“Taxi Driver” Divorce Delayed

It would be difficult to find a celebrity that tries harder to avoid publicity than Robert De Niro but privacy is the true cost of fame and everybody pays eventually.

This is a brilliant example of how cooperation could have saved everyone incredibleembarrassment and pain. What struck me immediately from all the stories was the quote from his friend:

 A source close to De Niro was quoted as saying that “This could be resolved very privately and quietly behind closed doors but“Bobby’s”estranged wife is torturing the publicity shy actor by forcing him to go to court and run a gauntletof reporters and photographers.”

The evident anger that is displayed here gets a little more confusing when you consider that this is their secondtime in divorce court. The couple first filed for a separation in 1999 —at the time they were in a custody fight over their now-20-year-old son, Elliot. They later reconciled and renewed their vows in 2004.

So the publicity the family members are being flooded with represents the exact thing they could have avoided had they been open to engaging a mediator instead of a Judge. All of this could have been less painful if they had a mutually satisfactory “Settlement Agreement” in place as a kind of protectionand bond. This is precisely the goal of every PeaceTalks relationship, to provide couples with an agreeable path to successful cooperation.

Here are a few descriptions of scenes, which could have been avoided, at the courthouse:

Robert De Niro struck his best “Taxi Driver” glare for reporters as he tried to keep his divorce and custody battle quiet by securing an “Anonymous v. Anonymous” caption on the case but word of his presence quickly spread and the gawkers gathered.

They had been waging a secret custody battle over the 7-year-old girl they had through a surrogate. The “Raging Bull” actor kept the divorce filing quiet by securing a coveted “Anonymous v. Anonymous” caption on the case, records show.

He remained adamant about keeping details of the negotiations hush-hush as he and his estranged wife of more than 20 years, Grace Hightower, sat at opposite ends of the courtroom. At one point, he shushed his lawyers as they hashed out custody arrangements for the couple’s 7-year-old daughter in the courtroom gallery.

The two studiously avoided one another — De Niro hid behind his newspaper while Hightower, read a book and glanced at her phone. Sources said the two have a prenuptial agreement but Justice Matthew Cooper said that the former couple had made “some progress on some difficult issues” but will still have to resolve “particulars” of a settlement and exchange statements of net worth.

De Niro and Hightower had just spent hours in Manhattan Supreme Court, where their lawyers holed up behind closed doors to hash out their divorce.

It’s torture indeed being forced to spend the day in court, but with mediation, very possibly avoidable for people that can agree to be agreeable, if only for the kids.

Divorce Mediation Primer

I came across a nice synopsis of why mediation for your divorce may be the smartest choice.

It is safe to say that most couples facing divorce expect the experience to be agonizing as well as exhausting. Ending a marriage, and the ensuing divorce, is one of the most emotional events of a lifetime. Since couples anticipate a difficult time, many wish they could find an easier path and if this sounds like your situation, then divorce mediation may be your best solution.

• May benefit children: When kids of divorce see their parents work together to resolve conflicts, it often helps them feel more secure about the breakup.

• More affordable: In nearly all cases, divorce mediation imposes fewer costs than traditional litigation. Mediation may also proceed faster than a courtroom divorce.

• Reduces anxiety: The idea of going to court causes many couples to feel anxious. An out of court solution helps to reduce these feelings of anxiety.

Divorce mediation does not work for everyone, so it is crucial to seek a legal opinion to determine if you and your spouse are good candidates. In the end, anything you can do to make the process of divorcing as easy as possible for you and your children, it is worth the effort. Call the office with any questions you’d like to talk over.

Amazon Fairness and Divorce, Oh My!

For anyone who can’t let go of that “Money=Happiness” thing, just read and be kind of glad that you don’t have so much money that God borrows from you.

The divorce fairness issue that Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos don’t have to worry about


Divorce – Ready or Not?

Recently, I’ve been encountering a lot of feedback related to people “rushing” to a divorce, before being informed, as to what needs to be done ahead of time. Here are some of the recurring themes that many therapists and advisors caution about when facing this decision. At Peace Talks we offer discernment counseling to help you decide whether to get divorced. We believe the most important agreement is HOW you go through the process and we offer a free orientation to learn all the options.

Most couples starting a divorce are unprepared and this lack of preparedness can cause a marriage to end prematurely or deteriorate into a competition.

Pondering divorce for a long time before acting on it buys into the false belief that they’ve thought about it thoroughly and are ready.

There is a natural tendency for people to want to get the divorce over with as quickly as possible in order to move on with their lives.

 At Peace Talks, as with all mediation specialists, one of our first considerations is finding the proper guide to help deal with the inevitable stress and emotional difficulties to come. The right professional help with the intangibles is at leastas important as the financials. Having someone who’s objective and experienced advising you through these difficulties can be invaluable. It’s all too easy for anger to take control without a co-pilot.

Once you feel after you have sought professional help for a few months and accepted your own responsibility, that a divorce is the right choice, thenmake a plan. Many therapists are suggesting mediation instead of litigation when appropriate to spare the patient money and pain. For people that come to us from a lawyer or financial advisor we have a group of therapists listed on our website.

If you’d like to ask some questions about your situation please contact the office anytime.

Divorce-A Coach Might Help

At Peace Talks we have been doing a lot of “coaching” with the overwhelming process of divorce, from divorcing parents and premaritals as well as legal and psychological practitioners.

Here’s a description of “Divorce Coaching” from the American Bar Association:

“Divorce coaching is a flexible, goal-oriented process designed to support, motivate, and guide people going through divorce to help them make the best possible decisions for their future, based on their particular interests, needs, and concerns. Divorce coaches have different professional backgrounds and are selected based on the specific needs of the clients.  For example, some divorce coaches are financial planners, mental health professionals, lawyers, or mediators who have experience dealing with divorcing clients.”

