HOW DOES MEDIATION WORK?
It is hard to imagine how this process will work when you have been embroiled in a conflict. Most divorcing couples tend to fall into the same fights over and over again — but that is why a neutral third person can help.
Mediation is a process used for resolving conflict. As your mediator, I can help you move through the issues and find new ground for resolution.
I am neutral. I won’t take sides with you against your spouse, or with your spouse against you. Instead, I will work with you to increase your understanding of each other and of your conflict. I will not make decisions for you — only you will decide what is best for your future.
Conflict is painful. Most people have a drive to resolve it. When people understand the sources of conflict, there is a huge release of creative energy which leads to terrific brainstorming sessions about how to solve the problem and end the conflict.
I begin work with people by identifying all of the unresolved issues. We have a detailed checklist that we go through to identify where there is already agreement, and where we need additional information and/or discussion. Each person gets to tell me his/her side of the story, so that I can hear as much as possible about why you came to see me. I give each person a pad of paper and a pen so that the other person can write down their ideas without having to interrupt the speaker.
Once all the issues are on the table, we can begin to delve deeper into different points to gain an increased understanding. When that understanding is there, problem solving begins.
As you and your spouse agree, I will begin to draft an Agreement reflecting your discussions. Most of the couples with whom I work will then take the completed agreement to attorneys for review. Some people, however, come to mediation because they want to avoid having multiple third-party professionals involved in their divorce. During our sessions, we can discuss the options, pros and cons, and the role that you and your spouse would like attorneys to have in your divorce.Finally, after the mediation process is completed and if appropriate, I can prepare the forms for the court and file for your divorce.
If you don’t believe that this process can work — read some of the Mediation Stories.
Or watch this video. (firstwivesworld)
We also offer mediation via video conferencing for your convenience!
WHO CAN’T MEDIATE?
1. ABILITY TO SPEAK FREELY:
Mediation requires you to negotiate with your spouse. You have to be able to sit in the room together, and you have to be able to express what you need.
If you are not clear about what you want or need, or why you want or need it, that’s OK. I can work with you during the mediation process to help you to consider lots of different options and give you time to figure out what you need.
2. DOMESTIC VIOLENCE:
If you and your spouse have a history of violence between you, you probably should use more traditional methods for negotiating your divorce. It is difficult to speak freely and express what you want if you fear that you will pay for your words later.
However – if you have a clear belief that mediation is your best option, please feel free to give me a call to discuss safeguards that we can put into the mediation process, such as:
- Written guidelines of behavior which, if violated, will trigger immediate termination;
- Presence of your advocate, relative or friend during mediation;
- Separate mediation appointments for you and your spouse/partner;
- Telephone/conference call mediation appointments, with no face-to-face meetings.
3. EMOTIONAL INTIMIDATION:
If there’s been extreme emotional intimidation between you and your spouse, you may not be able to mediate. You have to be able to speak freely during the mediation sessions. I worked with a couple once where the wife’s personality completely changed when the husband left the room. She was quiet and tense when he was there, but relaxed and chatty when he left. They were not able to mediate their divorce because she could not say what she felt while her husband was in the room.
4. NO HIDDEN ASSETS:
Mediation requires full and free exchange of information. If you believe that your spouse may be hiding assets from you, you should go to a lawyer. Lawyers are better at finding hidden assets, and at forcing people to reveal them. In mediation, people have to be willing to disclose their assets to each other — although the information does not have to leave the mediation room.
5. NOT SURE ABOUT DIVORCING.
Finally, most couples who come to mediation know that they want to divorce. If you and your spouse are still considering whether or not to stay together, you should probably work with a couples therapist or marriage counselor.
For more on this, please visit:
If you feel that you want the benefit of having a lawyer to represent you, so that you have someone to depend on during this difficult and life-changing process, and so that you make sure you know your legal rights, you can try Collaborative Law. That process has you and your spouse represented by attorneys who agree not to go to court.
Attorneys who are trained in Collaborative Law use the same interest-based facilitated-negotiation techniques as mediation to generate win-win results. It may be appealing to people who can afford to have more involvement by attorneys, and who want that kind of expertise. For more information, click here.
If you have questions about whether you can mediate, contact me:
or email me.
WHAT IS MEDIATOR NEUTRALITY?
