Divorce lawyer becomes mediator to ease the pain

By Barbara Gerber
For The New Mexican

“In mediation, we share the pain and then solve the problem. It’s a process of empowerment because no one makes the decision for you. ”


For 40 years, Barbara Anne Kazen watched marriages end in court. People who used to love each other became bitter enemies. Secrets, once shared in confidence, were hurled as fodder against soon-to-be exes. Mothers shrieked and wailed at losing custody of their children.

Of course, Kazen won those cases — after all, she has long been named one of the best law–yers in America — but winning in this way ceased to be a cause for celebration.

“Litigation focuses on the pain and anguish, and then the trial exacerbates it,” explained Kazen, a certified collaborative lawyer and mediator who lives in Eldorado. “The issues are not resolved ... and the post-trial relationship is horrendous.”

So Kazen, who literally wrote the book on family law in Texas, found an alternative to court for divorcing couples as well as others who need help resolving relationship issues: mediation.

“In mediation, we share the pain and then solve the prob–lem,” Kazen said, explaining that through a collaborative approach people can resolve their issues for a fraction of the cost and time it takes to go to trial. “It’s a process of empowerment because no one makes the decision for you. People come up with their own solutions. ...The mediator’s role is to keep the process safe, nurturing and positive.”

According to Kazen, a typical mediation takes about 10 hours, and most sessions follow a similar pattern. First, she allows the parties to vent for a while. “It takes a lot of skill to let people vent and then move into a positive place,” she said. After that, the parties must agree on “the size of the pie,” meaning all of a couple’s assets and liabilities.

Then there is a period that Kazen calls the “hump” time when it seems nothing is working. Everyone is frustrated and the parties believe the whole process has been a waste of time. Eventually, though, the floodgates open and the agreements start to flow. “I’ve had so many cases in which people haven’t spoken to each other for years, and at the end they’re hugging and crying,” Kazen said.  

Moving into mediation and away from litigation is one of many new paths Kazen has forged in her career. A practicing attorney since she was 21, Kazen, 63, also has been an adjunct professor at the University of Texas law school and the University of Baylor law school and has contributed articles to many professional publications.

She also wrote Family Law: Texas Practice and Procedure, a six-volume tome that she spent years writing and revising. This, along with five volumes of Family Law Reporter, span more than three feet of her office bookshelf.

“To just practice family law without writing and helping people would be really hard,” Kazen said. “You need an outlet.”

And those outlets for Kazen have included writing, Israeli folk dancing (although she is a Maronite Christian of Lebanese descent) and her four children. Kazen recalls a time when she knew she had successfully managed to balance her career with parenting. Kazen’s oldest son, Jonathon, 32, who is also a family lawyer, was his mother’s student at the University of Baylor.  

Kazen remembers that after one of her lectures a student asked Jonathon, “What was it like growing up with such a famous mother?” According to Kazen, Jonathon replied, “ ‘I never knew she was famous. She was always home when I got home from school and she made me lunch and she was at all of my soccer games.’ ” “I always left work at 3 o’clock,” she said. “It was hard sometimes, and I would often work in the evenings, but I did it.”

When her firm pressured her to work more hours, she left and started her own private practice in 1988. Kazen’s first case was what is largely regarded as the biggest divorce case ever — the multibillion-dollar Bass divorce.

After settling that case, her fame in Texas continued to grow. Kazen is a member of the exclusive American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, has been named in Best Lawyers in America since 1983, is a fellow of the American Bar Association, and the list goes on. She is also Val Kilmer’s personal attorney, which prompted her to move to New Mexico seven years ago.

So what’s next for Kazen? She said simply, “I just want to spend the rest of my life helping people resolve conflicts in an honorable, kind way, with dignity and respect.”

Copyright © 2007 Santa Fe New Mexican 05/09/2007

Barbara Kazen has facilitated alternative mediation for divorcing couples in an area she refers to as the ‘chapel,’ where couples or families can spend as much as 10 hours.

Photographer - Clyde Mueller/The New Mexican