Here’s some additional feedback about the potential value of a coach from an attorney:

“I love them, and if I had my way, I’d never work without them,” says Brigitte Bell, a Chicago divorce attorney. “They help manage the clients and support them by bringing a different set of skills to the divorce process than we do.”

If you want to explore the “Divorce Coach” idea to see if it’s something you want to pursue, whether as a potential client or certified practitioner please contact me.


The Small Outdoors

by Stephanie Maloney

Here it is again that time to start getting out and planning out some “away from the house” time. It seems to get tougher each year so we have to get more creative.

Actual vacations involving travel are kind of a special event category and require detailed coordination never mind extraordinary cooperation.

It’s no small accomplishment to find ways on a daily and weekly basis to get some fresh air with the kids without wasting hours of time in traffic. So we’re seeing stories about people taking turns hosting “yard parties” that are geographically user-friendly and BYO “whatever” toys for the group.

I know of parents that are taking walks and bike rides in the neighborhood instead of driving to a park. In a real switch there are stories about some single parents renting a local Air B&B with a backyard just for a few hours on an afternoon for fun & games.

This is a reach but if you have teenagers-ask them about a baseball game-funny things can happen in the spring.

March Against Madness-Madness Actually Responds

by Stephanie Maloney

Imagine Frances McDormand outside your house of white with 500,000 walking, breathing, two-legged billboards demanding action about the killing of her child.

Apparently, if all politics are local, then all school shootings are now personal. Isn’t it about time we all find some unifying spirit through these kids for actually doing something and isn’t a pity that what’s holding us back is people with a “philosophy” like that of Rick Santorum:

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said Sunday that students would be better off “taking CPR classes” than marching for “phony gun laws.

“How about kids, instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem, do something about maybe taking CPR classes…so that when there is a violent shooter that you can actually respond to that,” Santorum said on CNN’s ‘State of the Union.’

The onetime presidential hopeful, said participants in Saturday’s nationwide March for Our Lives events were “passing the buck to their representatives when they should be preparing to respond to the next mass shooting”.

This must be precisely what is enraging these “kids,” when they hear the words “…the next mass shooting…” with the same echo of acceptance as if there is nothing that can be done. They are indeed “passing the buck” but it’s going back to people that are supposed to paying the tab for safety not to the people hiding under the desks.

In cities across the globe people marched in support of common sense and as even The Pope had advised they shouted that we’ve had enough of parents burying children and children burying friends. In Denmark, for example, Finnish exchange student Iida Keskinen told CNN the idea that mass shootings have become the norm “…has really shook me…I wanted to make sure I had even a small impact in supporting this cause,” she said.

Maybe if she were Norwegian Mr. Trump would listen.

Academy Women Rise to the Occasion

by Stephanie Maloney

When Frances McDormand stood asking the “women with projects” in the Academy Awards audience to stand and be seen, with an assist from Meryl Streep, it began the largest “let’s take a meeting” conversation in Hollywood history.

Imagine “women who tell the stories about women” getting an equal opportunity to at least pitch those ideas to the real decision-makers. The fact that those people are mostly men is another conversation.

The #MeToo phenomenon has actually put some cracks in the invisible walls and ceilings of our entertainment institutions-and that’s a good thing-a really good thing.

Go do what you can to show your support for what you believe in and by all means, if you haven’t already; go see Three Billboards and Shape of Water.

Winter Olympics – Teaming Up

by Stephanie Maloney

Even if you don’t have “Olympic Fever” there are always some great moments worth watching.  Because I skated competitively growing up in Minnesota I’m reminded how important teamwork is to even the individualevents.  The research and planning that are part of the preparation process involve many people and have a lot to do with the final results.

Relying on a team is something that starts before every divorce and continues afterwards as you reshape your life. You are still going to need advice from professionals after the settlement to protect your assets as well as your own peace of mind. There are also going to be people in your social circles with whom you’ll network and exchange resources. Those same people will be grateful for the perspective and suggestions that you bring to the table.

Working in Divorce Mediation I get a good look at how willing people are to share when they believe it will be of help. If you have gone through the mediation process you can be very comfortable with telling people it may not be right for them if they are NOT in mutual agreement with their spouse. If, however, they are on the same page then they can “go for the gold” and take home a “medal worthy ” settlement.

Mediation in the News: The Williams Divorce

Back in June there was a news story about Richard Williams, the father of Venus & Serena, seeking to evict his estranged wife from their Florida home.

A few days ago the lawyer, Sandy Becher, for the wife spoke about the upcoming divorce in terms of new approach.

“What’s next is we’ll take depositions of the parties and witnesses and have hearings. After we fully exchange financial information, hopefully we can settle the matter at mediation. If not, then litigate any open and unresolved issues there still are.”

We’ll follow this story and see how it plays out. It’s interesting that even people with very substantial assets may need to call in a third-party to help them come to a mutually satisfying agreement.

Mediation is a relatively new component in the array of tools available to build a successful settlement. This sort of high profile case may bring this strategy to the forefront of possibilities much sooner in lieu of litigation.

The Truth is Irrelevant (all the time, not just in ADR Services)


All the time. Not just for mediators, and not just for ADR Services.

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 When we think of disputes, most people think that ascertaining the truth is the key to the resolution of a disagreement.  Find the truth, and you have the resolution to the conflict. Yet how many of us see “the truth” in the same way?

