Seeking Common Ground
Mediator helps untie the knot.
Negotiation has been a common theme for a good portion of Aviva Gordon’s life. The Oak Park mother of three children — 17, 19 and 20 — who is 14 years into her second marriage and achieved 31 years of employment with AT&T before retiring, has culled her years of compromise skills for a new venture, The Mediation Advantage, assisting couples reach an amicable divorce.
Spurred on by her own divorce, Gordon drew on the experience of that process, the skill it required to keep her home life moored and her familiarity with mediation (she and her first husband were able to resolve their differences quickly through a mediator) for inspiration.
“When you’re running a home, you’re sort of running a small business,” Gordon says. “You’re negotiating all day long; you have differences of opinion so you need to have strategies, and your kids all have different needs.”
Of course, running a business and running a household aren’t really the same things, but when your business is the orchestrated dismantling of a couple’s home, in both real and metaphorical terms, the differences between the two can understandably blur.
To borrow a buzzword from the touchy-feely set, Gordon’s approach to mediation is more “holistic” than operational. Even though her personality screams “all business,” it belies the velvet glove touch she employs with her clients, many of whom bring their visceral pain to the negotiating table.
“I maintain a close business relationship with smart, caring attorneys, accountants, clergy and psychologists, who often reduce their rates since they are taking on a more relegated role,” she says.
The holistic facet of her practice is particularly effective, she says, because a sense of responsibility toward her clients’ emotional needs provides a level of comfort that is largely absent from the courtroom. She shared the story of how one couple’s negotiation went so well they decided to give their marriage another shot. “To the best of my knowledge, they’re still married,” she added.
Sure, it’s not always uplifting work. The prevalence of divorce is not lost on this Orthodox woman, who knows the premium placed on maintaining a union. But, as she is painfully aware, divorce happens. And if its collateral damage is the division of property and child custody, its oxygen is money.
“The average couple with $500,000 in assets is spending a 10th of that — $25,000 a piece — on 20, 30 or even 40 hours of legal counsel,” she says. “I can resolve all of their issues in 3–10 hours, and at one-third the price.”
Despite her religious conviction, or maybe due in part to it, Gordon feels she is doing a community service, ensuring her clients’ identities are kept private. “My top priority is to maintain my clients’ dignity,” she says. “They don’t necessarily want to be airing their dirty laundry in front of a bunch of strangers.”
Having a mostly Jewish clientele, many of whom are worried about the process of the get – or Jewish divorce document, Gordon helps couples understand exactly what obtaining it entails and can help facilitate acquisition when necessary.
She says she wants to help others who may be in the same situation she was at age 35. “I just want to give back to the community,” she offers.
But, don’t let that soft side fool you. Gordon, for all her caring and compassion, is still a businesswoman.
“I don’t want to hear any excuses — let’s make a deal,” she says. “We need to get down to business so you can get in, get out and get on with your lives — without paying me more than you need to pay me.” RT