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Home scene with kids in a living area. A car pulls up and a man gets out in the driveway. The girl in the video looks stressed out as she places her headphones on. Her brother is engaged in a video game.
Carmen: What are you doing, it’s not Wednesday.
James: Kim was supposed to tell ya. I got great tickets to the Blazers game.
Carmen: You can’t just pick them up whenever you feel like it. I just made dinner.
James: Come on Kim was supposed to tell you. These are great seats. It’s just this once. The kids are going to have a really good time.
Carmen: That’s all they get with you!
James: What’s that supposed to mean?
Carmen: It means that you give them no boundaries!
Kids are hearing this conversation.
Carrmen: JJ comes home cranky because you let him stay up as late as he wants to and Kim's’ homework is never done.
James: Will you lighten up Carmen? From what the kids have been telling me you are not the best role model yourself what with all this time you’ve been spending with this Justin guy. How old is he again?
Carmen: You know what? I’ve had it. I’m through with this. I’m gonna go see a lawyer on Monday and we are taking this to court.
James: You do that!
The couple part angry. Mom returns to the house visually frustrated.
Judge Katherine Tennyson: Mediation is a system by which parents come together with a neutral third person who is trained to assist them in making decisions about what the parenting plan will be for their children. Why we use it is because we know it works.
Judge Nan G. Waller: Mediator doesn’t impose, doesn’t mandate, and gain but simply is there to assist people in coming up with an agreement if they can.
Judge Tom Ryan: And I think this is a chance to make it more user friendly to sit down with somebody across a table in a conference room rather than in the tension and the nervousness of the courtroom.
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Going through mediation helped us focus on the present instead of the past.
Also, having a third party in the room seemed to help our ability to communicate respectfully.
Mediator: I am glad you both agreed to be here today and I’d like to take a minute to explain the way mediation works so that you will get the most out of our session. Mediation is a negotiation process. It takes patience, sometimes compromise and I know that you both have a lot to say but it will work best if you will let the other person finish what they are saying even if you don’t agree and really try to just listen to each other's perspective.
James: Well, I guess I will go first. Like, I don’t get to spend enough time with my kids. Carmen has always got them on a schedule and it conflicts with my schedule. If we could just keep the schedule a little more flexible.
Carmen: (Interrupts) When he says flexible that means he gets to pick them up whenever he wants. Last time, that was right in the middle of dinner. It’s confusing for the kids. I think.
James: (Interrupts) We all know what Carmen thinks. I mean it’s always what Carmen wants but what about what the kids want?
Carmen: Listen, I’m not saying they don’t enjoy spending time with you because you don’t enforce the rules. He lets them stay up as late as they want and he doesn’t make them do their homework. It’s like he’s trying to be their friend instead of their dad.
Mediator: Remember, we are not here to decide who’s right and who’s wrong. What’s important is that each of you can hear the other person's concerns and listening doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree. How about you really try to listen to one another without interrupting and I will be sure that each of you has a chance to respond okay? Has either one of you worked on a proposal?
Carmen: I have. I think that the kids should spend the school nights with me. James can have most weekends and even more time on the holidays. Of course I want some weekend time too, but isn’t that more time than most dads get anyway?
James: But that doesn’t work for me at all. Sometimes I work the weekends and it should be equal time for both of us. I mean it’s only fair right?
Judge Katherine Tennyson: Parenting plans should be about what is good for the child.
Judge Nan G. Waller: If people can come up with a plan on their own, it has a higher chance of success leading to less fighting between parents as they try to implement it and in the end we know that is what kids need.
Dennis Morrow Ph D.: So, really in the divorce process you have two tracks through it in a number of areas, parenting plans being one of them or the default position is if you can’t make them then someone will make them for you. The problem is that somebody is a total stranger that will see you for a matter of hours at the most and then make decisions that will affect the lives of yourself and your children forever.
Mediator: Carmen and James, I heard some things in your proposal that show that you have some ideas in common as parents. It sounds like you both think that school is very important and that you both want to have a part in your children’s education as well as in their free time.
Both parents nod in agreement.
