Erika Englund, divorce mediator

PHOTO by Lucas Fitzgerald

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When it comes to divorce, most people immediately see the worst in the situation, but divorce mediator Erika Englund sees it as an opportunity for growth. Having worked as a divorce attorney for half a decade and after going through a divorce herself, she has experience on both sides of the table. Hoping to be able to use the knowledge she has picked up along the way to help other couples resolve their divorces respectfully, she has her own cooperative divorce law office in Folsom where she serves as a mediator. Now an adjunct professor at McGeorge School of Law, she is preparing to launch a new video series called Split Decisions that focuses on divorce and those who are affected by it.

How did you come to work in this field?

I was a courtroom attorney for five years and never won a case. Sometimes I actually lost, but really most cases settled. Family lawyers say a good settlement makes both parties equally unhappy—that’s a loss for both sides. When I prevailed, it was too expensive and destructive to feel like a win. I knew the only way to help people truly win would be out of court.

What sets you apart?

I am committed. Unlike most lawyers, I refuse to go to court. I share the benefits of cooperative divorce through my course at McGeorge law school and my radio-video series, and I live the benefits of a happy, healthy divorced life with my children and my former husband.

What is your philosophy when it comes to divorce?

Divorce isn’t easy, but it should be simple.

How is mediation different than the traditional divorce process?

People make their own decisions rather than having orders imposed by judges or lawyers. This makes people happier with the results, less likely to have future conflicts and better able to co-parent. It’s much faster, less expensive and more private. The children aren’t dragged into it. And it’s just nicer, more respectful.

How have your clients reacted to the process of a mediated divorce?

Mediation is an empowering process. I’ve had clients tell me that they haven’t had such a positive, productive conversation with each other in years.

What was your divorce like and how did that shape your current understanding of divorce?

I had a cooperative divorce, but it was still traumatic. Going through [it] provided a deeper understanding of the sense of loss divorce brings. I think I became gentler, not just to clients, but in all aspects of life. I’m lucky to have a great co-parenting relationship with my former husband. I’ve learned a good divorce takes work, just as a good marriage does.

What does the post-divorce dating world look like?

In my personal experience, it’s been scary, but empowering and lots of fun. Divorced people know themselves and what they want, so they make great partners. There are so many amazing single people in this area, yet many are afraid to take a chance—rejection is awful when you’re vulnerable. But meeting someone and falling in love is risky, too. It can mean blending a family or giving marriage another chance, so the leap of faith that’s required is huge. I’m still working on that one.

Do you think the current political climate has had any effect on divorce?

In times of political and economic uncertainty, divorce is scarier for people. My clients are worried about job security, pensions and retirement. I haven’t seen anyone blame a marriage breakdown on political differences, but then again, I never ask!

Tell me about your radio-show-turned-video-series.

Split Decisions was created to support people who are impacted by divorce—and everyone is, in some way. Whether you’re a child of divorce, dating a single parent, have a friend divorcing or are going through it yourself, we want to give you tools to deal with the challenges, appreciate the gifts and feel hopeful for your future. My co-hosts at Forester Purcell Stowell were so much fun on live radio that we’re transitioning into an informative (and hopefully entertaining) video series launching October 2.

What is the funniest or most outlandish conflict you have ever found yourself mediating?

One couple stopped in the middle of a heated debate about car payments to ask whether it was OK that they were still having sex. The answer is surprisingly complicated.

What are the best and worst things about working in this field?

Watching good people create a new future for themselves is magical. The worst part is the sheer physical and mental toll required. A good mediator makes success feel inevitable; it’s exhausting.