Mediator urges civility in divorce
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Mediator urges civility in divorce

Website provides referrals for couples who want to 'sit down and talk'

With civility – or its lack – much in the news, Fair Lawn rabbi/mediator Martin Rosenfeld has set out to bring more of it into the process of divorce.

Rosenfeld, a member of the 10-year-old organization Nefesh International – a resource for people with questions about mental health issues – recently surveyed the group’s membership to see who might join him in that effort. He received 60 responses.

“It was a positive sign,” said the rabbi, who pulled together a core group of 20 fellow mental health practitioners and mediators to form the new organization Civil Divorce/Civil Get.

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Rabbi Martin Rosenfeld is a proponent of “civil divorce.” courtesy martin rosenfeld

One of those people is Rabbi Wallace Greene, former head of the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Jewish Educational Service and former executive director of the Jewish Center of Teaneck.

According to Greene, who has lectured on the topic to rabbinical groups all over New Jersey as well as to Yeshiva University rabbinic alumni, the new organization will enable “professionals from different fields to share their expertise so that couples can dissolve their marriages in the most amicable and stress-free environment that may be possible under the circumstances.”

He pointed out that Civil Divorce/Civil Get is also intended to “help alleviate problems related to the granting of a get or religious divorce” by encouraging mediation, counseling, and the drafting of pre-nuptial agreements.

“I was trying to give some visibility to the issue of how we get divorced in the Jewish community and whether there are more civil ways,” said Rosenfeld, who has been a mediator since 1998.

He suggested that rather than avoiding communication, divorcing couples might “sit down for hourly sessions. My experience as a mediator is that any two people who want to resolve something can do so if the right atmosphere is created,” he said. “It may not be perfect, but they will usually find a resolution.”

The biggest challenge is the modern mindset, he said, noting that “in America, we’re raised with the idea that when there’s a legal problem, we get the best attorney and go to court.” But divorce negotiations do not require an attorney, he said, noting that this idea is gaining traction even among judges.

Rosenfeld was recently invited to speak in a Monmouth County courtroom about the benefits of mediation and, said the rabbi, he received a favorable response from the judge.

“The problem was, every person in court there already had an attorney,” and those lawyers did not look favorably on mediation.

“Instead of attorneys going ‘head to head’ in discussing possible settlements,” Rosenfeld prefers to see the couple discuss these matters, together, in mediation.

His website, civildivorcecivilget.com, together with his blog, civildivorcecivilget.wordpress.com, mix modern and traditional sources on Jewish and civil divorce, combining his articles with those by others in the field.

“They deal with the issue of children as well as mental health issues, dialogue, and communication,” he said, “anything that has ‘civil’ as its direction. I’ve gotten about 300 hits a month.” Some articles, such as a recent one by a woman discussing what it’s like to be single after a divorce, have gotten a lot of attention, he said.

“We’ve been able to reach out to rabbis on bet dins and tribunals to ensure that people talk with [divorcing couples] about things like attending sessions on dealing with kids post-divorce. Basically, people need to understand that there are professionals who can help them. Divorce is not just a piece of paper but a transition in your life.”

Rosenfeld said his efforts are necessary because “people have lost the ability to dialogue, to reach out and talk to other people. It’s a less caring, less civil society when you can’t learn the basics of dialogue.”

He pointed out that when couples come to speak with him, he generally has to instruct the individuals to look at their spouses, rather than at him.

“The couple involved in a divorce often finds that communication has totally broken down. Mediation offers the couple a chance to relearn positive communication. If they are, for example, co-parents, they will need to communicate on issues well after the divorce has taken place.”

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