Truth is seen to be the foundation of the American justice system Yet how many litigants are satisfied with the outcome of the case once the judge makes a ruling?  By its very nature, litigation results in at least half of the litigants being disappointed.

“I Promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”

            This oath required of every witness in an American court is designed to bring out the truth. Unfortunately, as we saw when former President Clinton took this same oath, truth is not always forthcoming, even from the highest office in the land.

            Honesty and veracity are important virtues—whether in the courtroom or around the mediation table. A witness who is perceived to be lying on one point—even a small one—may be disbelieved in other parts of his story. Just look at how Judge Jackson and the American public viewed Bill Gates and the Microsoft position after Gates was cross-examined effectively in the antitrust trial. Once he’d been discredited on one fact, suddenly his whole story seemed suspicious.

            Having credibility and being believed is no less important in mediation—since settlement requires voluntary agreement, you have to gain the trust of your adversary in order to make a deal. Truth is not irrelevant when you’re talking about credibility and trust.

            But The Truth is.

            Does it really matter how many times former President Clinton was alone with Monica Lewinsky? Does it matter whether Monica’s dress had been dry-cleaned or not?

            Interesting? Yes. But whichever way this testimony came out or was perceived, what truly was important went beyond the truth of this evidence. Could the President regain the trust of Congress, the Cabinet, the American people, and his wife and daughter? Could Monica Lewinsky move on with her life? What happened was that the country’s focus disintegrated into partisan bitterness, when its energy and resources would have been better spent in improving the economy or protecting our citizens from terrorist danger.  That’s what happens when you focus on the wrong part of the conflict.  The country focused on “the truth” and the past, rather than the bigger picture, and more important goals.

            Looking at it a different way, the truth, though important, would remain different for each individual and probably never be reconciled. What really happened in the White House bathroom was less important than what President Clinton did at the infamous press conference when he pointed his finger and defiantly (and credibly) stated: “I never had sex with that woman.”  His mealy-mouthed attempt to shade the facts did irreparable damage to his credibility.  The truth mattered much less than the country’s trust in his credibility.  By losing focus on the goals

8 Peace Practices for Uncontested Divorce California

There are 8 peace practices which are free and easy to practice every day. They’ll help you stay sane no matter what, and we all know that sanity is at a premium at the moment.

An excerpt from the 8 Peace Practices chapter of Making Divorce Work, our latest book, was published by Mediate.com. Click here for the 8 Peace Practices.

screaming doesn't work

Sure, we’ve all felt this way at times.  But we also know what it does to our blood pressure and ability to think creatively and problem solve.

Using the 8 peace practices will help you get some peace even in the most difficult of times.  Sure, they help during your divorce, but they also help when you’re stuck in traffic or in a meeting with co-workers.

Divorce mediation helps keep the peace in your family–after all, you are still a family even if you’re divorced.  You have the opportunity to have an uncontested divorce, California or elsewhere, when you mediate instead of litigating.  Mediators help you talk to each other and say what you really mean without getting shut down. Most will give you legal information and help you make a solid decision that works for you, your spouse, and your children. 

And yes, the settlement needs to work for your spouse or he or she won’t sign it. And for YOU to get a settlement, your spouse has to sign.

Sometimes people think mediation is all about peace and love and that mediators spend all their time talking about people’s feelings. That’s only partially true. 

Of course feelings are important. After all, you’re talking about everything you care anything about when you’re mediating:  your future, your past, your financial security, how you’ll raise your children.  There’s no getting around it. Divorce includes feelings.

It also includes the legal part, and that needs to be informed, thoughtful, and thorough. 

You need both:  a successful legal divorce, and a successful emotional divorce.

The 8 Peace Practices will help you get there.


Cause of Divorce

What Causes Divorce?

When thinking about how marriages end, people often look towards distinct events like affairs or money-related problems.  What we’ve found in our 20+ years of experience is that typically this is not the case.  Divorces follow a more basic form of separation: when partners turn away from one another to seek gratification outside of the relationsip.  In our experience, this “Turning” is the primary cause of divorce.

The partner who files for divorce may have a clear view of the reasons behind their decision.  If you are the other half and disapprove of the split, the picture can be a bit more fuzzy.  Often with reflection one can see a course of events leading up to it.  What at first appears to be an abrupt decision starts to look more like a long-term deterioration.  One tiny misstep or argument may have started a chain reaction that became too much for the relationship to bear.

cause of divorce

Even though there may be a natural resistance to revisiting the past, it is important to make peace with what has happened.  By analyzing the path that brought you here, you gain the peace of mind that is necessary in order to move on.  The partner who intiated the divorce will get a better understanding for why they made the decision.  The partner who didn’t will come to realize that what they may have initially thought was preventable was actually inevitable.  Turning is powerful and can happen long before anyone realizes it.

Participants in a marriage often get a myopic point of view of what is really going on.  They can convince themselves that nothing is wrong when in fact the wheels are already turning against the relationship.  People outside of the marriage looking in are able to see the turns–he started staying late at work, while she endlessly cleaned the house, or he played golf all weekend with his buddies while she took day trips to visit her college roommates.  The turns themselves don’t have to be for salacious reasons like extra-marital affairs and alcoholism.  It’s often something you wouldn’t expect, even something positive, like vying for a promotion or taking care of the kids.

Turning is something that happens over a period of time, not something that comes from out of nowhere.  You may have identified it early on, but didn’t know what it would lead to.  When turning occurs in a marriage–as it often does–neither partner can be held accountable.

This is not to say that arguing and disagreements are something to be avoided in a healthy marriage.  In fact, it can be just the opposite.  Plenty of healthy couples fight.  It can be a way of bringing out issues that otherwise stay under the surface and fester.  Discord on its own is not a warning sign of a looming divorce.  Fleshing out arguments and coming to compromises are important exercises in any marriage.

