Dealing with Conflicts Over Time as Lawyers and Mediators, Part 1 – For Lawyers (Originally published on

Originally published on

In a recent episode on the LMIPodcast, ADR professor Raheena Lalani Dahya discussed time and how different ways cultures treat time can actually be a source for many conflicts. Being of Indian-descent, she discussed “Indian Standard Time,” a tongue-in-cheek phrase I’ve come to learn describes a supposed tendency for Indians to be late, especially being late to celebratory events like parties, according to Urban Dictionary. It reminded me of similar phrases I’ve heard growing up, like “Black People Time,” an expression commonly heard in the African-American or Caribbean communities.  

This got me thinking about time management in my law and mediation office, and how individuals, not just entire cultures, manage time differently, and how those differences of time management play a role in exacerbating conflict. 

As a Family Lawyer

I’ve seen that despite parties being made aware that their court order contains specific start and end times and deadlines, some people still treat court-ordered times as suggestions rather than authoritative. For example, one parent from a particular cultural tradition might understand that 6pm in their court order literally means 6pm. While the other parent accepts that 6:15pm is an acceptable expectation no one should have issues with. Aside from the obvious, but fortunately relatively rare cases where 1 parent goes out of their way to be intentionally contemptuous of their court’s orders and disrespectful of the other parties’ time, we see the all-to-common situation where parties are just not on the same page when it comes to time management. Some resulting common conflicts from this mis-management might be: 

  • Failing to pick up a child by 6:00 p.m. or at the time school releases;
  • Chronically bringing a child to school tardy;
  • Failing to timely respond to questions on a co-parenting app;
  • Failing to alert the other parent by April 1st or April 15 when summer vacation days will be had;
  • Failing to pick up at 12:00 noon on December 28th to commence Christmas break;
  • Failing to call between 7pm and 8pm, and not outside of it, for electronic communications with the child;
  • Failing to give me notice to the other parent when one will be late; and
  • Failing to send in child support payment in time when it’s not already being garnished or withheld from paychecks.

I learned in the chat with Professor Lalani Dahya that all of the conflicts over time come from 2 competing ways of valuing time. One is more monochronic, where the participant hails from a cultural tradition that in which time is viewed linearly. Here, value is placed on punctuality, planning, and adhering to schedules. And tasks or appointments are usually performed one at a time, emphasizing the importance of deadlines and the sequential completion of events. This time worldview is popular amongst individuals from places such as Germany, Switzerland, and the United States.

The other way of valuing time is polychronic. Here, the participant might perceive time as a more fluid concept. Coming from a polychronic culture would cause one to see value in being flexible with time, where relationships and adaptability take precedence over strict adherence to schedules. This worldview is popular amongst individuals from Spain, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico. 

Based on the fact that 6pm to a monochronic parent raised in the United States, might not mean 6pm from a polychronic parent raised in Mexico, it’s easy to then see how conflicts might arise because of competing values over time. 

Catch Part 2 Soon

Lawyer, mediator, arbitrator, practicing family law but passionate about helping people resolve their conflicts and disputes through mediation.