Friday, September 27, 2013

Beware Hidden Motivations

     Often, the motivation to settle or to sue has nothing to do with the case that is before a mediator or Judge.  For example, a party may feel disrespected by her family members, may feel let down by her personal trainer or frustrated by her former spouse.  The motivation to sue someone is sometimes an enigma that doesn't completely reveal itself to the lawyer who brings the claim.  Then, many months or years later, the motivation to settle can derive from something altogether different, such as an impending divorce, a series of bad investments, a desire to quit a job or leave the country.  A business may be positioning itself for sale or acquisition.  A lawyer may be leaving the practice to write novels or open an art gallery.  When you probe with open-ended questions, you can find out all kinds of factors that may have driven the litigation and will be the engines that drive towards ending the conflict.

     This week, I mediated a case brought by a very wealthy woman against her former business partner in a business centered around her daughter's sport.  Now that the woman had a falling out with her daughter, (who was a freshman in college), she was angry at the considerable investment she had made in her childhood activities.  Rather than sue her own daughter, she sued her daughter's fondest coach.  Once it became evident that the lawsuit was not motivated by a desire to collect considerable damages, but by a hope that she could be heard and understood now that she was alone, she could put the dispute in a proper storage bin, alongside all of the complicated emotions and memories that empty nesters put the worldly possessions of their children's childhood in once they move away and spread their wings.  Having your last child move out on his own is a huge adjustment, but, like aging itself, there is no easy way to turn back the clock and change history.   Mom and Dad just have to keep looking forward, not back and re-frame their children's childhood in the most favorable light possible.

     Even a black cat can not consistently spot the mouse in the grass.  Once she makes peace with that, she can just begin to enjoy the long grassy garden for it's own sake.