In eye of COVID-19 storm, Center for Change offers calm solutions03/31/2021 10:18AM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
As her professional calendar was about to flip to 2020, Winden Rowe, the director of The Center for Change at Kennett Square, did what she always does at that time of year.
She wrote a list of goals for the Center to achieve in the new year, and at the top of that list was written the words, “Fine Tune.”
The exercise had become Rowe’s annual take-a-breath, sketchpad moment, and one that would allow her to diagram the collaborative talents of her like-minded providers in ways that would strengthen and condense its counseling, mediation and wellness-based services.
Within a week, “Fine Tune” became “Rebuild.”
On Jan. 3, 2020, The Center’s office in the Willowdale Shopping Center was leveled from a severe fire, forcing its team to quickly occupy another building in the complex. Just as they settled into their new space, the COVID-19 pandemic swept through Chester County.
With very little fanfare and no clear path forward for exactly how she and her colleagues would soldier on through the shutdown, Rowe promptly ripped up her list of goals, because what was about to happen at The Center for Change at Kennett Square could never be easily contained on a tick-off sheet of to-dos and aspirations. Rather, Rowe and her staff were bracing for what would become a perfect storm, whose power and velocity would create an epidemiological and psychological crisis, much of which would land at their feet and call upon them to clean it all up.
“We had a lot of conversations about the fact that while we are mental health professionals, we are going through the same historical event that everyone else is at the same time, so we knew to take care of our needs as well as those of our clients,” Rowe said. “As a society, we are now going through an experience where our lives have been reduced down to our most limited space and distance, and it’s bringing up a lot.
“I think the first wave of the pandemic hitting us brought up a lot of people’s individual trauma, in a way that I have never seen before, and over the past year, they have not been able to avoid what they have easily been able to avoid in the past.”
The stories that have emerged since the start of the pandemic last March, backed up with percentages and statistics, tell the tale of a society whose lives have been altered or effectively broken from a pandemic that shows only the first glimpses of its retreat.
Over the past year, research related to the impact of COVID-19 on or general population has reported an upward trend in mental health consequences that have resulted in stress, depression, anxiety, panic, loneliness, struggles with suicidal ideation and behavior, insomnia, emotional exhaustion, grief, as well as the retriggered feelings of past trauma.
Pandemic’s impact on divorce rates
While The Center’s personal counseling offices have properly pivoted to meet the increased needs for its clients, its mediators – Regina DeAngelis, Jane Murphy Donze and Gary Katz – are responding to another crisis that has skyrocketed over the past year.
In the year since the pandemic began, divorce rates have spiked in the U.S. According to data compiled by Legal Templates, the number of people seeking divorces was 34 percent higher from March through June in 2020 compared to that same period in 2019, and in its survey on the impact of how COVID-19 is affecting relationships, 31 percent of couples said that lockdown had caused irreparable damage to their relationship.
Legal Templates’ findings uncovered an even harsher reality: Newlyweds were hit hardest by a wide margin. The rate of divorcing couples with children increased in 2020 from the previous year, and the number of life insurance policies and payouts require in divorce settlements soared over the past year.
Even worse, attorneys across the nation are predicting record numbers of divorce filings once quarantine restrictions are lifted.
“All of this quality time we have been spending over the course of the last year has been stressful, particularly for people with addictions, with anxiety issues and with depression,” said Christine Jones, a counselor at The Center who often coordinates mediation sessions with DeAngelis, Donze and Katz. “One of the main issues in marriages breaking up is through finance, and too often, it is the magnifying glass that peers over the reality of the marriage.
“The whole idea behind mediation is to salvage the integrity of the best of your personality -- to ensure that you are true to the person you were when you entered into this agreement. Our mediation sessions allow someone to still realize this, even through this pandemic.”
At a time when ‘Divorce’ has become synonymous with “Win”
and “Lose,” mediation has become a quieter alternative to the traditional
“lawyered up” litigation process that is often painted in films and on
television as being vindictive, cutthroat and insensitive.
“It’s so important for people to understand that divorce does not need to be this destructive, toxic process,” said DeAngelis, a former family law attorney who now focuses exclusively on mediation. “Couples are beginning to learn that there is an alternative way to transition your family. They are learning that mediation is a path that will leave every individual actually healthier and set up to be their best selves afterward, which is the complete opposite of what a divorce is generally thought of as being.”
Mediation: Done with the family in mind
Mediation has been used as an alternative dispute resolution process since Ancient Greece nearly 1,500 years ago as a means to settle disagreements between villagers, and while the practice has advanced, its core foundation still employs a third party whose role is to move both parties towards consensus, agreement and resolution.
In counseling centers and law offices, mediation is rapidly becoming the changing face of the divorce and custody process for transitioning couples and their families. Understanding the emotional strain that a divorce places on a family, a divorce mediator guides couples through the transition process by resolving conflict; determining equitable financial solutions for assets and liabilities; recommending ways a couple can communicate with their children; navigating them through or away from the court system altogether; and helping them transition into life after a divorce.
The mediation work being done by DeAngelis, Donze, Jones and Katz at The Center for Change at Kennett Square has also become a more cost- and time-effective solution for couples wishing to transition. On average, the cost of divorce litigation in Chester County hovers around $30,000, and the length of time it takes to reach a divorce agreement is between one and two years. In comparison, the average cost of mediation in Chester County is in the $5,000 range, and its average process takes between three and four months. *
On April 12 beginning at 5:00 p.m., the mediation team from The Center will host “How to Navigate Divorce in a Gentle, Sustainable Way,” an online webinar that will discuss the advantages of choosing mediation during a divorce settlement, and how mediation can help families better cope with the impact of a divorce.
At The Center for Change at Kennett Square, mediation places much of its focus on an often underserved audience in a divorce proceeding: the children.
“I feel like we as a culture are ready to stop being cutthroat during a divorce proceeding,” Jones said. “We are realizing that when we speak of divorce in terms of ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ our children wear those bruises. There are no winners in a divorce. You might get more assets and you might get the children, but you’re not really winning anything because everyone is so broken, and you will spend the rest of your life digging out of the hole that you have made.
“We help provide a healthier alternative.”
For Donze, a practicing attorney with more than 25 years in family law, mediation during COVID-19 has placed new perspectives on divorce, not to mention the fact that her sessions are now being conducted virtually.
“This is a whole new world, and from my perspective, we’ve all been changed by this virus, and we’re all learning what is really important in life,” she said. “Couples who do not want to remain together have learned that there is a smarter way to do this, and that is by coming to some sort of agreement that moves them toward their future.
“I think the world is getting smaller. It used to be so big before the pandemic, but in a way, COVID-19 has brought us down to a smaller version of ourselves, and it has allowed us to better understand the impact we have on each other.”
* Data provided by The Center for Change at Kennett Square
To learn more about mediation services at The Center for Change at Kennett Square, or to register to attend the online webinar, “How to Navigate Divorce in a Gentle, Sustainable Way” on April 12 at 5:00 p.m., visit www.thecenterksq.com, or call 484-730-1133.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].