A husband and wife sought a divorce based on irreconcilable differences. They had agreed on all the terms and just wanted the marriage to be over as quickly as possible. They were amicable and kind to each other as they discussed their case with the mediator. Yet, moments before the mediator began drafting the separation agreement, the husband mentioned an unresolved debt.
The mediator sensed a conflict lurking under the surface – something deeper than “irreconcilable differences,” which was veiled by the couple’s calm and dispassionate demeanor. He explored this by offering each spouse an opportunity to share his or her feelings privately in one-on-one sessions with him. He quickly discovered the emotions driving the couple to divorce: the husband had humiliated his wife with accusations and criticism, and the wife had shamed the husband with her social life. Ultimately, the mediator was able to broker peace amongst them and come to a successful, amicable resolution. The mediation provided something that the court system, which often fosters mistrust and anger, could not: a safe place to resolve their legal claims while expressing their emotions. “I think in the courts there’s no space for women to express and alleviate their trauma. It is nice to have that space here at the mediation center,” said a family member who attended the mediation.
A mutual consent divorce arrived at the mediation center. The husband and wife were both upper class individuals - used to pomp, circumstance, and cordiality. The two simply wished to part, and both were firm on this point. At first, the wife refused to speak. However, over time, mediation made her feel more and more comfortable expressing herself and her feelings towards her husband. The wife was unhappy with the fact that she was unable to hold a conversation with her husband, who she complained spoke only of politics and business, instead of speaking about himself. This made it impossible to work through any conflict, as he would simply shut down and leave once conflict began. At mediation, she was able to express her troubles and to communicate to her husband through the mediator. She felt unappreciated, as her husband paid little attention to her problems and needs. The husband was upset that despite his constant efforts to improve, none were appreciated by his wife; he felt it impossible to please her, and that he was unable to be himself around her. Finally, the two had begun to articulate how they felt about the conflict. However, both remained stuck in their positions. After a period of negotiation, the mediator began to review the final terms of settlement.
Within minutes, the color drained out of the husbands face. He looked sickly, and quickly excused himself from the room. The wife and mediator followed, sensing trouble. The man began to faint in the hallway, and the woman ran to catch him as he fell to the ground. She began crying as he lay in her arms. He recovered with a cup of coffee and a mediator's care in the lounge over the course of an hour, and the wife met with their mediator in a private session.
Responding to the spectacle that had just occurred, the wife realized that she truly cared for her husband, and she sensed that he cared for her as well. Upon seeing his reaction to the divorce, she felt a sense of clarity, and she knew that her husband truly cared for her. Thanks to the facilitative efforts of their mediator, her feeling of being unappreciated vanished, and she decided that she wanted to make her marriage work. The husband expressed to the mediator that he had experienced the same revelation as his wife. The reality of the situation had hit him, and he realized how immensely he valued their relationship. The pair sat back at the mediation table and began to openly discuss how they could repair their marriage. The husband agreed to spend a dedicated hour each day speaking with his wife about things that would interest her, and they both agreed to utilize the services of a marriage counselor. They wholeheartedly apologized to one another for the pain each had caused, ensuring their partner of the love they shared.
Separation and Restorative Justice
"I think in the courts there's no space for women to express and alleviate their trauma. It is nice to have that space here at the mediation center." A family member to a party involved in a mutual consent divorce case expressed the advantages of mediation; "In the courts, it may take years, and in mediation, it's faster and it's restorative." Echoing the language of human rights, the family member excitedly spoke of how the truth that can be revealed through mediation helps to restore relationships and build trust, as opposed to courts, which foster mistrust and anger.
Where courts are focused on justice for one, mediation, she claimed, created therapeutic justice for all parties involved with a case petitioner, respondent, and the family members and friends involved. This mutual consent divorce case began as any other; both parties agreed that they simply had irreconcilable differences. They amicably agreed on all terms of their separation - no maintenance, no custody claims, no repatriation of gifts - simply wanting a separation. They were kind to one another throughout the session, and there was no conflict. Their decision had been made, and was ready to be drafted and sent to the courts without the need to discuss further. However, moments before the mediator was to leave to draft the agreement, the husband brought up a debt of eleven lakhs to show his wife. Sensing deeper conflict beneath the surface of "irreconcilable differences", the mediator dug deeper in individual meetings with the parties.