Some helpful free resources:


It is a misconception that fighting is a real reason for a divorce.  Fights happen when one partner can’t meet the needs of the other.  In a fight, there can be a lot of blame and shame being thrown around.  Here is an example: “You never want to have sex with me during the week,” he exclaims. “Well, you leave me alone with the kids all day and by night I am exhausted,” is her retort.  The argument and the words used are just symbolic of larger issues.

Let’s break it down for a moment.  His complaint that she doesn’t want to have sex really just means that he is not getting the emotional and physical attention he needs.  Her counter is that she is chasing around the kids all day, but she really means that his career demands have made it impossible for her to pursue her interests.  They are both screaming for attention, but since they don’t realize the impasse they have reached, instead of compromise, they only try to guilt  and shame one another into seeing it their way.  What if he had just said, “I wish I didn’t have to work so much, that way we could regain the spark that has been missing,” to which she would reply “The kids and I miss you during the day, how about taking a day off next week?”  Now there is a helpful dialogue that can lead to compromise and both of their needs being met.

Effective communication is paramount in a healthy marriage.  While it is easy to make mistakes the first time around, by analyzing where the turns happened in your marriage, you can put yourself in a position to move on and prevent them from happening in the future.


Divorce That Works


If you’re reading this, you’re probably not in such a good place right now.  However it happens, realizing that your marriage doesn’t make you happy and that something has to change is a tough spot.  You might be early on in the process.  Or maybe you’re not looking forward to doing battle with your ex, each of you armed with lawyers. We’re here to tell you that there is an alternative – Divorce Mediation.

If you’re new to the idea of mediation, or friendly divorce, it may seem like an idea for an improbable family film, but in practice it provides the opportunity for you to and your spouse to come out of your divorce with your dignity and sanity intact.  You have lots of life left.  You want to be able to move on to what’s next. 

Divorce doesn’t have to leave your family life in tatters and you in a worse place than before you were married.  Divorce mediation offers an avenue to end your marriage and strengthen your own life.  You wouldn’t be looking for divorce options if everything was rosy.  Living in the day-to-day of a bad marriage is no one’s idea of fun and happiness.  You yearn for something better.  You deserve something better.  You’ve likely heard more bad divorce stories than you have good divorce stories.  How is a good divorce even possible?  At Peace Talks Mediation here in Los Angeles, that’s mostly what we see.  Good divorces.  Good divorces for both parties. 

Your divorce is pedescribe the imagermanent.  The legal process may conclude with signed and witnessed documents.  But your divorce, whether or not you remarry, continues well after the ink is dry.  Marriage changed your life.  Divorce will too.  The details will differ depending on whether you asked for the divorce or if it’s your spouse’s decision, but the impact will affect the both of your lives and most importantly, the lives of your children.

It is up to you to determine what that impact will be.  In fact, you can have a good deal of control about how your divorce goes.  If you want the divorce, you are looking forward to the day when your next chapter begins.  If divorce is not your decision, you’d like to know more about what went wrong and look forward to better days.  Either way, you’re probably feeling that mix of fear and excitement that accompany most major life decisions.  And divorce certainly fits into the major life decision category.

If you’re looking for options to the adversarial approach to divorce, an option to fighting it out in the courts, you’re not alone.  Peaceful divorce sounds like an oxymoron but it’s worked for many, many people.  Are you really looking forward to an ongoing, potentially bitter battle with your spouse?  It’s enough that the marriage is over.  You don’t need to suffer the additional emotional bruising that often comes with that approach.  You can come out of all this more prepared for the rest of your life.

Divorce mediation is truly a learning process. What you’ll learn about you and your spouse, as well as the whys and hows of how you got you here, will affect every aspect of your divorce.  Money and property division.  Your kids.  Your extended family.  And what happens next.  The insight and peacemaking skills you’ll learn from the mediation process will stay with you the rest of your life.

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Diana Mercer is an Attorney-Mediator and the founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services, peace-talks.com. She is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Penguin/Perigee 2010), Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001) and 8 Simple Keys to Building and Growing Your Mediation or Arbitration Practice (Peace Talks Press 2011). Diana also writes for the Huffington Post as well as her own blog Making Divorce Work.



8 Keys to Resolving Divorce Conflict

You never thought it would happen to you, yet here you are faced with divorce. Maybe you asked for the divorce. Maybe you’re the one who is being left. Even if it is something you and your spouse both want equally, you are facing a crisis. You may be wondering why we’re talking about resolving family conflict now, when you’re pretty sure you’re getting a divorce.

If divorce is your reality, why not make the best of it? This may seem impossible right now, given the state of your relationship. It is not. Even if you are not on speaking terms with your spouse today, you can end the conflict in your relationship and uncover peace. We’ve seen this again and again with many, couple talkingmany couples in our divorce mediation practice.

You can learn how to bring peace into your marriage, even as it is dissolving. Peacemaking is a skill, just like any other, and it starts with understanding and using eight keys to resolving family conflict. Keep in mind that it is actually harder to remain at odds with someone than it is to make peace. Once you learn these skills, you’re sure to reap the benefits in all the other parts of your life.

The 8 Keys take only a minute to learn and a lifetime to master. Practice makes perfect.

