5 Key Elements of the Mediation Process

Susan Ingram, Esq of www.susan-ingram.com discusses the divorce mediation process and a mediator's role in it.

{2:48 minutes to read}

There are two principal aspects to the role a mediator plays when helping couples going through divorce mediation. One has to do with the process and the other has to do with the substance.

Process relates to the framework and ground rules that are established by the mediator so that the necessary conversations can take place and move along, ultimately to resolution.

Substance refers to the specific legal and financial issues that must be addressed and resolved when a couple is divorcing.

In this blog, I focus on the process itself, which, while it involves more subtle skills, establishes the essential foundation for a successful mediation.

1. Facilitating conversation: As a mediator, one of my most important tasks is that of facilitating the conversations between the participants. I need to help move them from their rigid positioning to a “deeper” place, where they are identifying and expressing their underlying interests and needs. It is only when they work on this deeper level that meaningful progress can be made, and they can end up in a win-win situation where the needs of both are being met.

2. Problem-solving: I help the couple problem-solve and explore options for the many issues they need to address. I may help them brainstorm ideas or offer examples of what other couples have done, but it is the couple that chooses their own solutions, not me. So while I facilitate their discussions (as described above), the ultimate decision-making is theirs.

3. Protecting against power imbalances: I need to be sensitive to power imbalances between the parties, whether they be overt or less obvious. For example, if one party is intimidating or overly assertive toward the other, I’ll take steps to make sure the weaker party’s voice is heard. Or if one party is less knowledgeable about, for example, financial matters, I’ll make sure that party adequately understands that information. I often describe my role as being “omni-partial,” meaning that I am partial towards both while being supportive of each, individually, when necessary.

4. Setting the pace: I help the couple to move their discussion along, while allowing them to set the pace. They determine how frequently they want to meet and how much time they may need in between sessions, whether to gather information or to process emotional issues that come up.

5. Safekeeping the space: The environment in the mediation room needs to feel safe and supportive to the participants, so that they can be heard and openly discuss the issues that need to be resolved during the mediation process.

Interestingly, if I have done my job well, the couple doesn’t necessarily realize all of the behind-the-scenes effort put into ensuring that the process runs smoothly. And that’s just fine with me!

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