February 18, 2022
My co-mediator, Linda, and I met in a divorce mediation training at MWI. I was transitioning to a new career in family mediation after teaching mindfulness for 10 years; Linda had just retired from 20 years as a family court judge and divorce mediation seemed a sensible next step. I liked Linda immediately. A smart, confident woman with an Ivy League pedigree and bootstrap attitude, she was impossible not to admire. While her competence filled the room, impressing her peers, she spoke with humbleness and curiosity, setting us all at ease. She possessed a quiet confidence that I truly appreciated.
It turned out that the desire to mediate divorces wasn’t all Linda and I had in common. We were both creative, social, adventurous, and fearless. Perhaps our greatest commonality— we each serve as the matriarch of a modern blended family. Between us, we have 16 children and all the associated complications one can imagine (she edges my seven kids and step-kids out with her nine). Like a tide moving in and out between work and family, we are in constant state of practicing mediation, naturally infusing our professional mediation sessions with the very skills we rely upon at home. For instance, using compassionate listening, a grounded perspective, competence, non-judgment, and a true care for the people we serve.
Months after our training, Linda and I paired up to co-mediate a divorce case together. We prepared ahead of time, deciding who would take which part of the introductions and breaking up the Topics Checklist into pieces. For example, deciding I’ll lead on custody and parenting time, you lead on asset division. Then we got to work.
It didn’t take long for us to find a rhythm. Linda’s strength in agreement writing paired perfectly with my quick typing fingers and tech savvy. Moreover, we connected out clients with helpful professionals and reality tested their decisions around parenting and money. Further, we held space for our clients to safely assess and express their needs and reach sustainable agreements. A few months into our first case, the clients decided to reconcile.
There were many factors leading this couple to stay together, most of which they kept private. As for Linda and I, we were proud to have created a gentle and respectful atmosphere in which our clients could speak honestly about separation and make thoughtful decisions about their family’s future.
Linda and I have continued to co-mediate cases. Along the way, I have mediated several solo cases. However, I miss working with Linda for personal reasons—I am a social person; I like to work in groups and collaborate; I like to learn by watching others—and, also, for the quality of service we provide as a team. We give each other room to experiment during sessions and provide a solid sounding board for each other between sessions. Above all, co-mediation allows us to fill in the gaps for each other—Linda’s court experience is unparalleled, and I am good with documents and follow-up. Most importantly, together we create safe space for our clients to reinvent their relationships as they transition from husbands and wives to exes and co-parents.
Vanessa Linsey is a family mediator with MWI. She mediates a variety of cases for Massachusetts District, Municipal, and Probate and Family Courts, including: divorce, parenting plans, never-married parents, small claims, and harassment prevention orders. In addition to being a mediator, Vanessa is also a couples coach and a certified mindfulness teacher.
Judge Linda Pearce Prestley is a former Superior Court judge who brings over three decades of public service to her mediation practice. Linda began her career as a public school teacher. She then worked at the Connecticut’s Attorney General’s office before becoming the Connecticut Child Advocate. She brings her experiences as a parent of a large family, a teacher, a lawyer, and a judge to mediation.