For those familiar with Jewish concept of Shalom Bayit, the title of this article seems like an oxymoron -like a Peacekeeper Missile. Shalom Bayit, literally "peace in the home," is the Jewish imperative to maintain a respectful and harmonious household. Shalom Bayit is considered so important, that some religious rules may be circumvented if it will help to maintain a peaceful relationship between husband and wife. If Jewish tradition allows such leeway to prevent divorce, then the concepts of Shalom Bayit and divorce would seem to be mutually exclusive. That is not necessarily the case, however, as the values of Shalom Bayit may be applied to the manner in which a husband and wife, who for whatever reason have decided their marriage can not be saved, make their way through the divorce process.
When looking at the core principles of Shalom Bayit, the consistent theme is to maintain respect between the husband and wife so that they can create a harmonious family unit. In today's society, when about half of all marriages end in divorce, the family unit looks very different than it did when these doctrines developed. Perhaps it is time to revisit this paradigm, and see what elements can be used in the divorce process in order to maintain a harmonious family unit that no longer has both parents living under the same roof. When looking at the many ways a couple can go through the divorce process today, one method, mediation, most closely embodies the Shalom Bayit principles of mutual respect and dignity that can be carried through the divorce process.
Though mediation may occur at any time during the divorce process, it has its greatest impact at the beginning, when the couple has made the determination that they no longer wish live together as a couple and before they get embroiled in litigation that damages an already fragile relationship. If the parties can commit to treating each other respectfully and (when minor children are involved) to putting their children's needs ahead of their own hurt, anger, or desire for retribution, a trained mediator can guide them through a respectful dialogue in which they can work out the financial, logistic, legal, and even emotional aspects of their divorce peacefully.
In mediation, a trained professional mediator, who is neutral and impartial, facilitates a discussion between the parties in which they identify the issues they must resolve in their divorce. Issues like where the children will spend holidays or how best to divide the assets and debts are dealt with one by one. Unlike a judge or arbitrator who imposes a solution on the couple, a mediator helps the parties reach their own solutions through discussion and brainstorming until they have crafted their own agreement.
In addition to the obvious benefits like privacy and saving time and money, there is a less tangible but very important benefit for couples that mediate their divorces early. The parties learn how to deal with each other in a dignified and respectful manner, no matter what grievances they amassed during the marriage. A good mediator will effectively become a trainer, as well as a negotiator, by showing the parties more respectful ways to deal with each other. This is particularly critical when minor children are involved and the parties will have to continue to deal with each other for many years after the divorce is over. Effectively, they learn Shalom Bayit principles that carry over into their post divorce relationship thus allowing for a more harmonious family even though they now live in separate homes.
Couples that mediate their divorces return to court less often for post divorce issues like enforcement and modifications. There are two main reasons for this. First, they "own" their original divorce agreement as they crafted it themselves and are more likely to abide by it. Second, the mediation process itself, with the mediator as a negotiation coach, has taught them how to resolve their own differences in a respectful and dignified manner minimizing the need to run to the court to referee disputes. Both explanations embody Shalom Bayit principles.
Mediation applies the same philosophy of mutual respect and dignity to provide a peaceful divorce process that the Shalom Bayit doctrine provides to maintain a peaceful home. Though rooted in Jewish tradition, Shalom Bayit principles are universal and, when applied through mediation, can help any divorcing couple live more harmoniously after their divorce.