The cacophony of emotions is deafening when going through a divorce or custody dispute.
Anger, resentment, fear, anxiety, confusion.
Often the result is unsatisfying no matter the outcome as there is not a clearly defined winner and loser. Instead, the litmus test of family court is often who just lost less… as both parties have lost something in the process.
What if, rather than a fear-based manner of reacting to the turmoil, a divorcing couple was able to participate in a process innately infused with peace? Mediation is a method in which parties are able to come to the table to isolate and discuss disputed issues. The mediator’s job is to facilitate options and alternatives so that the couple reaches a consensual settlement that will accommodate their needs.
The benefits of mediation are numerous. Mediators enable couples to communicate their requests and concerns so that all parties feel heard. They help couples clarify, negotiate, problem-solve and make all of the necessary decisions that will result in a fair divorce settlement. Couples can keep their financial affairs private, unlike a litigated divorce. Couples who mediate are more likely to be satisfied with the outcome and spend less time and money on their divorce. Additionally, they often learn tools to handle future conflict, thus avoiding returning to court later on.
While a divorce is traumatic for a family, it does not mean children cannot adjust and thrive in a re-structured family environment. Children’s coping mechanisms depend on how the parents interact during the divorce process and beyond. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s research has indicated that children of divorcing couples do best when parents can cooperate on behalf of the child. Mediators can help couples through all co-parenting issues from when to tell the children they are getting a divorce, to parenting access schedules, to when it is appropriate to introduce significant others to the children and all issues in between. Children have the opportunity to flourish in an environment in which they witness healthy communication between their parents during and following the divorce.
While no two divorces are alike, individuals entrenched in toxic divorce litigation often have an unnerving sense of anxiety and loss of control of the process and their lives at that moment. On the other hand, individuals participating in mediation rarely express these same emotions. Instead, mediation allows the parties to control the agenda, control the pace and control the outcome. The couple retains power over their lives, thus setting the stage for a healthy transition from one phase of life into another post-divorce.
Mediation can be invoked at any stage of the divorce process even if each party is represented by an attorney. A couple may decide to have their attorney present for the mediation or may decide that they will attempt to mediate without their attorney’s assistance. Both are common and accepted practices.
If there are complex financial matters at stake, a mediator will often employ the assistance of a neutral certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA) to help the parties navigate financial status, cash flow and net worth of both parties, as well as valuable insight into the pros and cons of different proposals and long term implications. If the couple is struggling with custody and parenting issues, a mediator can collaborate with a neutral clinical psychologist to help the parties understand the needs of the family and reach a resolution that is realistic and healthy for the parents and the children.
Not all mediators are alike. Before deciding on a mediator, ask what type of formal mediation training they have participated in. Many states do not require any formal certification to mediate. A well-trained mediator will have participated in a 40-hour training certification and should be a member of one or more professional associations that promote non-adversarial divorce. Mediators should not favor either party nor direct the parties to an agreement based on the mediator’s opinion.
Mediation works because both parties can speak and be heard. Mediation empowers couples to make their own decisions by helping them maintain positive communication in a professional setting and producing a client generated solution rather than a court dictated order.