The 8 Keys to Resolving Divorce Conflict

  1. Be hard on the problem, not the people
  2. Understand that acknowledging and listening are not the same as obeying
  3. Use I-statements
  4. Give the benefit of the doubt
  5. Have awkward conversations real time
  6. Keep the conversation going. Life is a dialogue
  7. Ask yourself “Would I rather be happy or right?”
  8. Be easy to talk to

Using these eight simple keys will revolutionize your divorce experience as well as your home life — and even life at work. They’re easy to practice and implement once you get started. The more you use these techniques, the better you’ll get. You don’t need to save them just for your divorce process. There is life after divorce.

When tensions arise, you’ll be operating from a more peaceful baseline and more apt to remember to use these keys to resolving conflict where ever it occurs in your life.


Diana Mercer is an Attorney-Mediator and the founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services, peace-talks.com. She is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Penguin/Perigee 2010), Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001) and 8 Simple Keys to Building and Growing Your Mediation or Arbitration Practice (Peace Talks Press 2011). Diana also writes for the Huffington Post as well as her own blog Making Divorce Work.

Resolving Divorce Conflict – Be Hard on the Problem, Not the People

A Closer Look at Resolving Divorce Conflict

Key 1: Be hard on the problem, not the people.

We made this the first conflict resolution skill because it’s likely the first one you’ll put to use.  Right now, it may be hard not to see your spouse as the problem, as the reason for your divorce.  Or the other way around. That’s why we think it’s such an important skill to learn. 

Change the nature of the fight and you’ll change the dynamic. Stop throwing stones in arguments.  Using blame, shame, or guilt to get your spouse to do something will become less effective as your relationship ends, because each of you will stop making the little concessions you once made for one another in the relationship. Instead, address the problem rather than laying blame on your spouse.  For example, “Whether or not to sell our house is a tough decision.  We both have a lot of work to do. I would like to work together to figure this out”, works much better than, “If you’d only earned more money while we were married, we wouldn’t have to think about selling our house.”couple

If you don’t keep the problem separate from your relationship, you risk having the conflict overtake your life (especially after your divorce).When two people who are stakeholders in a relationship are at odds, they sometimes say and do all sorts of irrational things, project, deny and shift blame.

All this drama has nothing to do with solving your problem. But there are things you can do to focus hard on the problem, not the person. The goal is to work with your spouse, rather than being adversarial.

  • Bite your tongue. Think before you respond. Those few seconds of tongue biting can save you a lot of trouble in the long run.

  • Remember that your problem is mutual. You need your spouse in order to solve this problem — and to reach an agreement. You will catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

  • It takes two to have an argument. If you refuse to take the bait for a fight, the fight can’t happen. 

  • Reframe your problem as a mutual problem and use “we” language.  “We need to decide what to do with the credit card debt” gets a different reception than “You need to deal with your credit card debt or we’ll never have an agreement.”

  • Think about the situation from your spouse’s point of view, even if you think he or she is wrong. Remember, you need this person to sign your agreement.  By only thinking of your own perspective, you’ll never get resolution.

  • Don’t interpret what is going on based only on your fears. Resist the urge to turn everything into a catastrophe.  You will get through this.

  • Don’t blame.  Blame doesn’t get you anywhere, especially not now.

  • Let your spouse blow off steam and don’t take it personally.  Not everything is an invitation to fight, and even if it is, you’re not coming to that party.

  • Listen. Acknowledge your spouse’s feelings without being patronizing.

  • Be direct; don’t play games.  Have your own priorities straight.

Though many of these points are common sense, when the relationship gets tangled up in the problem, things can get volatile fast

Resolving Divorce Conflict – Listening Is Not Obeying

A Closer Look at Resolving Divorce Conflict 

Key 2: Understand that Acknowledging and Listening are NOT the same as Obeying


You may be tempted to issue decrees as you deal with your spouse over your divorce.  It might seem a whole lot easier to lay down the law and have those around you adhere to it.  You may feel you’ve heard enough and all you want is to be heard.  You may really want things to go your way.  The chances of that happening however, go way down if the only way you and your spouse communication is through an argument.

It may have been a long time since you’ve really listened to one another.  The people who successfully navigate a divorce mediation are those people who’ve learned how to listen.  Even with that seems like the hardest thing to do. When people argue, generally they’re just waiting for their turn to talk

Resolving Divorce Conflict – Key 3: Use I-Statements

A Closer Look at Resolving Divorce Conflict

Key 3: Use I-Statements

When you’ve spent the better part of your working life mediating and finding peaceful resolutions to conflicts, you begin to see patterns of both conflict and resolution.  In our divorce mediation practice, we’re big fans of  “I” statements.  “I” statements are conflict resolution magic. The best part is that they’re simple to incorporate into your habits.  And, for the recipient, the I-statement request is easier to honor.  “I feel sentimental about keeping my grandmother’s pots and pans” makes a much more peaceful case for kecouple talkingeping them than “You can’t take all our kitchen stuff.”

I-statements create collaboration and build on personal responsibility rather than blame.

The opposite of the I-statement is the You-statement. You-statements are inherently judgmental. They feel like an accusation (and usually are). A You-statement is your opinion of the other person.

Imagine your spouse saying any of the following things to you:

  • You are crazy.
  • You can’t do that.
  • You are so lazy.
  • You are loud.
  • You are wrong.

An I-statement gives your spouse information about you. It doesn’t put your spouse on the defensive because you are the vulnerable one. Imagine your former spouse saying any of the following to you:

  • I am feeling very insecure about having to support myself after so many years.
  • I am so resentful of how much money we are spending on this divorce.
  • I do not want to feel like I am not a part of my kids’ day to day life.
  • I am so angry that you introduced your girlfriend to the kids without letting me know first.

There is nothing to get defensive about when your spouse is merely telling you something about herself. You are not responsible for how she feels or to help her feel differently. This type of information sharing helps foster communication. It makes no judgments or demands.           