Mediator: I have a question. I am curious what each of you thinks about the importance of the other parent in the children’s lives.
Carmen: Oh, I think their dad is totally important. My dad wasn’t around much when I was growing up so I know how much the kids need him. They really love him and JJ just hangs on his dad's praise. I just wish he would put their needs before his own.
James: See. She can’t even say anything nice about me.
Mediator: James. What about you? How do you feel about the kids’ relationship with their mom?
James: Actually, Carmens a really great mom. The kids really love her. Kim talks to her everyday when they are at my house. Carmens always been a good mom til she started running around with this Justin.
Carmen: Now who can’t say anything nice?
Mediator: Sounds like you both get distracted by the conflict between you. But what I heard is that the children love and need each of you. You both know how they both want love and attention from both of you. That’s really important.
Judge Nan G Waller: Parents are the heroes in their children's’ lives. And that to pass along to a child the animosity or the anger or the fear isn’t fair to a child.
Dennis Morrow Ph D.: You don’t bad mouth the other parent ever or say negative things to them or around them, on the phone to your friends, to your mom when you are sitting around. In fact, I don’t want you mumbling when coming out of the shower and thinking about it because kids are listening all the time during this process after a divorce kids are like little radar screens they are tuned in, actually much more tuned into adults than adults are to the kids.
Judge Tom Ryan: Say something nice about the other parent. In the long run, your child will know that you did the right thing. They might not know it until they are an adult but whether they know it or not , you should know it.
Dennis Morrow Ph D.: Well, we will have parents that say “what about the other parent that is bad mouthing me?” And my response is what the kids have told us over and over is “give me one safe place to go.”
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My mom has a new boyfriend and my dad knows it. My dad squeezes stuff out of me that mom says nobody else needs to know. Dad just keeps asking more and more questions and I don’t know how to answer.
Kim: My dad’ been calling my mom all kinds of names lately and he said I was being manipulative just like my mom.
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They fight on the phone when they talk and they talk about all of these bad things that I don’t even know about.
JJ: I like Justin, even better than my dad. I miss my real dad. I don’t think mom likes it when I say so. I wish we were our family again or if we just got along. That would be good too.
Dennis Morrow Ph D.: As long as the parents are safe, it is important that the kids have a strong bond with both parents. They know they come from two parents. They know that they belong to two parents and if one of these parents aren’t there for them and lets them down or one of the parents isn’t actually available to them you get what I call a hole in the child’s self esteem. They feel like something is wrong with them because they don’t have that connection to a parent that they know they deserve.
Judge Tennison: So they don’t hear Dad’s bad or Mom’s bad. What they hear is I’m bad. And nobody wants that message to be sent to their children.
Dennis Morrow Ph D.: If safety is not an issue, What every child will tell you is they want and benefit from contact with both parents.
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I see my dad about once a month because we never get to spend time together because he has his own life. He has new kids and a wife and he has to spend time with them.
Mediator: So you’ve both obviously done some thinking about a plan for what’s best for the kids.
Carmen shakes her head yes in agreement
Mediator: How about if we start with what you already agree on?
Carmen: Well, I know that James has Saturday and Sunday off every other weekend. It only makes sense that he gets those days.
James: That sounds good to me but, I don’t want to be an every other weekend kinda dad. I want some extra time on the weekends to start off with that they maybe they could go to school after they leave my house?
Carmen: We can talk about it but I’m concerned about Kim and her homework. I don’t want her falling behind.
Mediator: Carmen do you have any ideas about how James can help Kim on the homework issue?
Carmen: I could pack a homework folder in Kim's’ backpack. James can check it when she gets to his house and I’ll do it for JJ too.
James: Okay . That sounds good. I just want to make sure that I get some extra time with them though. I want more involvement.
Carmen: Well, I’m really willing to hear with you have in mind but I don’t want the kids going back and forth too much. You know how it is with JJ and his attention problems?
Judge Tennyson: I think that when parents go into these sessions sometimes what they are doing is thinking “what schedules going to work for us, the adults?” “When and I going to be off work? When am I going to be able to do the exchange? How is that going to work for me? But really, what people should be thinking about is what is going to work for the child? Because if we asked parents to do the schedules that some parents ask their children to do, they would last about 10 minutes.
