By Mary Sauer
If Barry Davis, a divorce mediator, could only give one piece of advice about going through a divorce while in recovery it would be this: hire a divorce mediator in lieu of a litigation attorney.
In over a decade of mediating, Davis has seen that mediation is a game-changer for couples that are pursuing a divorce. Consequently, he is very passionate about making the benefits of divorce mediation known.
Davis has a Master of Arts in Conflict Management and Peacemaking, a Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology, and a long history dealing with clients who are working recovery while going through divorce. This qualifies Davis as an authority on what a person in recovery should prioritize while navigating a divorce.
Proactively managing the divorce process by hiring a divorce mediator or therapist to guide the process should be the first step for any couple that has made the decision to part ways, says Davis. The stress of taking a divorce to court is exceptionally hard on those in recovery and as a mediator, Davis’s main goal is to guarantee that never happens.
“I get clients early on in the divorce process, and I walk them all the way through until we submit a judgment,” Davis explains, “My clients should never set foot in court.”
By mediating, couples can spend significantly less time and money reaching a peaceful agreement concerning division of property, support, and custody. Mediation also allows clients to remain in complete control of the outcome of their divorce, instead of entrusting those decisions to a judge.
That control and flexibility can be especially important for clients who are in recovery, which brings a vast set of issues to the negotiation table. The first step for sober clients is opening up a dialogue, Davis said.
“For a client [in recovery] I would ask that they be honest and direct with their mediator, therapist or attorney about where they are at in their recovery.”
This includes verbalizing possible triggers for relapse and discussing circumstances that could damage the recovery process. By understanding what is unique about the clients’ circumstances, the professional guiding the divorce will be able to make informed decisions without making assumptions about their client. A direct and honest dialogue will also allow the professional be of assistance in finding additional resources to aid in their clients’ recovery.
“I talk to [clients in recovery] about what resources they are utilizing and what resources they could use. I want to make sure that I am supporting them,” Davis said.
The third priority for a divorcing couple should be focusing on the present and future instead of the past.
“The spouse is often the last one to let go,” Davis said. “Everyone else can say ‘forgive and forget, let’s move on’ once [the client] is clean and sober, but the spouse is having a harder time moving on.”
At these times, it is important that focus remains on the fact that the spouse is in fact sober and committed to recovery instead of focusing on their past offenses.
Looking to the future often includes developing a parenting plan, which can be a refreshing part of the mediation process, Davis said.
“This is a magic key to motivation…all of a sudden the focus is shifted from all the negative feelings they have towards one another to: how do we take care of our kids?”
In the case that one of the spouses is in recovery, there are two unique circumstances that must be taken into account. First, it is imperative that both spouses acknowledge that the spouse in recovery may have been an absent, and thus inexperienced, parent due to the attention their addiction required of them before sobriety. Because of this, it may be necessary that this spouse seek guidance or counseling concerning his or her parenting skills. Secondly, past offenses may require that the couple agree on the necessary protections that should be put in place in order to guarantee that everyone involved feels comfortable with the children spending extended time with the spouse in recovery.
Finally, each individual must commit to the process as outlined by the hired professional while also committing to the process of recovery. The spouse who is not in recovery must acknowledge that the choices they make could either help or harm the process of recovery. By allowing a professional to guide the process, potential triggers that put the client at risk for relapse can be avoided. Remaining on the most direct and peaceful path for coming to an agreement is the most beneficial course of action for all parties involved.
This article first appeared in the summer issue of Renew.