My career as a divorce mediator has taught me many lessons, and my clients have become my greatest teachers. I have noticed that several of the same issues repeatedly lead couples to my office for divorce mediation. The pattern I have seen so often brings to mind the children’s book “There is no such thing as a dragon” by Jack Kent. In this book, young Billy finds a tiny dragon at the foot of his bed, about the size of a kitten. Unfortunately, his family ignores the dragon, and the dragon begins to grow and grow until it has filled the entire house, and the situation becomes a disaster. In my mediation practice, the “dragon” relates to conflicts in a marriage that are ignored and continue to grow and grow until there seems to be no other option – except divorce.
What are the “dragons” I notice when my clients have decided to divorce? The biggest dragons often start very small. For instance, the failure before marriage to thoughtfully discuss finances, religion, children, and behaviors such as addiction, adultery, and abuse. Avoiding these meaningful conversations before walking down the aisle is similar to having a dragon the size of a kitten. It seems relatively harmless at first but ignore it – and it will grow. Couples at this stage would benefit from premarital mediation and perhaps a mediated premarital agreement to address the dragon early before it gets any bigger.
If ignored, the dragon will expand quickly during the marriage, and the conflicts escalate. Perhaps, the spouse no longer listens or compromises and stops showing appreciation and gratitude. Unrealistic expectations and assumptions about how the marriage “should be” begin to impact the relationship. In many cases, the spouse has become frustrated, resentful, or hostile and intimacy no longer exists. The dragon the couple ignored before the wedding has now grown big enough to be noticed by the couple, their family, and friends. At this point, couples may consider seeking out a marital mediator to help prevent further breakdown of the marriage. Couples working with a marital mediator focus on conflict resolution, and, in some cases, the terms of their mediation may be formalized using a written postnuptial agreement.
The purpose of premarital and marital mediation is not therapy. Instead, the mediator helps the family prevent an adversarial outcome and empowers couples to make decisions about their future together. This type of mediation works best for couples that want to resolve marital conflict, avoid divorce, and of course, shrink the dragon.
Dawn Clement is a Pennsylvania Family Law Mediator & Attorney, Conflict Resolution Specialist, and Adjunct Professor at West Chester University. Dawn has been practicing for almost 18 years and is focused on helping couples resolve conflict. As a former litigator, it became clear to Dawn that families do not belong in court! Soon after starting a family of her own, she began to explore better ways to guide couples through the family law process without going to war. She now helps couples avoid costly court battles by resolving cases amicably using the mediation process.