As a divorce and family Mediator, I have witnessed great success in the peaceful, respectful resolution of highly emotional situations. There are many reasons for the success, not the least of which is the spirit of compromise most of my clients bring to the table. But a surprising factor that contributes greatly to my clients’ success is the way in which they are prepared for the process. I’ve condensed the information into the following six points:
1. The first thing I do is thoroughly explain what to expect. I make sure my clients understand that mediation is confidential, and that the outcome is theirs alone to achieve. I tell my clients that I am neither a judge nor an attorney, so I won’t make any decisions for them, and I cannot give them any legal advice. Instead, I will help them brainstorm solutions for the various components involved in ending their relationship, and explain that one of the best parts of the process is having the opportunity to think outside the box.
2. I advise my clients that the purpose of a mediation isn’t necessarily to arrive at a complete and thorough agreement (although that’s what usually happens). Instead, the purpose is for each party to express his/her own points of view in as much detail as possible about as many issues as there are in conflict, and then to understand the points of view of the other person involved.
3. I also ask my clients to think about their goals and their expectations. What do they want out of the process? Typically, my clients tell me that they want things to be decided as fairly and equally as possible, and that they want things to remain peaceful. These goals, although lofty, are ultimately attainable, but I take some time to explain that “equal” is a mathematical equation; i.e., divided by two, while “fair” is a perception. If they choose litigation over mediation, a judge won’t necessarily look at what’s “fair,” and a trial is likely to result in a winner and a loser. In mediation, my clients are the architects of their own solution, which ends up as a win-win instead of a win-lose.
4. I ask my clients to think about what’s negotiable and what’s non-negotiable, and I suggest that they prioritize so that we can spend the most meaningful time working off of their priority list.
5. Preparing clients for mediation means explaining that they are collaborators and not competitors. This is particularly significant if there are children involved, because it’s important for me to remind my clients that they will be a family forever; that only their living situations will change.
6. Finally, the most important thing I can do to prepare my clients is to request that they check their attitudes. Mediation is most successful when the parties abandon their need to be right, and to prove the other wrong. The foundation of the mediation process is to provide a safe place for people to express feelings of frustration, anger, sadness, and concern. When, and only when those feelings have been expressed and understood, can the mediation process help clients move forward to build their new future on top of that solid foundation.
It is clear to me that each party to a mediation comes into the process with his or her own agenda. As the neutral Mediator, it is important for me to give equal time and attention to each and every concern so that at the end of the day, and as my clients are signing their Mediated Settlement Agreement, they have a sense of ownership and of accomplishment.
If you’re going through a divorce right now, please understand that you have many choices about how you end your relationship. If you choose mediation, the odds of getting it done with less angst, less time, and less expense are greatly increased. And, if you want to preserve the family you’ve devoted years to building, mediation is a logical choice. So when you choose to mediate the end of your relationship, please also choose to be prepared.