Alternative dispute resolution is a method that deviates from the ‘reptilian’ reaction to fight in cases of separation and focuses on a more cultured approach to resolving the emotional ‘crash scene’.

The host of the Today Show began by turning to Kathryn, the former wife of Tom who was sitting beside her and asked, “When you’re in pain, when you’re divorcing someone, why would you choose this rather than going a traditional route?” Interesting and telling because there is a presumption by the presenter that pain has some bearing on the route Kathryn would want to take. There is an assumption to ameliorate that pain through anger fuelled revenge for some perceived ‘wrong’. It is essentially a human condition that is used by adversarial law, which exploits pain, anger, and then revenge – almost a guarantee of a drawn out fight in the courts, fuelled by all of the  emotions above.

Jonathon van der Goes is a counsellor at the Nanaimo Men’s Resource Centre and said that the Centre does, “get involved with small ‘c’ collaboration.” He added, there is a big ‘C’ collaborative process which is a formal process where two parties hire professional negotiators to help them negotiate a win-win situation. We help people, both men and women with small ‘c’ here at the Centre.  “One of my jobs is to try to get parents to learn how to collaborate together in co-parenting.” One of the main points made by van der Goes was that, “Generally we [as separating couples] don’t negotiate when there is room to negotiate, we don’t even see the options.” The facilitator’s focus in these session is to shift the mind into a different space.

Often times, he finds himself writing a letter that helps articulate what it exactly the individual hopes to accomplish. Van der Goes said that he uses role-playing in order to extract what an individual is actually trying to say. He’ll ask the man, “What is it that you would like to say to her [wife]? The man will typically reply, 80-90% of the time, ‘be a nicer person’. Unfortunately, nobody can tell what that means. So, we want to get the person thinking […] to talk about specific requests, rather than, ‘ease off on me.’

In terms of the legal process, van der Goes said, “most lawyers here [on Vancouver Island] use small ‘c’ collaborative process; they talk to each other; they always try to negotiate.” Adding, “They aren’t trained in negotiation though. A lot of them don’t have basic negotiation skill number one, some do, but most don’t. The lawyer ethic for a lot of lawyers, not all of them, […] what they do for their client is go and do a good case, a big win in court is what they really want.” Hence the reptilian aspect of adversarial law common in our society escalates an already primal emotional situation, extending it over a number of years with the goal of a big victory for one party over another. “When there is a big win in court, the family loses”, van der Goes said.

If we believe that families are an integral part of our social fabric, as so often professed by supplicant politicians, then the irony of our legal system – which is arguably constructed to preserve the peace and harmony of society, is actually instrumental in ripping it to shreds in adversarial family court. And it is that very thing that the Nanaimo Men’s Resource Centre has been working against over the last 13 plus years. According to van der Goes, they are making a positive social difference – albeit a small one.