“Parental child abduction across borders”
A German-American couple living in the US with two children, three and five years old, are experiencing marital problems. Things have been getting worse since the birth of their second child. They tried marriage counselling but only had a few sessions which brought no significant improvement. They recently moved from Boston to Houston, where the US father started an interesting and demanding new job, but the German mother who isn’t working at the moment feels even more alone and isolated than she did in Boston. Their original plan had been to move to Germany, but it didn’t work out that way.
The family spends Easter vacation in Germany, and the husband flies back to Houston 10 days before the wife and children are scheduled to return. The night before their flight back the mother phones the father to tell him that she has decided to stay in Germany with the children. The father is extremely upset and threatens to initiate a court case under the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention. The mother becomes very concerned and contacts MiKK, the International Mediation Centre for Family Conflict and Child Abduction in Berlin. The parents agree to mediation with a US-born female psychosocial mediator and a German male lawyer-mediator.
The following topics are discussed: the future of their marriage, working situation of both parents, habitual residence of the children, bilingual and bicultural upbringing, holidays in the US and Germany, communication between the parents, financial issues and contact to the non-resident parent.
Over the course of five mediation sessions during the next 10 days the parents experience many emotional ups and downs. In the end, they reach an agreement over the most pressing issues:
- mother and children will return to Houston by April 15
- a German au pair will be hired so that the mother can work part-time and the children will have more exposure to the German language and culture
- the whole family will spend summer vacation and alternate Christmases in Germany, with the mother making an extra trip a year to visit her family and friends back home (here she will take the child or children with her as long as they do not yet attend school)
- when the family is separated there will be daily contact between the parents and between the absent parent and the children
- the couple will return to marriage counselling to work through their relationship problems
- Three years from now the parents will seriously reconsider moving back to Germany or another European country, even if this means that they would have to live apart for awhile.
The Memorandum of Understanding is then checked by the parents’ attorneys and rendered legally binding in both US and German jurisdictions.
“Crisis in the workplace”
Three graphic designers have been running a business together for the past six years. Up to now they have always cooperated on an equal basis. Lately, though, a number of controversial issues have risen to the surface, making it stressful for them to cooperate; the result is that they have begun to avoid mutual interaction – which doesn’t make their jobs any easier.
In the first mediation session it turns out that the main line of conflict is between the founder of the business and the other two partners. In the ensuing process the founder decides to leave the company while the others want to continue running the business. In the third and last mediation session the parties agree on the following points: timeframe and details of restructuring the business, communication with clients and outside colleagues, use of the office in the meantime, division of incoming jobs as well as outstanding assets and debts. The business partners have their mediation agreement checked by a lawyer to ensure that it is legally binding.
“Training in International Family Mediation”
The Belgian NGO Child Focus conducts an EU funded project in co-operation with MiKK e.V. and the Dutch NGO International Child Abduction Centre. My role in the project is to develop the training concept along with MiKK colleagues and to act as lead trainer. After a concept development phase, a 2-week pilot training in International Family Mediation is conducted with 12 family mediators from 12 EU member states. Subsequently a 3-week Training for Trainers (ToT) is piloted with 46 family mediation trainers from 23 countries. Later a cross-border family mediator network is established. Since then (for the past 11 years) MiKK has conducted introductory and in-depth courses in several different languages, further training seminars, supervision and network meetings. Trainings have taken place in Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Kosovo, Australia, Singapore and Japan.
Tensions have built up in the context of a co-operation project between civil society organisations in Germany and Portugal. The problems seem to be related to issues such as co-ordination, responsibility and commitment. The conflict flares up during a routine project meeting: several group members yell at each other while others leave the room. The project co-ordinators suggest a team-building process to be conducted by outside consultants. The process involves interviews, small-group meetings and structured plenary sessions. The conflict is analysed and those involved recognise their own role in the situation. They articulate their anger and disappointment at not having their expectations met and begin to listen to each other. Since everyone involved wants the project to be successful, they agree on new procedures and how to deal with difficult situations in the future. At the end of the teambuilding process the parties have gained a better understanding of what happened and a greater trust in their ability to deal with future challenges constructively.