help you get divorced, not play therapist."

When Deborah left Dick's office, she called me to report that he was "insensitive, inpatient and rude."

Dick's phone call followed on the heels of Deborah's. He was angry and had no patience for her useless time-zapping talk about her lying, cheating husband. He suggested that the three of us talk to find a way for them to work together more efficiently (translation -- make her emotions go away).

The call was disastrous. It was filled with accusations, insults and more emotion than any of use needed. I came up with a solution to solve their mismatched styles -- terminate their attorney-client arrangement. The second solution -- Deborah was to find an attorney who could meet her emotional needs.

Traits and Individual Preferences

Jennifer Segura, my head divorce mediator walked in my office right as I finished the "relationship mending" phone call with Dick and Deborah. As I shared the unusual experience, she was quick to give me her insightful thoughts. "You know what I've come to realize? Mediators are like the nurses of the divorce world. Mediators are to attorneys what nurses are to doctors."

Jennifer had obviously given this quite a bit of thought. "In the medical world, the nurses are the ones who do the 'dirty work.' They are the individuals with the bedside manner who sit and talk to the patients, get to know them, hold their hands, etc. The doctors come in, do the job and get out."

She continued with the contrasting traits a mediator offers, "In comes the mediator. In the legal world the mediators sit in the same room with both upset clients. We listen to their story. We let them cry. We let them yell. They call us at 9:00 pm on a Friday night looking for someone to talk to. We support them. We are their shoulder to cry on. We have the husband on one shoulder and wife on the other."

Comparing this to family law attorneys, she pointed out something that explained how divorces can turn ugly, even between amicable spouses, "Many attorneys are trained to get what is in the best interest of their client as opposed to how mediator's work -- working with both spouses to find a solution that works best for both parties." Jennifer explained that people need to understand that when they hire an attorney, they don't get the support that most divorcing couples need. "Sure, some attorneys share the traits of mediators, but many don't."

It made perfect sense. Mediators are trained to decrease conflict and lawyers are trained to fight. Mediators are compassionate, result-oriented, and sensitive. These traits allow them to have the patience and resources to work through difficult negotiations between emotionally charged couples sitting face-to-face.

She was not saying that mediators are better than lawyers. She was only saying they are different. "I respect the attorneys for being able to get in and get out. It is a craft and it is necessary, just as doctors are necessary. But, for myself, it is not fulfilling, which is why I am a mediator and not a litigator. And I guess...why I would choose to be a nurse above being a doctor. I like connecting with people."

The Takeaway

Jennifer opened her phone and played a message from one of our customer (a registered nurse) who summed up how important it is to have the right people on your side when you divorce, "Jen, Thank you for staying on the phone with me and listening to me vent about my soon-to-be ex. My lawyer wouldn't have done that! You truly are the 'nurse' of the legal system, going above and beyond for your 'patient.' I never expected to hear from you over the weekend! I can't begin to tell you how much that means to me. Thank you again for your time."