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This article was first published in the and is reprinted here with their full permission.

Helping couples navigate rough seas
Posted by Lisa Queen - Aug 17, 2004

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David Klegerman

In his cosy basement office where he mediates squabbles between divorcing couples, David Klegerman's face lights up when he speaks of one of his success stories.  A client, whose problem with the bottle had already led to the termination of his marriage and relationship with his son, had decided to end it all.  Fortunately, his suicide attempt failed and the man chose to turn his life around.  He stopped drinking and went back to school to become a civil engineer.

Then, he came to Mr. Klegerman to help him negotiate supervised visits with his child. "Everything went so well, he moved to overnight access with his son," Mr. Klegerman said.  "That was a wonderful case to deal with, to watch somebody pick himself up and live again. It's not that I did it. I just happened to be the mediator in his family issues."

Mr. Klegerman, a Thornhill resident, didn't always speak so passionately about his work. Until just a few years ago, he had a successful but unfulfilling career in business, working as the general manager of a company.

"I wasn't really enjoying work. I was done, although I was paid well and I did it well. Then I got an offer to work for another company and that's when I started to feel like a real prostitute," said Mr. Klegerman, who, at the time, was studying labour mediation.

When terrorists attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, he felt he needed to change his life's direction.

"When 9/11 came along, my wife and I sat down and talked. I asked, 'What was I doing here?' She agreed and we decided to take a ton of savings and I went back to school full time. I realized it wasn't labour and business that interested me. I became impassioned with family issues," Mr. Klegerman said.

"There is no return on investment. I put a lot of money into my education for this job. Not that it's not a well-paying job. But you do it because it's your passion."

Mr. Klegerman, now involved in training lawyers in the benefits of collaborative law, tries to help divorcing couples work out financial plans in addition to child custody and access issues.

Because parents often say they want to put their children's needs first, he generally begins by helping couples work out a parenting agreement. The financial plan often falls into place afterward.

Mediation makes more sense than the often bitter and financially draining route of two lawyers battling through the courts on behalf of their clients, Mr. Klegerman said.

"It's a new style of doing things. Mediation is appropriate for people to come together in a very neutral environment," he said.

"It's not about blaming. It's about coming to an agreement that's best for both of them. There has to be a chemistry with me. They have to believe I'm unbiased, I'm looking out for their best interest. I'm also child-focused."

He credited the safe and nurturing environment he creates for helping couples work out a plan free of antagonism which allows both sides to move on with their lives.

However, Mr. Klegerman admitted mediation is not for everyone.   "If you're really angry and resentful, you might want to go to lawyers because you don't want to deal with the person (your spouse). You're so focused on your anger." In mediation, each spouse still retains a lawyer to review the settlement worked out with Mr. Klegerman to ensure his or her client's interests are protected.

Yeah, so it sounds good in theory.

But doesn't divorce turn even the most mild-mannered people into the feuding parties portrayed in Hollywood's War of the Roses starring Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas?

While clients claim they want to avoid acrimony, it's only natural emotions will run high during divorce, acknowledged Mr. Klegerman, who tries to help couples remain focused on their ultimate goal.

Often, one person is more emotional because they've just discovered their spouse has been working toward a divorce for the past year or two. He has seen marriages ripped apart by infidelity, emotional abuse, communication breakdown and simply people falling out of love.

"I see the worst in people. But sometimes I see the best."

There are some couples, however, who refuse to let go of their "issues".  Like one husband and wife who seethed with incivility toward one another.  "They were so disrespectful to each other. They used epithets. They were screaming, they were yelling, using every trick in the book to get at each other," Mr. Klegerman said.   "When you're with somebody for a long time, you know how to exploit that person's weaknesses and strengths. This case just wasn't working."

While a simple divorce case requires about seven mediation sessions, another couple required more than 30 sessions with Mr. Klegerman and another mediator.

At $150 an hour for him plus the other mediator's fees, the husband and wife spent well over $9,000 trying to work out an agreement.

But as soon as they came close to a settlement, one partner or the other would throw a wrench into the works and the plan would unravel.

Finally, the couple came to Mr. Klegerman's home for a "drop dead final meeting" designed to put the finishing touches on their settlement.

"They came during a snow storm. I booked off from 10 a.m. to noon to work with them. Fortunately, I didn't have anyone scheduled for the rest of the day. They left at 9 p.m.," he said.

"They came back again for a final two or three hours. Finally, it's now gone to the lawyers. I like them both. They're both charming people. But they just each have their own agendas."

Now 51, Mr. Klegerman married for the first time five years ago. "When I met my wife, I was smitten." His wife, Dory Goodlin, works as a child speech pathologist just steps away from her husband's practice in their Thornhill home. Together, they are raising Ms Goodlin's daughters, now 21 and 19, from a previous marriage.

Despite seeing the turmoil that results from marriage breakdown on daily basis, Mr. Klegerman believes strongly in sanctity of marriage and the concept of love conquering all.

"I'm an inveterate romantic," he admited with a smile.

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