Recently, in the course of watching a re-run of an episode of the 1980s television drama Auf Wiedersein Pet I was particularly struck by what was said during a rather heated discussion between a couple who were in the process of divorcing. The man, Oz, who was portrayed in the drama as a rather blunt and not altogether responsible person, wanted to spend some time with the couple’s son whom he had not seen for quite some time. Oz was particularly anxious to do so because on “coincidentally” speaking to his son outside the school gates he learned that his estranged wife, Marjorie, was proposing to move to Italy with her new partner. It transpired that in his absence Oz had been served at his last known address with a number of divorce related documents including one that precluded him from having any contact at all with his son.
In the course of the inevitable row Oz did not specifically object to the Italian move. Rather, in the face of very strident objections from Marjorie he asked for the opportunity to spend a day with his son to see what the boy felt about things. Marjorie argued that in the past 18 months or so her soon to be ex had not made contact with any member of the family, not even his mother, and reminded him that he had not made any form of financial contribution to her for over two years.
In response to repeated refusals Oz simply but very insightfully said: “Look Marjorie, this is an argument that neither of us can win.” The incisiveness of this statement prompted Marjorie to step back and the deadlock was broken. She was quietly confident that the law was on her side and realised that it was unlikely either that a UK court would belatedly intervene and prevent the move to Italy or that her ex was so stupid as to try and abscond with his son.
In this instance, common sense prevailed at the eleventh hour. Oz was spared abject humiliation and was able to see his son. He satisfied himself that the boy was happy with the Italian arrangement and was able to leave the door open for future contact.
However, unfortunately this is not always the case. All too often disputing couples find themselves before a Family Court judge. The judge will be aware that he or she has to make a decision that at least one party will find unpalatable and will result in even more hurt, anger and resentment. One party may win the argument on the day but beyond that a court-imposed solution amounts to an all-round no-win.
In disputes such as Oz and Marjorie’s, even at a very late stage, mediation works. The constructive dialogue and listening that it engenders helps mistrustful parties, who may be poles apart, to resume communication. Often it helps to restore a level of trust and, like Oz and Marjorie, a considerable number of separating couples happily discover that that there are arguments that in a sense they both can win and at very reasonable cost.
Principal Director of ASM PLUS, civil/commercial, workplace, employment, family and educational mediator and trainer with a judicial/legal background. He has knowledge and expertise in dispute resolution in a wide range of areas and disciplines and mediates online.