Clients come to divorce mediation for many different reasons. It is a flexible process that can meet a broad range of needs and interests.
Here are some typical client profiles:
“Kitchen Table Decision-Makers” – These spouses are newly separated and almost certain that they will divorce. Their immediate goal is to agree on a stable plan for the separation period. They have amicably reached agreement on fundamental issues, through their own private, informal discussions (e.g., “around the kitchen table”). They have paid off balances and closed joint credit card accounts, they have made co-parenting arrangements, they have a plan for moving to separate residences, while selling or maintaining the marital home. They seek out mediation because they want to map out these plans in greater detail, with the help of an independent third party who is familiar with typical topics addressed by divorcing spouses. The mediator leads a thorough discussion, confirming and recording their agreements. She encourages reality checks, and probes for answers to “what if” questions. Some disagreements may arise, but the tone is generally amicable.
“The First-Steppers” – These spouses have recognized that their marriage is ending. They don’t know how to start the process of separation and divorce. They are attracted to mediation as a more humane and less costly way to disengage from their emotional and financial attachments. Their long term goal is to make decisions and iron out differences in the private, low-stress environment that mediation provides. They have not yet addressed any substantive issues. The mediator serves as a neutral third party who provides an overview of the steps and decisions that lie ahead. She assists in setting an agenda that reflects what is important to them. She maintains an orderly discussion, encourages informed decision-making, and helps divorcing spouses generate a broad range of options for solving any issue. At any time during the mediated discussions, the spouses may recognize a need for professional expertise such as legal, financial, real estate, or geriatric care advice. Mediation can be suspended and resumed after joint or individual consultation with outside experts.
“Strictly Money Savers” – Some separating or divorcing spouses have the mistaken idea that the mediator’s role is to take their list of unrefined agreements and “write it up”, with little or no joint discussion. They contact a mediator only to cut costs. This is not a good reason to engage a mediator. The image of a “document production operation” subverts the true nature of mediation, which is meant to be a forum for constructive exchange, where an impartial mediator has ethical responsibilities such as confirming that the parties understand terms of agreement and that it is not the result of manipulation and intimidation.
“Openly Contentious” – These divorcing spouses recognize that high conflict elements in their relationship make direct negotiations between them very difficult. They know that they need to address such issues as parenting, support, and property division, but their frequent, intense arguments inhibit progress. They may have attempted to litigate some issues and found that the adversarial legal process is too public, too costly, and too uncertain. Often, their attorneys will refer them to mediation as an alternative decision-making process. These divorcing spouses benefit from the orderly framework for discussion and the mediator’s influence in eliminating blame games and emotional hijacking. Control of decision-making remains in the hands of those whose lives are affected. The mediator keeps participants on task and moving forward.