Case Study: A Good Start
The parties came from different countries and cultures and spoke different languages. They were together for a few months when they found out they were expecting their son but broke up before he was born. They tried to remain friends and support each other, but the stress of a new baby and financial pressures caused the relationship to break down even further. The tension between them made it difficult for Dad to visit the baby and Mum felt very much alone. When the baby was a few months old, Dad got a job opportunity in another city and Mum felt that she had been left with all the responsibility. Work commitments and the cost of travelling made it very difficult for Dad to visit and even when he did manage it, the conflict between him and Mum meant that he saw the baby very little. Eventually, Dad had not seen the child for almost a year and contacted FDR as Mum would no longer communicate with him.
Assisting the parties to get ready for the mediation was key in this case. Through the pre-mediation meetings, I was able to explore with the parties how they had reached this point – what had happened, what did this mean to them and what were the challenges for them now. It was also possible to start exploring what their son needed and how they could work together to support him. This also involved exploring what they could each realistically do, especially as Dad lived far away. Preparation for Mediation (PFM) played a very important role in enhancing the ability of each party to see things from the other’s perspective and that what was now important was their son and his need to have positive relationships with both his parents.
The mediation took place on Zoom and was the first time the parties had spoken to each other in a long time. I encouraged them to focus on what they wanted to create for their son (for him to have a relationship with his Dad, for him to see his parents working together and respecting each other, and for him to feel loved). We then explored what each would do to facilitate this. The parties agreed that they would need to communicate with each other and how. They spoke of how they would start regular video calls so that their son could start to feel comfortable with his Dad.
This also led the parties to speak about what had happened in the past and their fears for now. Mum found it difficult to trust that Dad would follow through on the commitments and worried about how their son would feel if he let him down. Dad found it difficult to trust that Mum would not stop contact or would not support his son to engage in the calls. This fear was based on their past experiences and how they had not been able to manage the conflict between them before, resulting in both of them believing the worst of each other and withdrawing from the relationship. Asking each party to talk through a specific event (Dad had cancelled a trip to see the baby and when he did come at a different time, Mum and the baby were out of town) they were able to recognise that while this was not their intention, their actions had a negative impact on the other party and therefore on the relationship. Dad cancelling a trip to visit was due to a sudden family emergency and not because he did not want to keep his commitments. Mum and baby being out of town and not responding to his attempts to arrange a visit were because Mum had not been able to replace her phone and did not receive his messages, and not because she did not want him to have contact. Acknowledging that they needed to learn to replace assumptions with a commitment to give each other the benefit of the doubt and to practice fulsome and respectful communication was the kick start they needed.
This also led to them speaking about how they would deal with the ‘what ifs’ in the future. What would they do if their son was too tired for a call or if Mum or Dad’s other commitments meant they couldn’t make it? By acknowledging that there would be challenges and that they both required flexibility from each other, they were able to build in resilience for change or unexpected events. They agreed to a schedule of calls for the next six weeks and the importance of keeping in touch and communicating any changes in advance. I drafted an interim agreement for the parties and they agreed to return to mediation in a six weeks’ time.
I again contacted the parties individually to see how their agreement was working out. The feedback from both was positive. They had mostly kept to the schedule and when this was not possible, had let the other party know. They were able to accommodate each other’s schedules and the needs of their son, and had even negotiated an additional call on Dad’s birthday.
At the second session the parties were positive about taking further steps in their co-parenting relationship. They were focused on their son and how well he was doing. At the first session, Dad was quiet when Mum spoke about their child. Now he was engaged and they both spoke about him and could share insights and experiences. They were communicating regularly and were understanding of each other’s situations. The parties discussed Dad having contact over the next few months and how they would make specific arrangements for when Dad would visit and how they would build on this later in the year.
Not all parties plan to be parents or plan to be in each other’s lives forever. Taking on the huge responsibility of parenting a child and having to do this with someone that you do not have an established relationship with is extremely challenging. The result is often children who have no contact with their Dad and Mum’s who feel they have no choice but to raise their children alone. This was the likely scenario for these parties. Dad felt that he had no way to be a father. He lived too far away to see his son regularly and believed that Mum would never help him to have contact. Mum believed that she would raise her son alone and that Dad did not care about them. They were both stuck and even though they wanted a different outcome, believed that this was impossible. FDR mediation provided the parties with a safe way to work through these assumptions and to focus on what was possible. It provided a structure for re-engagement and a way for them to start being parents together. Most importantly, this mediation resulted in a little boy being able to start to get to know his Dad.
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