DIVORCE MEDIATION

Dallas is the divorce capitol of the nation -a dubious honor, indeed. And divorce can be one of the nastiest games around, in which both sides choose the toughest lawyer available and play a heartbreaking round of I’ll-get-you-for-this.

Two Dallasites, Sharon Leviton, Ph.D., and James L. Greenstone, Ed. D., have an alternative to these usually devastating proceedings. They’ve started practice as divorce mediators -qualified, self-help professionals who arbitrate while couples engage in a sort of do-it-yourself divorce.

The need for such a service in Dallas was pinpointed in 1977, when members of the family law section of the Dallas Bar Association decided that some arbitration in marital disputes was necessary. Local domestic relations court dockets had become packed, and there was a need for more sensitive handling of such cases. Greenstone, a marriage and family psychotherapist, had been using divorce mediation in his private practice for about 10 years, but “never really called it that.” Leviton had been mediating for about five years.

“Crisis intervention” is their specialty; they’ve co-written several books on the subject. In divorce cases, they sit back and let the divorcing couple compose the terms of the settlement and intervene when emotions break down the process.

Leviton and Greenstone say that most people don’t understand their options. Temporary restraining orders (TROs), a common divorce practice in which both parties are forbidden to communicate during proceedings, are an example.

“Rather than closing the doors of communication,” Greenstone says, “this is a time when a couple should be talking the most.” Rather than using a TRO, some of their clients have even continued living in the same house during proceedings. And instead of imposing child visitation rights every other weekend, Leviton and Greenstone suggest finding a time that is most convenient for all concerned.

The limitations imposed in the court system-lack of time and emotional support – don’t exist with mediation, but at some time during the mediation (usually at the onset) Leviton and Greenstone advise couples to “take a field trip” to their attorney’s office to learn their legal rights.

“Divorce mediation is not all sweetness and light,” Greenstone says. One recent session, for example, lasted 12 consecutive hours, but the end result was “healthy.” “Truth is always in the middle,” Greenstone says. The fee for their help in finding the truth is about $1,500.

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