Joan and Howard Trumbold have been married for 15 years. They met at the University of Colorado where they were both students and married a year after graduation. The Trumbolds live in a suburb north of Boston picked for the great schools, the parks and for the good “feel” of the neighborhood. In spite of the well-chosen surroundings, their marriage fell apart and after two years, they decide to divorce.
Joan and Howard Trembled are skeptical—they have entered mediation as a last ditch effort. For two years they have exchanged snide remarks and hostile glances as they sat across from each other at negotiations with their attorneys, at their son’s soccer matches and at their daughter’s swim meets. To ask how they got to this impasse would be to hear two very different tales.
Joan would tell of Howard’s secret affair five years ago, their failed efforts at reconciliation, and his persistent bad humor and inflexibility. Howard would tell of Joan’s inability to forge his brief transgression, her constant digs and mostly her withdrawal from any intimacy.
On the positive side, both are warm, loving parents who actively participate in their children’s lives—neither Howard nor Joan would tell a different tale here.
So here they are in mediation, barely able to look at each other, directing their conversation to the mediator. Still they are in the same room and both agree that they have spent more money than they are willing to admit without any progress toward divorce.
This session, the first after their orientation meeting, will concentrate on reaching a custody agreement and fashioning a parenting plan. Easier said then done. Each parent declares that he or she is the caretaker of choice. Joan says that the children, Susie 10 and Alex 8, need her maternal care. Although she works, as a product salesperson for a drug company, her hours are flexible, allowing her to be home when the children get out of school, not to mention when they are sick or for other nonscheduled no school days.
Howard, on the other hand, is a vice president of a bank. His hours are far less flexible and include some travel. Still, he maintains that he has always been a constant in the children’s lives and his boss has agreed to work with him on a devising a more flexible schedule. Then, too, there are nannies that can be hired to provide back up. Joan, in Howard’s opinion, is a good mother but a bit too inflexible.
The issue is clear—Joan and Howard are two good, caring parents, an admission neither would deny. Both, however, want to be the custodial parent, leaving the other the title of noncustodial parent.
The mediator asks Joan and Howard to put aside, for the time being, the question of custodianship. Rather than struggle with nomenclature, the couple is asked to work with the mediator on structucting a variety of parenting schedules, schedules that would take into consideration each one’s availability to be with the children. It would not be a wise idea now to jeopardize either one’s job or to reduce income. It would be best that the children retain two parents in their daily lives.
Although hesitant at first to yield any ground, Howard and Joan begin to consider different parenting plans. They are encouraged by the mediator’s assurance that this is only exploratory; that there is no deal until there is a whole deal. Both agree that ideally it would be better for the children to be with a parent than a nanny or babysitter. Both agree that each one is a caring, loving parent.
After considerable exploration, Joan and Howard agree on a schedule, which takes advantage of Joan’s flexible work hours, planning for the children to be with her after school and on children’s nonscheduled days off. The nights are evenly divided. Summers are treated similarly; school hours are replaced by day camp with equal vacation time built in for each parent to be with the children.
Howard and Joan look suspiciously at each other—Can they trust each other? Will Joan and Howard each give up quests for sole custody? Will they stick to this compromise plan? And more to the point, will it work for them and especially for the children?
At the beginning progress was slow; halting efforts to collaborate were painful for Howard and Joan. Friends warned of failure, fanned each parent’s feared of distrust. Yet they persisted, for Howard and Joan saw the very visible signs of change in their children’s eyes, in their actions—they began to smile again, they stopped waking up with bad dreams, they began to be kids again —regular kids, who felt safe in the protective custody of two parent.
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