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MEDIATION HELPS DIVORCING COUPLES CLIMB OUT OF RING

Marcie Keck draws a diagram on her easel. On the left side she draws the plaintiff and on the right she puts the defendant. These are the couple getting divorced. Between them she draws the couple's attorneys.

Then she draws a circle around both the attorneys. "When a divorce is final, these two go off and have a drink," she says. "And these two" - she points to the divorced mother and father - "have to go on to raise their kids.""We polarize parents in the legal process," she concludes, "and then we expect them to do a good job of raising children together."

Keck is a divorce mediator. Like many mediators, and a growing number of other people, she sees the usual divorce scenario of attorneys and judges as too adversarial, a process that drives parents even farther apart.

A client of Keck's describes her experience when she and her husband first filed for divorce. In the beginning, she says, the couple was close to an agreement. But then, she says, "the lawyers took all the good will out of it. We each just got more entrenched, with the encouragement of our lawyers." After a year of trying to come to some resolution and hoping to avoid a costly trial, the couple began mediation. Within six sessions they had come to an agreement.

"My ex-husband was willing to be generous. He just didn't want to feel that things were being taken from him." Mediation, she says, helped him feel more in control.

Mandatory divorce mediation for newly divorcing parents with custody and visitation disputes has been required in Utah's 4th Judicial District since the beginning of 1993. A bill to expand the program to the 3rd District failed to make it through the Legislature during the last session, but will probably be introduced again next year.

There is also a move to take divorce out of the adversarial court system and put it in some sort of family relations department of district court. A bill to create such a department will likely be introduced in the Legislature next year.