Dennis Morrow Ph D: The other thing that I always tell parents during parenting plans is that this will be a document. It’s a living document that’s going to evolve over time. They are not going to write a parenting plan in mediation or creation anywhere else that’s going to lock in for the next 20 years.
Mediator: Well, it looks like you have taken care of all the details that you felt were important. I like the way you arranged the transitions for the children and the way you got creative on the holidays. And the homework notebook, that was a good idea too.
Mediator: At this point do you want me to put your agreement in writing?
James: Well, what does that exactly do?
Mediator: Sending your agreement means you are both committed to keeping it. To make your agreement legally binding you need to take it to a judge and have it made into an order.
James: I like that idea. That way no one can go back on it.
Carmen: But what if someone does or we disagree about something later?
Mediator: Good question. But, even with a court order,the two of you will still have to communicate and work out disagreements that come up from time to time. And, when that happens, I think you can still use some of the things that you have learned here about how to communicate and negotiate in a more effective way. but, most parents who mediate tend to do much better handling disagreements later on.
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As a male, I was scared going into mediation because I assumed that the mediator would automatically agree with the mother. Instead, the mediator remained neutral and helped us see each others points of view. I’m glad that we went through mediation. We will be going back in six months.
JJ: Dad told me that him and mom worked out so they are going to take me to baseball practice on Tuesdays. It’s so cool to meet my coach and he said mom can be there too. The don’t fight like they used too.
Kim: Dad hasn’t asked me about Justin in about a month. What a relief, that was so awkward. Mom seems happier too. She actually remembered to give me 5 dollars for every A on my report card like they used to. Hey, maybe dad will remember too and I could get 10 dollars for every A instead of 5. Not too bad if you asked me.
Judge Tennyson: What you need to do is try to get the long view here. We are not just making a plan for the next ten minutes or the next year. What you are trying to do is set up a plan for how you work together with each other for the rest of your child’s life. You're going to be a parent for the rest of your child's life with this person for the rest your lives.
Dennis Morrow Ph D: I believe that we are in a new era of divorce. We have statistics that looks at 30 and 40 years in the past and what it tells us is that kids are incredibly resilient. They can come out of this okay without any help but large numbers don’t. What it also tells us is that we don’t have to tolerate that. And the solution is not the kids, and the solution is not the courts, the solution is it’s the parents being able to have responsibility and take charge for this stuff that makes me very, very hopeful.
Judge Tom Ryan: The best mind-set is to go in with open ears, an open heart and an open mind.
Judge Nan G. Waller: It isn’t about winning with mediation. It is about coming up with a plan that works and meets their family's needs, is manageable and most importantly meets their child's’ needs.
Judge Tom Ryan: Even if it does not resolve all the needs in a case, mediation is a much better process when people are open about it.
Dennis Morrow Ph D: It clearly takes some commitment on how we look at divorce. The old ways the court and the new way is let's do it through a mediator. The old way is let the judge doing the parenting plans. The new way is let’s make a parenting plan ourselves.
Judge Tennyson: Are you going to be the kind of parent that your child wants to see at graduation, at their football game and at their basketball game, at their band concert, at their wedding. It is not just about right now. What is about is setting the tone for what’s going to happen over the course of the next several years.
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Lately, they’re really starting to get along better. It’s kind of a s strange and happy sight…
Seeing them talking and not yelling. It’s a real different experience now…
Something I can get used to.
Multnomah County Oregon
Family Court Services
Co produced and directed by
Chrissy Zoe Roes
JJ: Darius Williams
Kim: Rachel Knighton
Carmen: Josie Seid
James: Stan Brown
Mediator: Vana O’Brien
Girl: Sarah York
Boy: Andrew York
Woman: Chrissy Zoe Roes
Man: Matt Jacobs
Chrissy Zoe Roes
Special Thanks to
Judge Nan Waller
Judge Tom Ryan
Judge Katherine Tennyson
Dennis Morrow Ph D
The Sparks Family
Jack Schomer in conjunction with MHCC (Mt Hood Community College)