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Non-Traditional Family? I'm Fine with That!

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “a square peg in a round hole”. Well, what happens to those couples who might be considered by some to be “square pegs”? Non-traditional couples who don’t fit the mold that some of us think about when we consider "family". Mom, dad, kids, a dog with a house in the suburbs. Dad works and mom might have a job outside of the house, but her primary focus is taking care of the kids and managing the house. It’s a familiar image that many of us have.

But families form in many ways, and they look different depending on how they choose to come together. There may be two moms, or a mom and dad may be of two different cultures or races. They may have chosen not to have children but have pets they love dearly instead. Some couples share their homes with extended families because of culture or financial reasons. There are many variations on the theme of “family”. And some of those are what we consider “non-traditional”.

What happens to them when they come to the painful decision to end their relationship and their families must realign? They can find it difficult to locate a mediator to work with them because of a nonconventional arrangement, high emotions, complex family dynamics and the lack of a legal standing about their union. They may or may not have children or they may have pets they value very highly. They often jointly own property and other assets which must be equitably distributed not to mention the acquisition of retirement funds and investment accounts. Personal property which must be respected and preserved in the agreement. All of these factors are critical when working with the parties from non-traditional arrangements in exactly the way the are treated with mainstream parties.

But the relationship and situation to all around them can make them look like a “square peg” and that makes them appear to be an unattractive client to many mediators. It may be messy to untangle. A little sticky because of the deep emotional issues involved—this may not be the typical “high conflict” situation—it’s just very emotional. Neither party can bear to part with the beloved dog they’ve had since she was a puppy. His mom has lived with them for fifteen years. Where will she go? Her culture does not embrace divorce and she may be shunned. There may be many considerations they need to factor into their agreement.

A non-traditional relationship coupled with a complex situation in an already emotionally charged, painful experience will cause many people to back away from this. But I’ve had years of experience dealing with difficult situations and I understand the human emotions involved. Everyone going through a breakup needs and deserves the help of a good mediator. I get it. I’m fine with it.


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