By Delle Willett
Counseling feuding divorcing couples was not Rich Gordon’s first career choice. Neither was living in California. But both turned out to be excellent choices. Born and raised in Rochester, New York, Gordon attended the University of Kansas (KU) from 1963 to 1967, where he played football with the KU Jayhawks and learned the rhythm of Midwestern pacing and values. From KU he went to Rutgers for a master’s degree in Urban Planning. While there, a respected professor recommended that Gordon go to law school, and so he returned to KU, graduating with honors.
Although he had daydreamed about being a big-city lawyer, Gordon discovered he preferred being in a small community.
After earning his law degree, he worked on the East Coast as a general practitioner in a small firm, doing all types of law. “Basically, I was a country lawyer and took any case that walked in the door: bankruptcies, criminal, real estate, business, and family law. I fought hard for my clients but came to hate being an advocate. Taking sides just wasn’t in my nature,” he said.
As a traditional divorce lawyer, Gordon saw the damage done by in-fighting, animosity, and pettiness; heartsick to see how it impacted children’s lives, parental relations with their kids, and even general family-of-origin dynamics.
It became clear to him that battling for position, struggling for victory day in and day out, was taking a toll on him professionally and personally. It was time for a change, and mediation seemed logical, methodical, kinder and gentler.
So he dove into extensive mediation training at the University of Connecticut, where he learned to work through the process efficiently and with equanimity.
Gordon migrated from the East Coast in hopes of a change in 1998 with his second wife, both believing that a change of scenery would help their own failing marriage. It didn’t. But he stayed around and has been working and living Downtown for nearly a quarter of a century.
A pioneer in divorce mediation in San Diego, Gordon opened A Fair Way Mediation Center 20 years ago. He helps people in all kinds of marriages divorce each other with speedy and workable settlements, with no attorneys and for a lot less money. These marriages include some of the most complicated, including military, long-distance, and LGBTQ.
“Divorce doesn’t have to be the legal and emotional war that society tends to make it out to be,” he said. “It’s entirely possible to have a civil and even amicable marriage dissolution through such recourses as mediation.”
And there are lots of marriages that need help. Fifty percent of first marriages and 75 percent of second marriages fail. Infidelity, financial problems, child abuse, and substance or gambling addictions are some of the most common reasons why people divorce.
Being a huge believer in marriage, Gordon spends the first half hour of counseling, asking his clients if they are sure about splitting.
“I try to get people to reconcile rather than divorce, and it’s tough,” he said.
Gordon considers himself the fulcrum in the teeter-totter, as a neutral third party, he balances the opposing sides. Instead, of telling either spouse what to do, he levels the playing field, keeps communications going, brainstorms possibilities, offers options, and guides the divorcing couple to mutually agree on outstanding issues.
“I don’t make decisions for them. If they can make choices, people tend to respond to mediation more favorably than advocacy,” he said. “I love what I do because I’m more helpful than I would be as an advocate. And mediation is a lot less costly.”
He knows of one couple who spent $1,000,000 on divorce lawyers with no resolution.
People in mediation never step foot in the courthouse. They and their negotiations are private and confidential. They meet where they can look at each other eye to eye. And if this is a long-distance divorce, as military often are, Gordon will conduct the mediation process on Skype or Facetime.
“With modern technology, we can have a three-way conversation with one spouse in Afghanistan, another in Oceanside and me in my Downtown office,” he said.
Gordon, a frequent blogger and radio interviewee, was discovered by an author doing his second volume of “Stress Free Divorce Volume 2 Conversation with Leading Divorce Professionals.” The author asked Gordon to write a chapter for the book, “Helping Couples Break Up Nicely.”
The book, available on Amazon, is a compilation of several viewpoints from folks around the country who work in the field of divorce.
“The whole point is to avoid advocacy — mediation and collaboration are far more civil and productive.”
Gordon has seen hundreds of clients from all economic strata.
“Some people love me, and I guess some people equally hate me,” he said. “Divorce, no matter how efficient and calm we try to be, is not fun. Most of our work is well received, but there are those who are too angry to work things out civilly.”
For those rare cases, Gordon has a network of lawyers who are prepared to go for the jugular, if necessary.
Gordon has also had his own marriage issues. His first two marriages lasted seven years each, ending in divorce. He’s been married to his third wife, Georgi Bohrod, for 11 years.
“I really like my wife. I love her, and I really like her,” he said with a big smile. “Third time’s the charm.”
Georgi is equally supportive of her husband and his work.
“Rich helps people break up nicely,” she said. “His real talent is that he really is warm and congenial and is able to put his clients at ease. And he has a great sense of humor.”
Rich and Georgi love living Downtown for many reasons including being able to walk to work, having a variety of great restaurants and knowing many of the restaurateurs. An avid cyclist, Rich is grateful for San Diego’s numerous bike paths, and not being stuck in traffic.
The couple are huge baseball fans. They are especially happy that they can leave a Padres game at the end of the seventh inning and be home at CityFront Terrace before the first pitch of the eighth inning.
Proximity to the airport is a huge perk for Georgi who travels extensively on business for GBC and Associates Inc., her home-based boutique branding, marketing, and public relations firm.
The Gordons are cat people. Currently, they have Fido, who is imminently calm when she sits on Georgi’s lap during her daily meditation. And Farrah who likes sitting on the balcony, gazing at the view and communicating with the visiting hummingbirds.
The Gordons and their “fur babies” make the most of Downtown San Diego and its exceptional environment for living, working and playing.
“When I contemplate retirement,” Rich said, “I ask myself, ‘Why?’ I’ve got it all right here, right now.”
— Delle Willett has been a marketing and public relations professional for over 30 years, with an emphasis on conservation of the environment. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.