Each year we, at CMDR, look back at our client population seeking to uncover patterns, changes, and even trends. Undoubtedly 2021 was a strikingly unusual year. We began the year in remote mode, continuing the locked down state of 2020. Zoom and teleconferences continued to replace in-person mediation until we felt that we could open our doors to clients who were vaccinated and willing to wear masks. Our mediation services took on a hybrid mode of operation with some individuals continuing on zoom and others eager to return to the in-person meetings despite the imposition of masks. We welcomed the return to in-person mediations, even if more limited and more structured. In a sense it felt like a gift to see people again, to be able to interact on a personal level. Does in-person mediation have advantages? The answer is a resounding “yes!” Yet for some clients, distance, vaccination status, or preference for the convenience of zoom won out. Without doubt zoom is here to stay, whether individuals choose to combine both offerings, electing at times to come into the office and at other times to connect by zoom or whether they consistently follow one preferred method of communication. As such we will continue to provide our clients with choices and follow their lead. Fingers crossed that Covid developments do not impose limitations on our ability to maintain the in-person option.
In 2021, we observed the following trends:
From our Business Clients:
Increased number of family business principals dealing with issues raised by clashes of owners who were grappling with the tensions of being both family members and partners in running their business;
Increased number of businesses working together to downsize their physical plants and structure a remote presence;
Increased conflicts between employees that were impacting negatively on the effectiveness of business operations;
Increased number of businesses struggling with changing government mandates and employee demands;
Increased number of conflicts between parent and child when both are principals in the family business; and
Increased demand on employers to act and react to employee needs as their personal lives impacted on their ability to perform—as usual—in their role as employees.
In summary, 2021 posed demands on businesses to react to changing demands imposed by a host of different forces—from the federal and local governments, from the health care sector, and from the personal needs and wants of their workers, not to mention their own personal and financial needs and commitments.
From Our Separating, Divorcing and Divorced Clients:
Increased number of unmarried couples who, in separating, needed to work out parenting plans, support payments, health insurance coverage as well as future child-related terms (e.g., payment for college);
Increased number of couples who grew tried of trying to “wait out” the pandemic and decided to move forward with divorce;
Increased number of post-divorce couples who wanted to revise their parenting plans to incorporate parental options for working remotely;
Increased number of couples whose divorce agreements needed to be updated due to the significant and prolonged delays in securing court hearings for approval of their petition to divorce;
Increased number of couples divorcing after retirement;
Increased number of couples, with children, using mediation as the forum for structuring a living apart agreement: and
Increased number of couples crafting prenuptial agreements and postnuptial agreements.
In summary the world began to wake up in 2021, even if the arousal had limitations and restrictions. In the main couples decided to move forward with long anticipated separations and divorces. The unanticipated assault of Covid demonstrated not only that the future was unpredictable and uncertain, but also that couples needed to incorporate in their agreements provisions for unanticipated events and/or a process for handling surprises.
From Our Family Mediation Clients:
Increased number of family conflicts among parents and adult children, including parental choices in new relationships;
An increase, once again, in conflicts generated by sharing vacation homes;
Increased number of families trying to develop plans for managing the care of elderly parents;
An increase in sibling conflicts among children involved in a family business and children who are not involved; and
An increase in the number of families who are trying to resolve issues pertaining to the disbursement of their parents’ estate.
In summary, some of the same issues that we have witnessed over the years continue to persist. Not infrequently children are surprised, dissatisfied and confused over the terms, or lack of terms, in their parents’ wills. Not infrequently, siblings do not agree on how to provide for the care of aging parents. Not infrequently family members have difficulty sharing homes and possessions, each bringing into the dispute the opinions of their own spouses and children. Old angers, tensions, and hurts permeate family mediations as members struggle to resolve disputes without ending family ties. The Pandemic may have exacerbated disagreements. Restrictions imposed by new limitations on freedom of movement or ability to pay added fuel to an already simmering fire. Still the core issues that often underlie family conflicts remain essentially unchanged. Whether in person or remote, mediation offers all participants the opportunity to express their needs, concerns, and priorities in a safe and confidential environment. Collaboration in the resolution of conflict requires individuals to listen to each other and to think rationally and creatively of ways to solve old issues and prevent new ones from developing. With the facilitation of a skilled and knowledgeable mediator, the end result should be fair and workable for all involved parties.