Divorce Mediation Article White Bear Lake MN

Disarming Divorce Disputes: former pastor tries to limit damage in tough break-ups

Published: QUAD COMMUNITY PRESS     Tuesday, February 22, 2011
By: Nicholas Backus

CENTERVILLE — For Jeff Dorman, divorce isn’t a dirty word, it’s the damage that an embattled litigation can do that saddens him. “I had a friend whose life was in a straitjacket for three years,” Dorman said. “She spent $150,000 in litigation fees.”  It’s part of the reason why after serving as a Lutheran pastor for 20 years, Dorman has launched his own mediation service in White Bear Lake.

Fifty percent of his business comes from facilitating divorces.  “Those critical of what I do might be stuck in the idea that divorce is a terrible sin,” the former pastor said. “For some, divorce is a way to gain a measure of health in life rather than staying in a marriage gone awry.”

Dorman, 56, was an associate pastor at North Heights Lutheran Church in Arden Hills from 1986 to 2002. After that he was interim pastor at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Circle Pines from 2003 to 2007.  He recently left the clergy for personal reasons, but said he could have found work as a pastor if he left the Twin Cities. He didn’t want to uproot his family, so he stayed in Centerville. “It was a good time to try something new,” Dorman said.

After two-plus decades as a parish pastor, Dorman studied mediation at Hamline University School of Law, where he earned the qualification to work as a mediator. The skills he acquired from his ministry translate well to the world of mediation, he said.  “The communication skills, being in tune to people’s needs and articulating what they’re hoping for (is important),” Dorman noted.

Opened summer of 2010, Dorman Mediation targets customers looking for “alternative dispute resolution,” a less expensive route for bickering couples than hiring lawyers. According to Dorman, an average divorce can cost between $15,000 to $20,000. He says he can resolve divorce issues for as little as $2,000.  “You’re sitting together with the help you need to resolve issues, rather than taking positions and making a protracted argument for your side.” he said.  Many workers in his field believe that what has been termed “alternative dispute resolution” ought to be the “preferred dispute resolution.”

Dorman thinks couples should try to work things out face-to-face before appealing to more draconian forms of adjudication.  While high divorce rates mean business for Dorman, he also thinks many marriages can be saved when couples seek help through counseling where each party focuses on “self-change.” For the most part, Dorman derives satisfaction out of resolving conflict between spouses in a healthy way.  “I want to protect people from the kinds of messy divorces where the goal is to dig up the dirt on a spouse in order to make you look better,” he said. “That further damages relationships and makes it more difficult to co-parent.”

Although he uses many of the same skills to help people in his new job, Dorman acknowledges the career change was major. But the shift hasn’t been all bad.  “I’m no longer under the stress of trying to please a thousand people who have different (and often conflicting) expectations for their pastor,” he said, “but I’m still working with people, helping them in a significant way… and that is gratifying.”


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