Many issues come up in divorce mediation, but one of the most challenging for the mediator and the couple is when there appears to be a power imbalance. There are two areas where this issue comes up most frequently: one is with financial matters and the other is with intimidating and aggressive behavior by one by the parties.
As a mediator, I am committed to being a neutral facilitator of the process. I also have to ensure that each party is able to fully understand the subjects that are being discussed. Ultimately, each party has to be able to make “informed decisions” about the issues under discussion.
For example, if one of the parties has more knowledge about finances (perhaps that spouse always made the financial decisions for the family) and appears not to be forthcoming with all of the documents or information, I will suggest that the couple meet together with a financial neutral to review their finances. This is especially helpful to bring the less financially savvy spouse up to speed on the subject. For, without this support, it would be impossible for the less-knowing spouse to understand the state of the family’s finances and to make informed decisions as to financial matters.
The other power imbalance that can be particularly challenging occurs when one of the parties conducts him or herself in an intimidating or overly assertive manner. While it’s very likely that this type of behavior has been a continuing pattern in the couple’s relationship, the mediator needs to be alert to this situation and ultimately take steps to make sure the weaker party’s voice is heard. There are a number of approaches the mediator can use to draw out the more vulnerable party and lessen the negative impact of the aggressor. Ultimately, the goal of the mediator is to ensure that both parties have had an opportunity to articulate their concerns and needs in reaching a fair agreement.
While there are times when a mediation cannot continue due to a power imbalance, often a skilled mediator can help the couple come to a fair and reasonable agreement that enables them to constructively move on with their lives.