To create an I-statement, start your sentence with “I” and then use healthy personal disclosure to tell your spouse what is going on with you. Simply saying, “I’d feel so much more financially secure if you could pay off your student loan,” goes a lot further than, “You racked up that debt, not me.”

I-statements are an easy way to show your spouse you are comfortable expressing vulnerability as you divorce. Since they are clearly your opinion or your feelings, and not a command for the other person, they are much easier for the other person to hear.  They also verbalize a sense of yourself as separate from the “we” you once were and allow you to take personal responsibility for your thoughts and feelings. Practice using them in all your relationships, not just with your spouse, so you can get used to thinking in terms of I-statements all the time.  It’s a valuable lesson with an impact well beyond your divorce.

Diana Mercer is an Attorney-Mediator and the founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services, peace-talks.com. She is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Penguin/Perigee 2010), Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001) and 8 Simple Keys to Building and Growing Your Mediation or Arbitration Practice (Peace Talks Press 2011). Diana also writes for the Huffington Post as well as her own blog Making Divorce Work.

Resolving Divorce Conflict – Giving the Benefit of the Doubt & Having Awkward Conversations

A Closer Look at Resolving Divorce Conflict

Key 4: Give the Benefit of the Doubt.

It’s hard to say which of these keys to resolving conflict we like the most. They have all become repeatedly handy with our clients.

Before, during and after your divorce, you’re going to have lots of opportunities to test your ability to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt.  So it’s never too early to make this a part of your conflict resolving skill set.      

Here’s an example: Your spouse is late for a meeting with the bank to see if you can re-finance your house. Your first inclination is to take it personally. “How dare she be late again! She does this just to drive me crazy!” But there are also thousands of other plausible explanations which have nothing to do with you: the line at the grocery store was long, and the checker was new; the hamster got out of the cage and had to be found before leaving the house; an important phone call came from a family member at an inopportune time and she didn’t have the heart to tell the caller to put a lid on it.

Maybe these explanations are true and maybe they aren’t. If this is not habitual behavior, then find it within yourself to extend the benefit of the doubt. If it’s just once in awhile, it’s ultimately easier on everyone not to take it personally. Your blood pressure will thank you.

Any time you feel frustrated, annoyed or mildly irritated, remember that your spouse is human and so are you. We all have our bad days. Also, one day you may be the one asking for the benefit of the doubt, and it helps to pay it forward.     

Offering the benefit of the doubt helps you practice seeing the best in yourcouple talking spouse. Perhaps you haven’t seen that in awhile. Maybe that’s because you’ve been looking for the worst. Your divorce process can make that even more difficult.  You and your spouse are both good people who are going through a very hard time right now. Allow your spouse to save face and when it’s your turn to ask for the same favor it will be an easier request to honor.

Key 5: Have Awkward Conversations in Real Time.

If you’re getting a divorce, you’re likely having difficult conversations with your spouse. Unfortunately, it comes with the territory.  Difficult conversations don’t get easier with the passage of time.  They only get harder, and the difficulty is compounded if it looks like you tried to hide something or be dishonest.  Here at Peace Talks, we’ve seen firsthand the positive impact of having those conversations sooner than later.

When you need to have an awkward conversation, have it as soon as you can.  And if you can have it preemptively, it’s even less awkward.  Imagine your spouse telling you “I missed the mortgage payment that was due two weeks ago” instead of “I missed the mortgage payment that was due today” and better still “I think I am going to miss the mortgage payment that is due in  two weeks. What do you think we should do?”  

Before you have an awkward conversation you can prepare yourself with the following exercise:

  • Identify why you feel the conversation will be awkward.
  • Is there anything you can do to make the situation better before you have to have the conversation? If so, do it.
  • Have the conversation as soon as you’re sure you need to have it, not at the last minute.
  • Be honest. Sugarcoating the truth is just going to look deceitful at this point.
  • What do you expect your spouse’s reaction to be?  Is there anything you can do or say to make that situation better?
  • Make an appointment to talk to your spouse to talk about the awkward situation, at a time and place where you can have a real conversation, out of earshot of the kids.
  • Frame your conversation and acknowledge that it’s awkward.
  • Listen to your spouse’s reaction and acknowledge that you’re listening.
  • Ask for help to problem solve.

For Example:  You are going to be late dropping off the children for the second time this week.  You call your spouse 45 minutes before you’re supposed to drop the children off. “I am so sorry, but I can already tell I’m going to be late. I don’t blame you for being upset with me. I am upset with me, too. Given the situation, should I just take them straight to the sitter? Or what would help you most?  And sometime next week, can we talk about adjusting the drop off time so this doesn’t keep happening?”

Establishing a pattern of having awkward conversations right away, directly and honestly can reduce a lot of unnecessary anxiety. If your husband knows you’re going to give him bad news as soon as you get it, he doesn’t have to torture himself with his imagination. If he knows you want the same thing from him, he doesn’t have to procrastinate having those difficult conversations.  Dealing with your divorce process is difficult.  Learning and using these conflict resolution skills will go a long way to easing some of that difficulty.


Diana Mercer is an Attorney-Mediator and the founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services, peace-talks.com. She is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Penguin/Perigee 2010), Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001) and 8 Simple Keys to Building and Growing Your Mediation or Arbitration Practice (Peace Talks Press 2011). Diana also writes for the Huffington Post as well as her own blog Making Divorce Work.


Divorce & Holidays: Stay Focused On What Matters Most Holiday Season

Staying Focused On What Matters This Holiday Season

For most children, the holidays are an exciting time that they look forward to all year. However for some, especially those whose parents are separated, they can be dispiriting and difficult.

