In my role as mediator one of the questions I am asked most often by parents, community groups, and interested parties is if an agreement reached at Family Dispute Resolution is legally binding and enforceable through the family court. This is a question I often grapple with answering as in other jurisdictions it is, but in family … do you really want your treasured child to be collected by the police and brought to your home in order to have your parenting order enforced, even if it could be?
My usual response is to ask, “why is it important to you that you have an enforceable order?” and explore this with the person. To look behind the question and to hear the worry – or as we say in the mediation world – look at the persons interests behind the issues. But recently I have had cause to think more about this and I wonder if the reason people are looking for an enforceable order is because they cannot face the risk of yet another change.
When separation occurs, a person’s life is thrown into unrelenting change and much of it catches them by surprise and is out of their control. Housing, parenting, money, friendships, holidays, pets ... the list is endless. To see an end in sight through reaching an agreement at mediation is like finally drawing breath, a chance to rise above the chaos and have a plan in place to move forward. The thought that your ex could change their mind after six months and pull the rug out from under you again is far too much to bear.
The challenge is how do we manage change when it happens, as it is inevitable. Children’s needs change as they grow up, and so do the needs of the parents.
My thought is that the key thing we can do as mediators is assist parents to see that there is way to work together as parents again – they may not be compatible as a “couple” but they can function as “co-parents”. Building this platform of trust takes time and requires more than we can do in the short snippet of time we are involved in a family. It means embracing the korowai of family justice services that is based on an empowerment model. Allowing people to recognize and take hold of what is in their control – for example, making the most of the time they have with their children, rather than re-living the loss that they feel when their children are with the other parent, building new family memories instead of grieving over what no longer exists, looking for opportunities to be grateful for the love of friends rather than feeling hate towards someone who has hurt and disappointed you.
Everyday we are faced with the challenge to change – even if we have not gone through a family separation. From small decisions as to whether to assist someone in need, adjust our attitudes or take a chance on a romance.
One day our children will leave home, our loved ones will pass away – change lurks in every corner. Mediation is a big event and can result in a change in direction for your family, but it can be a whole new springboard on how you can co-parent and make decisions. It’s not the end – it is actually just the beginning of the new working relationship.
I leave you with this quote from Rainer Maria Rilke -
“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”