Pepperdine Voice Magazine
Partners in Peacemaking
Therapist-Attorney Team Offer Alternatives for a "Friendly Divorce".
by Audra Quinn
Susie Duffy (MA '95) sat with a sobbing woman who was convinced that she would not survive her divorce.
"She was devastated," Duffy recalls. "She lost 25 pounds and had all the classic signs of depression. The last thing that she wanted to do was to come and talk to a divorce coach."
They say that breaking up is hard to do, and with the staggering stats on divorce these days, most of us know, directly or indirectly, that it's true. It's costly. It's emotionally taxing. Children often get caught in the crossfire.
Two Pepperdine alumni have teamed together to clean up the classic "messy divorce" using a process they call co-mediation. Susie Duffy is the divorce coach, a licensed marriage and family therapist who has worked with individuals, couples, and family issues for over 10 years. Jan Mark Dudman (JD '74) is the attorney at law. He has been practicing divorce law in Orange County for the past 30 years.
Divorce mediation, in short, assists couples who agree to stay out of court, offering a less traumatic experience both emotionally and financially. Duffy and Dudman, who met at a collaborative divorce training seminar in 2004, use a unique two-person model in their Southern California-based business, Divorce Mediation OC. "We're both trained mediators, but since Jan's the legal and I'm the emotional, we found that to be a nice combination, as well as the male-female balance," Duffy explains.
Changing the tone of the divorce from adversarial to collaborative is even more important when children are involved, they say. "We have more of a family therapy kind of session," Duffy says. "This shows the kids, even when there is conflict in the sessions, that the parents are able to talk."
Dudman recalls one instance where they began the mediation process with a highly combative couple. "The wife was very emotional; the husband was inflexible, and there were difficult spousal support issues," he says. "After we'd gone through the emotions and difficulties of all this, when we finally came to the agreement, they actually hugged each other."
While "collaborative divorce" may still seem like an oxymoron, Duffy and Dudman believe more and more divorce proceedings will end in hugs rather than hatred. "I've seen a big shift in the way that people look at divorce," Duffy says, noting that many of their clients find them by searching the Internet for "friendly divorce."
Incidentally, both Duffy and Dudman are married with children—Susie has two stepsons and Jan has three daughters. Both say they are very committed to the institution of marriage and their respective spouses and children. "I remain hopeful," Duffy says, "because I believe in people's need for love and connection and family."
For resources and information on fostering healthy relationships and strong families, visit the Boone Center for the Family at http://gsep.pepperdine.edu/family/.