How could a mediator be neutral about your situation when you are getting divorced? Surely one of you is right and the other is wrong! If you know in your bones – and all of your friends agree – that you are right, you may think that mediation would not make sense for you, because you don’t want to compromise.
First of all – let me reassure you that you won’t agree to anything in mediation that you don’t want to agree to! But something happens in mediation that changes people’s goals and outlook. I don’t ask my clients to agree with each other – just to make an honest effort to understand each other. And to accomplish that, it turns out that mediator neutrality is one of the most valuable and powerful tools I have.
If I really understand how you are feeling, what this experience has done to you, what this means for you, the challenges that you are facing as you try to restructure your life – then I can help your spouse understand these things. And I can also make sure that the agreement that we put together takes care of you and your needs.
The theory underlying our adversarial legal system, is that each person will hire a bright, skilled warrior who will see the situation completely from the perspective of the client, and then present the strongest case possible to the judge. The judge will get the best information from each side, but will be neutral. The judge will see the situation from above and will render a decision which metes out justice and wisdom.
Sadly, because of our over-loaded and burdened court system, most judges do not have the time to get to know the people behind the case-load. People who go through the court system often end up feeling that they did not have their story heard by the judge, and that they were not given a chance to speak.
Mediation will give you that chance – and you are the best person to speak about your life and your needs. No expert knows your life as well as you and your spouse do. In truth, no hired expert will care as much as you do – because only you and your family will live with the agreement you make. You are the people who are in the best position to decide what should happen with your family, your possessions, and with your divorce.
As a mediator, I will not act as a judge, in that I will not make decisions FOR you – but I will act as a judge in that I will remain neutral. I will do my best to listen to everything that each of you needs to say, and I will ask questions to make sure that we have all of the information we need. If one person needs additional information, I will help to brainstorm to figure out how to get the information to that person. He or she might need the assistance of an accountant, a financial planner, or an attorney, before feeling confident enough to evaluate offers that are on the table or have enough background information to make decisions.
I will use all of the tools I have to make sure that each person HEARS the other. There is always miscommunication between divorcing people, but a neutral mediator can help to improve the communication to make sure that you understand where the other is coming from, and why you believe the proposed result is right. You don’t have to agree with each other – but it helps to understand why you disagree.
That is the theory. How does it work in practice? How is it possible to be on both people’s sides, when they are in a conflict?
Anice and Marshall came to me for divorce mediation. Anice expressed her thoughts clearly. She loved Marshall passionately and still believed that he was the love of her life. She had made a commitment to him which, to her, meant that she would stay with him no matter what. She told me that Marshall had had other affairs in the past, and had always returned to his commitment to her. “How do I know that this time you are serious?” she asked him. “What makes you think that, 3 months from now, you won’t change your mind again and come back to me?”
The couple had recently purchased a house. Anice said, “Why did you buy this house with me if you wanted to get out of the relationship?” The couple had greatly disparate incomes, and although Anice had been the motivating force behind their buying their home, she was not at the present time able to figure out how to pay the expenses of the house by herself.
I could have felt that Anice was “right,” and Marshall – a lousy toad. She was the one with commitment and vision, she felt sure that this marriage was the right thing and was able to stick with her husband through thick and thin. She planned and worked to enable them to buy a home. And after this loyalty, what was her reward? Constant betrayal, multiple affairs!
Then Marshall told me about his experience. He spoke eloquently about his need to move on from a relationship which felt stagnant to him, and from which he could no longer derive any sense of intimacy or romance. He was very grateful to Anice for all the love and support he had gotten from her, and the achievements he accomplished because of her support. But for a long time he had felt that there was something missing. This feeling drove him to seek outside relationships, even though he had derived from Anice love such as he had never before experienced in his life.
At the present time, he felt stifled by the relationship. He felt responsible for Anise. He was aware that she wasn’t able to earn as much money as he could earn, and he felt trapped. Although he felt platonic love and respect for Anice, he had a new girlfriend. For Marshall, the 12-year relationship had evolved into a friendship.
After hearing Marshall, I felt his pain. I felt how Anice’s willingness to stay in a relationship with a man who was sleeping with another woman made Marshall feel trapped. He saw her as a crazy woman who had no self respect, who would live with him even though he rejected her.
In truth, I felt great empathy for both Anice and Marshall. Through my understanding of them, I was able to sympathize with Anice, who felt deeply committed to this man, and hurt every time he told her that he still loved her – and who felt that she would have stayed with him no matter what happened, even if he had outside relationships.
I felt empathy for Marshall, who expressed that this marriage, though it had endured for 12 years, had never completely fulfilled him. He felt an excitement at the change to break free and try again in a new relationship for something that felt more healthy and fulfilling and less co-dependent and suffocating than his relationship with Anise.
My job, now was to do my best to increase their understanding of each other. Marshall had a better understanding of how Anice felt than she had of his point of view. Once understanding is improved, they would be ready to negotiate the fairest way for them to divide their house and their possessions.
Anise had to confront the reality that Marshall wanted a divorce. When I helped her to accept this, she was able to negotiate alimony for a period of time, so that she could keep the house and eventually become self-sufficient. Marshall saw the alimony as a way to buy his freedom, and it was a great relief to him to be able to do that. They were both satisfied with the terms and their divorce agreement was completed.
Children perceive their parents neutrally during a divorce. As much as you might want your child to side with you against the other parent – it won’t happen – and it shouldn’t happen. A child will never thank you for taking away his mother or father. The children each contain a little bit of each parent, and they are able intuitively to understand both parents’ points-of-view. The children understand the limitations and strengths of both their parents and love them.
I can think of many cases where I had deep empathy with both people, and could see both their sides. I had a case where the marriage was breaking up because the woman was a lesbian. I empathized with the husband, Allen, who, in his early 50’s had to leave his beautiful house. He had to rethink his whole life with Marge, in light of these changes in her outlook. He had believed he’d had an OK marriage. He didn’t want a new life, but the old one had been snatched from him.
Marge was able to communicate to me the excitement and liberation she felt as she embarked on her new life. She showed me that something had always felt “wrong,” in her life, and now, for the first time she didn’t have that feeling.
Marge came to mediation believing that she had embarked on a course of self-discovery. But during our sessions, she came to a new understanding of how this journey had affected Allen. She ended up giving him a more generous financial settlement, partly to assuage her guilt, and partly to help Allen to also feel that he was getting an opportunity to embark on a new life – that might hold some promise, excitement, even happiness not present in their old one.
The truth is that it is never simple to determine why a marriage ends. Something was probably always lacking in Allen and Marge’s marriage. Why didn’t Allen see that? Why didn’t Marge know earlier? The end of the marriage is created by both, as the beginning was created by both.
My challenge is always to understand both people. In another case the husband, Brad, went out to get a newspaper one Sunday morning and did not come back or call for 3 days. He left Helen with 2 young children, without even a note. I could imagine her anguish, and the fear of the children. But during our sessions, I could see that Helen never let Brad speak!! I’m not saying that what he did was right, only that I understand that he did the best he could and that something drove him to do this terrible thing. Something that he felt had been equally awful had been done to him or he would not have done this to her.
And that is probably the crux. I do believe that most of us are trying the best we can to make our way through this life. We try not to hurt the people we love, or have loved. And we do our best. But we are imperfect creatures, so we do not always succeed. We are hurt and we lash out – and the other may not know that he/she has hurt us. Through my understanding, I can often help people to forgive themselves and each other – which will help them to move forward into their new lives post-divorce.
Divorce raises all kinds of hurdles, as you restructure and begin to figure out your new life – and also raises all kinds of complex emotions. When you are navigating the maze of these changes, the last thing you might want to hear is that your spouse’s position has some validity. (And that is one of the appeals of the adversarial system. When you are hurt, angry and shaken up, who would not want to hire an experienced warrior, who will tell you that you are right and that your evil spouse should make amends – usually monetary – to avenge these wrongs?)
These feelings are especially intense where the impetus for the break-up of the marriage is a situation with deep emotional effect – for example, where one person has a new lover, or where one person walked out on the other very suddenly and without warning. The “right” spouse might find that the new identity as a wronged person becomes intensely compelling and attractive.
The answer is that neutrality will bring you closer to the truth, and the truth will help you to move on with your life.
WHAT ARE THE RULES OF MEDIATION?
Click here to read the Rules of Mediation/Mediation Structure.