Privately, each party expressed the distress they felt from their marriage. Both felt shame and humiliation from what they had experienced with the other. The husband felt shame by the actions of his partner's sex drive and social skills, and feared that his reputation in the local community would suffer because of it. The wife's shame was more personal; she was hurt by things he had said directly to her throughout their relationship, from accusations of insanity to unfounded criticisms of her hygiene. She did not fear for her reputation, she wanted to be free of the petitioner. Her humiliation was overbearing, bringing her to tears at the table. She needed to push the pain behind her. Speaking of the effect of being able to express their emotions and pain to their mediator, the family member said that "it's been huge for both of them." Instead of sweeping their feelings under the rug, the mediator brought them to the forefront, helping them to self-cope by serving as the listening ear.
The petitioner had filed divorce against her husband, who at the behest of his mother, threw his wife out of the matrimonial home. The wife had frequent arguments with her mother in law over housework, and a very bitter relationship formed. With nowhere else to tum, the woman moved in with her sister who provided for her for around a year. Unhappy with the burden placed upon her sister, she sought divorce and maintenance to pay back for the care that she viewed as a debt. A breakdown in trust at the foundation of the relationship of the husband and wife was immediately visible in mediation; neither trusted the words of the other, constantly questioning one another's motivations. The tension proved too much to bear, and the two fought, yelling loudly and fervently. At the end of this explosion of frustration and mistrust, both parties suddenly became very quiet. After a period of silence, the husband looked up, and apologized to his wife for the physical and emotional abuse she suffered at his hands and the hands of his mother. In tum, the wife apologized for berating his mother whenever she requested care. With the apologies, trust began to bud between the parties and negotiations continued. They began to speak with one another of what each could do to sustain the marriage, and how to help one another. It would not be instantaneous, the wife claimed, but she believed she would be capable of trusting her husband in time as long as he helped to ensure that the marriage worked, and that he kept his promises. She dropped the case, and the parties reunited as husband and wife.
"For me, satisfaction only comes when there's a result," explained the woman. "This is the last day for me," she said confidently, predicting a final settlement in her divorce and child visitation case. Despite being focused on the end goal, she enjoyed that "the mediators are seeing my side, they understand what I've been going through ... I feel like I'm making progress; I'll have peace, and I'll be able to take care of my child." Throughout the course of mediation, her exhaustion with her former partner was clear. Previously, she had been bitter about the constant delays she suffered at the changing demands of her husband, and she simply wished to move on. Now she felt the end was in sight and her mood improved. She calmly sat in the waiting area, speaking of spiritual meditation and how it had taught her to forgive others for her own peace of mind. Throughout the process she had been looking towards the future, and finally, the settlement seemed within reach.
Shortly afterwards, the parties were called in to sit with their mediator. In a cooperative manner, they finalized the terms of their settlement that they had personally crafted with one another in previous sessions. They agreed that while their relationship as husband and wife had ended, they would maintain open communication in regards to their child, and that they would emphasize honesty and cooperation. The agreement allowed both to enjoy and fulfill their role as parents for the child they shared. After the settlement was signed and given to counsel, the woman was visibly relieved. "Obviously, it's a huge relief," she said, "I've been waiting for him to sign the paper. I knew it would be a crucial moment." For the first time in the Bangalore Mediation Center, a smile was visible on her face.
Marital Disloyalty – Inflicted Pain
"I'd expect after he met with you he'd make an attempt to change, to be a better husband, but he didn't." The woman, who felt she had conclusive proof of her husband's extramarital affair, had hoped that the mediator would have influenced her husband in some way. "I'm not a judge, I'm not a lawyer; your options are open as you wish," the mediator responded. Initially, the petitioner was aggressive in her demands, wanting to bring her proof to the court. She saw the mediation as a hindrance to her goals and desire to punish her husband. The mediator framed questions so that she would view the situation from the standpoint of her husband of 23 years. Suddenly, her stance began to soften; she realized that neither marriage nor divorce is a one way street. She knew the parties must cooperate to make it work without prolonged conflict. In doing so, she sighed and said "He says finish it as fast as possible ... and I want it mutually settled. Even though I have the proof to show to the court, I want it mutually settled."