Friday, January 02, 2009

Why Isn't Mediation More Common on TV and Movies?

Happy New Year! At a recent social event, I was engaged in a conversation with a well-educated and informed individual ("Pat") who was curious about my chosen profession as a family law mediator. Pat wanted to know more about the types of clients I work with, how people find me and how I help couples in a different way than traditional attorneys do. I explained to Pat that as a neutral mediator, I do not take sides in a dispute, but instead help couples work together in what I see as a more civilized manner than what litigation often requires.

I told Pat that the family courts require couples to "meet and confer" to try to reach informal resolution at every step along the way even in a fully contested court dispute, and that the vast majority of court cases settle before trial. I also told Pat that it made more sense to me to start couples off in a less antagonistic and more collaborative way, to start working together toward informal resolution right from the start and avoid the time, expense and stress of unnecessary litigation to get to the same point that almost all divorcing couples get to at some point which is a settlement.

My logic made much sense to Pat and Pat added that it seems couples who reach their own agreements are more likely to feel satisfied with the win-win results over the more traditional win-lose results from a court battle (although I think those results are more like lose-lose for everyone, including children who are caught in the middle of such battles!)

In asking how clients find me, (which I said is through referrals from past clients and also from attorneys and from the Internet). Pat was curious to know why we don't hear or see more about mediation in the media. Pat said that every divorce portrayed in television or movies includes one side battling the other side, both armed with attorneys and neither of the disputing individuals even talking to each other; Pat and I both searched our memories for divorce mediation having a starring role in such shows. I agreed that the traditional model of battling litigants is much more prevalent despite the fact that it does not make good sense on any level. The way I see it, a couple knows their own finances and their own circumstances and history and issues relating to their own children better than anyone so why would we not want this couple to communicate directly with each other? And why would we want a stranger (the judge) to make decisions about their personal lives rather than trying to assist the couple in finding their own solutions that actually work for everyone involved?

I recognize that circumstances surrounding the end of a marriage or partnership are generally not ideal, but my goal is to help couples who have decided not to stay together to still communicate with each other productively to get through the difficulty of a divorce in a more civilized manner and to maintain control over the decisions made about their own children, retirement plans, stock options, intellectual property, real estate, support and anything else that is related to each couples' situation.

All of this means that mediation is less dramatic than a court battle that takes a year or more and tens of thousands of dollars. Although drama makes for good television and movie scripts, it does not make for peaceful resolution of issues in most couples' divorces. So that is my theory as to why we don't see mediation much on TV or in movies. Any other ideas?

1 comment:

Joe Markowitz said...

Drama depends on conflict. Stories about people sitting around a table and reasonably resolving their differences do not make for good drama. Or at least, not the kind of drama you typically see in the movies and television. On the other hand, I just saw a French movie called Summer Hours which dealt with three siblings resolving a difficult issue of disposing of their mother's house and possessions after her death in a manner that was fair and reasonable and that respected each other's viewpoints. An American version of that movie would probably at least have shown the siblings screaming at each other, and more likely, throwing things at each other. Check out my post on this same topic.