For tips on how to keep your child happy and upbeat during this season, read the below blog by Christina McGhee, a divorce coach and family therapist.

Also, contact us here at Peace Talks to help you resolve any parenting disputes with your holiday arrangements. Don’t wait until December 24th to figure out where your children will be spending Christmas morning.


Ten-year old Daniel had always loved the holidays.  At least he used to.  Since his parents split up, nothing seemed the same.  Before they always spent Christmas Day with Mom’s relatives. He had lots of cousins to play with, special time with his Uncle Charlie and a huge family celebration.

One afternoon, Daniechild sad christmasl overheard Mom talking to Dad on the phone. He could tell Mom had been crying. She said something about “Can’t he just spend part of the day with me?”  

A few minutes later Mom told Daniel this year he’ll be going to Grandma’s house for Christmas with Dad.  Daniel knows going to Grandma’s equals no cousins to play with and a lot of time driving in the car.  While he wants to be fair, Daniel wishes he could tell his Dad he doesn’t want to go.  He hates seeing Mom so upset.  

Daniel thinks back to past celebrations when Mom and Dad were still married.  They never had to go to Grandma’s before.  Why did everything have to change?

Instead of talking with Mom and Dad, Daniel just keeps quiet, no point in making things worse.

For kids like Daniel, the holidays can stir up lots of unspoken worries.  It’s those unspoken worries that inspired filmmaker, Ellen Bruno’s most recent endeavor, SPLIT a film for kids (and by kids) of divorce. Scheduled for release in the fall of 2013, SPLIT offers a candid and revealing look at how kids of divorce feel about family change. Reassuring children they’re not alone, Bruno’s film also offers lots of healing moments as kids from all walks of life open up about heartaches and lessons learned. 

To see a clip of Bruno’s work in progress or to make a contribution to this very special project, visit their Kickstarter page.

Until we can tap into the wisdom SPLIT has to offer, here are few tips to help you stay focused on what matters most to your kids this holiday season from divorce coach and Split supporter, Christina McGhee.

Keep your emotions in check

This holiday season your children will be taking their cues from you. Make sure you are paying attention to your feelings and needs this holiday season.  Think through where you might need a little extra support and create a plan for how you can meet those needs.

Talk about it

Be sure you talk with your children about what the holiday will look like for your family this year. While it may seem like an obvious thing to do, have a discussion about what will be different and what will stay the same.  It can also helpful to discuss with kids what’s most important to them this holiday season but also what will be the hardest parts.  Although you may think you know how your kids are feeling, take time to do a quick check in.  Not only does it give you a chance to learn a little more, it reassures your kids that it’s okay to talk.

Don’t focus on fair

When it comes to holiday schedules and special celebrations, dochildren happy christmas your best to stay focused on how it feels for your kids. Remember what may feel fair to you or your Ex may not feel so great for your kids. 

Whenever possible be flexible and let your kids’ needs guide your holiday planning.

Map it out

When the holidays hit, keeping kids informed about plans or last minute changes often get lost in the shuffle.

To keep things on track, make a color-coded holiday calendar so kids will know how and when they’re spending time with each parent. It also helps to include other significant seasonal events or special days with other important family members.

Give kids a heads up

Going back and forth between Mom’s house and Dad’s house can be a real challenge for kids.  Think ahead about how you can help your kids smoothly transition to the other parent’s home.  For example, instead of pulling kids away from a festive family celebration and shuffling out them door to Mom’s or Dad’s house without warning, give your kids a heads up about what the plan is before you arrive.

Keep it simple

When you’re sharing time between two households, avoid the temptation to “supersize” your holiday by overdoing or overindulging kids. Keep in mind; if you spend every single minute of your time together on the go, you’re likely to end up with fussy, overwhelmed and unhappy kids.

Give your holiday balance by creating pockets of down time with your kids. Think about sitting quietly and reading a book together, taking a walk in the park or enjoying a late morning family breakfast in your pajamas. Remember, less can be more.

Have fun

Whatever you do this holiday season, don’t forget to have fun and stay flexible. While traditions are important, consider the possibility of changing things up. Instead of re-shaping the whole holiday, think about one thing you could do different that you and your kids will enjoy. Along with strengthening your relationship, breaking away from the “usual” can also create special memories for years to come.


Christina McGhee is a divorce coach and family therapist. For more information on her and some of her work, including her book and iphone app, you can visit her website at http://www.divorceandchildren.com/.

Why Your Kids Will Thank You for Mediating Your Divorce

Why Your Kids will Thank you for Mediating

By Alan Brady, guest blogger


Finding a way to share custody of childrenafter a divorce can be an incredibly difficult task. In an ideal situation, each parent will behave with maturity and reason, focusing solely on the needs of the child or children involved and honestly acknowledging the contributions and value of the other. Unfortunately, the ideal is a rarity, and far too often pride and resentment distort our perception of reality, painting our former spouse as unworthy of parenthood.

When a marriage ends and there are children involved, we as parents have a couple of choices. We can go to court, which will be a lengthy, expensive, and hostile process, and the result will be the non-negotiable order of a judge. The alternative is mediation, a process that will encourage both parents to work together to find an effective and healthy agreement that puts the well-being of the child or children first.

child custody

At its core, mediation is a conversation. It is a collaborative decision-making process facilitated by an expert and disinterested third party. A trial or hearing, on the other hand, is by its very nature a confrontation. Representatives from each side of a conflict battle it out, each trying to show that they are on the side of reason and that their opponent cannot be believed or trusted. When this process centers on a child custody dispute, it can become even more cutthroat and desperate, and the person who will suffer most is the child in question.

