Can Mediation Work for Everyone?

I think the answer is “Yes” if specific conditions are met:

.The parties need to be informed about the law surrounding their settlement deal points

  • The parties need to be able to communicate well
  • The parties need to be respectful of each other
  • Neither party can intimidate the other party
  • And both parties need to be able to compromise

That’s a tall order.

Colleen O’Neil, MSW, M.Ed, Mediator, Therapist, Educator, podcast host of Mediation and Beyond, was our guest on the Amicable Divorce Expert podcast this week with host Judith M. Weigle. Colleen is a mediator extraordinaire in that she will shut down a mediation if she sees a power imbalance between the parties, or if she sees that one or both parties are misinformed about their legal rights. Not all mediators will do that. But it’s in the best interests of the parties to wait until there’s an even playing field so that the negotiations are done in the most thoughtful manner possible, and with what we call “informed consent”, meaning that if the parties make settlement decisions that are not totally equal, they are doing it knowingly, that they are relinquishing their rights to an even distribution of assets.  Or, sees that decisions are made with many assets that have different tax implications once divided, creating an unequal distribution of assets within the tax consequences post settlement.

There’s so much to consider for the parties when engaging in mediation. But the starting point is always the ability of the parties to want to communicate in a respectful way, along with the understanding that divorce is a compromise.  Mediation is not a replica of court.  The mediator is not going to make decisions for the parties. The mediators are there to help move the conversation forward in ways that the parties themselves can’t do. And mediators can help with creative brainstorming.  But mediators cannot stop people from lying, from arguing, or from engaging in disrespectful behavior towards one another.

Communication and honesty are the cornerstones of a productive mediation.  There is no mediator I have met who can force people to be honest. Regarding communication, mediators have some control by laying down ground rules for the parties.  Two of the ground rules have to be a) no yelling, and b) no interrupting. If these two ingredients are missing, the mediation won’t be effective and the parties will be wasting their money.

Divorce is one of the most pivotal times in a person’s life.  It can either be used to change in ways that are necessary for growth, or it can be used destructively. When a divorcing couple chooses mediation, they should be ready to embrace a cooperative communication style – which can benefit them individually in other disagreements outside of divorce – and be ready to be as honest as they can be about their part in the divorce and not cast blame in order to get their way.

Mediation sounds like a touchy-feely and less expensive option instead of court and lawyers to get to a settlement that benefits both of them.  But mediation comes with a price.  If both parties don’t agree to be honest, respectful, communicate well, and come to the mediation table legally informed, mediation can spend way too much time and money going nowhere. 

Mediation can theoretically work for everyone, if everyone works hard to be the right participants for an effective mediation.

Listen to this week’s episode here:
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