We typically think of divorce as a conflict-driven process, but that need not be the case. Rather than hire lawyers and ready for battle in court, couples can choose to mediate their divorce. In mediation, the couple meets individually and together over a number of sessions with a trained mediator to reach an agreement on the issues at stake in the divorce – custody, property division, child and spousal support. Mediation has several advantages, including reduced conflict, reduced expenses, and a more lasting and acceptable agreement. Given all of these pluses, why do a distinct minority of divorcing couples use mediation? Betsy Ross, a psychotherapist and mediator, in an article for the Huffington Post, offered some compelling reasons.
First, mediation requires a level of cooperation not all couples possess. After months or even years of rising tension, two people have decided to end a relationship, a partnership and a family. Generally, this level of tension does not happen because the two people see eye to eye on most things. So, when suddenly faced with working together in the same room on weighty issues like custody and property division that will lay the course for their futures apart, it should not come as a surprise that most couples find the task insurmountable.
Second, and related, mediation requires the two people to actually be together in the same room, for multiple sessions. For many soon-to-be-divorced individuals, the physical presence of the ex alone can cause harsh emotional and physical responses.
Third, mediation requires the ability to communicate openly and honestly about expectations and goals in order to reach a fair and mutually acceptable outcome. Again, for couples just splitting, with feelings still raw, the willingness to be open and honest may simply not exist.
Fourth, mediation requires partnership in that both spouses have to buy into the process completely and agree to do the hard work of negotiating a settlement. If two people cannot move past their current emotional issues, they will not be able to sit rationally and reach a good outcome.
Finally, the mediator remains neutral throughout the process, and for spouses looking at divorce as a competition or third-party recognition, the mediator not taking sides can feel off-putting.
Mediation can work even in high conflict cases, but it requires a certain set of personalities and a willingness to work together that not many couples seem capable of in the heat of ending a marriage. But as more people learn about mediation and its advantages, more people may find themselves able to transcend petty behavior to reap better rewards.
If you have questions about mediation and divorce, contact us – we can help.