                During a divorce, it is often tempting for parents to get entirely too focused on their own wants and needs. It’s easy to understand how this might happen. For most people, the end of a marriage is a difficult and painful decision. Hurt feelings, regret, and resentment can overwhelm the best of intentions. Still, it is important to remember that as parents, we have a greater responsibility than ensuring our own happiness or punishing the person who has broken our heart.

                While it may be easy to get wrapped up in the idea of walking away and going back to life as it was before marriage, the unavoidable truth is that you can divorce a spouse, but not a family. As long as there is a child in your life, you will be inextricably bound to this person you’re trying so hard to separate yourself from. The more spiteful and mean you are to each other now, the more difficult it will be adjusting to the new form your relationship and family take going forward.

                In mediation, the goal is always to reach the outcome that will most benefit the child. To that end, there is no blame assigned during mediation and no rehashing of old mistakes and disappointments. The mediator should never take sides or allow the conversation to focus on the past. The intention of this process goes beyond creating a schedule for custody. It should also aid former spouses in creating a functional working relationship that will enable them to communicate effectively and parent consistently.

                No matter how commonplace an occurrence it has become, ultimately, children are affected by their parents’ divorce. The sudden change in family and home life can be difficult and even traumatic for the youngest members of the family. Courtroom custody disputes add a level of uncertainty and helplessness to all parties involved. Choosing mediation keeps the childcare decisions in the hands of the parents and ensures that a conversation and collaboration occurs, rather than a fight.

                We cannot always be the best versions of ourselves. Sometimes we are petty, selfish, or immature. It is important to protect your children from the stress and trauma of watching their parents fight constant, bitter battles over every little thing that come up. Beginning your new life apart with mediation instead of a courtroom dispute will help you and your ex to remain calm and civil during your future interactions, and this will help your children to know that they are still a part of a family, even if it has changed.


Author Info:

Alan Brady is a writer who uses personal experience as inspiration to write about family, law, and business practices. He currently writes for Attorneys.com which locates local child custody lawyers.


Choose How Confrontational Your Divorce Will Be

Divorce Resolution Continuum

By Diana Mercer, Attorney-Mediator, copyright 2013


The decision to divorce is followed by a number of choices for how a case might be filed and later resolved.  Some of the steps are a loop, and others may be mixed and matched, but the general continuum, from least confrontational to most confrontational, is:


  • Decision to Divorce
  • No response:  spouse ignores petition, or is missing = proceed by Default
  • Kitchen Table discussion on how to resolve case, do-it-yourself divorce paperwork
  • See a lawyer, get an idea of rights, then resolve around the Kitchen Table and DIY

choose how confrontational your divorce will be

  • Use a paralegal or one lawyer to draft the papers, no individual representation
  • Unbundled legal services:  one or both parties hire an attorney by the hour to do just the tasks the client needs done
  • Individual representation with lawyer for one party only who helps parties settle informally, without court
  • Mediation
  • Mediation with lawyers involved, to a more or lesser degree  *
  • Collaborative Divorce
  • Start litigation
  • Litigation at first but ultimately settle
  • Litigation at first, but use Private Judge or Arbitrator for final decision
  • Litigation and Trial


*  Referring to collaborative lawyers for independent consultations and representation for individual clients in mediated cases may be a bridge between mediation and collaborative law. There’s also less of a chance that a collaborative lawyer will derail the mediation process.  The collaborative lawyer acting as independent counsel in a mediation might also have a retainer agreement and independent counsel agreement that follows the collaborative law model in that the mediation won’t be derailed in favor of litigation, and that the client will be expected to remain in mediation until settlement is reached.


Why You Should Come to This Collaborative Training

Streamlined Collaborative Practice Protocols Training June 6-8, 2013

Skirball Center

Los Angeles, CA

The Marina Collaborative Divorce Practice Group along with Co-Sponsor, the Southern California Mediation Association, are excited to announce our upcoming Three-Day Collaborative Practice Training June 6-8, 2013  in Los Angeles, California at the beautiful Skirball Center.    

Why this training is different: This training is one of a kind.  It’s being designed specifically for OUR GROUP. The trainers are tailoring their materials and presentation specifically based on what we’ve requested so that this training will be great for everyone interested in Collaborative Practice.

This training is meant for practitioners new to collaborative practice and especially previously trained practitioners to learn the new streamlined protocols and to practice team building and delineation of the roles and responsibilities of each professional.collaborative

The collaborative Team is the magic of collaborative law. Too many of us bypass the protocols and collaborative enrollment process thinking that we’re saving clients time and money, when in reality we’re not using Collaborative Practice to its full benefit.

Many other collaborative trainings don’t teach the importance of teams and how each professional plays an integral and powerful role as a team member.  The team is greater than the sum of its professionals.  The power for each professional is not in the individual power and control like in a traditionally litigated case

Personal Property and Divorce: Consignment Offers Solutions

Personal Property and Divorce:  Family Focused Consignment Offers Solutions

Guest Blog By Mark A. Roger

Proprietor; Backroom @ WestClay

Divorce brings with it upheaval and turmoil; navigating the dissolution of a relationship takes an emotional toll of both parties.  The dissolution and assignment of property; and cost of establishing new residences compound the situation.  Once your discussion moves beyond the legal assignment of property, consignment is a family focused venue for securing the greatest value for your property, done in a timely basis and an affordable way to create a new living space while building your new life.

Furniture Consignment

 Consignment specialists who are family focused provide tools and knowledge that is valuable throughout the divorce process.  Partnering with a consignment specialist through mediation and assignment of property adds an objective voice to an emotional journey.  Specifically, a consignment specialist will: