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 “In many states mediation is fast becoming the primary method for settling the disputes between divorcing couples. The goal is to keep their differences out of the court’s adversarial system, which all too often makes people angrier and reduces their desire to cooperate in the postdivorce years. Mediation is rooted in several principles. First, conflict between parents is harmful to children and should be actively discouraged. Second, parents know more about their children’s needs than any judge whose job it is to know the law. And third, parents are more likely to cooperate with a postdivorce plan if it is mutually negotiated versus being imposed against the will of one parent. Mediation proposes that both parents should emerge feeling that they have won.”

– Wallerstein, Lewis & Blakeslee (2000, p. 206)

This is the theory behind divorce mediation, at least. In practice, whether or not it works this well is ultimately up to the parents involved, but it is certainly the best option available. This information will walk you through the process of divorce mediation and help you understand what it entails.

What is divorce mediation, and how does it work?

Divorce mediation is when a couple works together through a neutral third party to come to an agreement and finalize details about the divorce. Divorce mediators do not represent either side, but guide couples through the divorce process, helping them reach a resolution together. A mediator will make recommendations according to what he or she believes is best and what is typical for couples in a similar situation. The goal is to provide a neutral party who can manage each person’s expectations and help both parties understand what’s reasonable or not so reasonable. When couples try to settle these differences on their own, it’s easy to get stuck at an impasse, since neither person is willing to merely take the other’s word that “this is how it should work.”

Though the parties are working together through the mediator, they are usually separated throughout the process to reduce tension. The mediator works with each party separately, conveying the wishes of the other and helping them find compromises that will lead to resolutions. They may come together at the end to sign documents, but otherwise aren’t required to hash it out in a room together. This tends to make it easier on everyone, especially when feelings are raw. If couples are civil with each other and would rather meet together, most mediators are happy to accommodate this as well, and it may reduce the cost.

The training & qualifications of divorce mediators

Divorce mediators are individuals who have backgrounds in either law or mental health, so they may or may not be lawyers. They also go through special training with senior practitioners so that they have an understanding of divorce law and other issues surrounding divorce.

Divorce mediators are not independent agents. Rather, he or she must operate within the legal framework of the court system and in the spirit of its policies.

The benefits of divorce mediation

  • Divorce mediation is generally the most comfortable and painless process available to parents. As Wallerstein, Lewis & Blakeslee (2000, p. 207) state, “Overall, most parents find the mediation helpful and reassuring.”
  • Divorce mediation promotes a more cooperative atmosphere that carries over into the future. Parents who have gone through mediation are more likely to abide by their arrangements than parents who have been involved in traditional adversarial proceedings.
  • Divorce mediators are generally far cheaper than lawyers, and since their job is shared between the both of you, you benefit from the economy of scale. It doesn’t require two people to each hire their own attorney to go over the same case.
  • Divorce mediation is a confidential process, and the mediator is bound by the rules of mediation to maintain confidentiality.

What to expect: Preparing for divorce mediation

  • You have to go into mediation with the expectation that some things will not go your way. Be prepared to compromise, and remember that the definition of compromise is letting go of some things that are important to you. However, if both of you are reasonable about it, you’ll each still leave the process with a fair settlement that you’re able to live with.
  • Mediators as a general rule do not offer advice to parents for preparing the child to handle the transitions that he or she will be called upon to make. So you still have to consider these things on your own and be an advocate for your child.

The disadvantages of divorce mediation

If the mediation somehow fails, you’ll have spent the time and money for mediation and will still have to take your case to court. However, the advantages of mediation far outweigh this potential risk.

Divorce legal tip:

Even if you choose to divorce through mediation, you might want to have a lawyer look over the final document to ensure it protects your rights. It won’t cost very much, and may end up saving you from something you’ll regret later. Just make sure you bring it to a lawyer with a good reputation, not someone who might be inclined to find imaginary problems so that they can charge you more.

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