The profile of mediation as a means of resolving family disputes is increasing, not least because of its many benefits over the traditional court system. Mediation presents many advantages, ranging from empowering couples to make measured, long-term decisions in an open, more conflict-free environment, to helping keep costs down.
But what are the ins and outs of the process? If you and your spouse or partner are considering mediation, or have made your mind up and have a mediation scheduled to take place, what are the things you really want to know?
Location, location, location
Have you ever been to an accountant? A doctor? A dentist? Probably we all have, and it would be impossible for there to be complete consistency as to what the office – the physical space – would comprise; mediation is no different, and mediation can take place in offices of all shapes and sizes. There is no ideal format or set location that is most effective, however, there are a range of elements which will generally apply, such as:
- It will be an office environment, usually with one large table.
- The mediator generally sits behind the table, with both participants side-by-side on the other side.
- Mediators like to use flip charts, and you will almost always find one of these tucked away in a corner, or even trying to muscle its way into the room if the room is not huge.
- Wherever possible, there is a second room often referred to as a Breakout room; this is so that there can be time out for one or both parties to collect their thoughts quietly for a moment, if required.
- Most mediators try to match the ambience in the room to the task in hand, so that it will generate calm but also an aura of purposefulness – how successful we as mediators are in achieving that aim will vary from time to time.
So much for the physical surroundings. It is what is going on in everyone’s mind that is much more important.
How to get the most out of mediation
As I have hinted above, the mediator is hoping to provide an atmosphere in which both parties can come to a successful resolution of their issues. But what about the parties themselves? Well, there are a few points I make to clients of mine who are about to engage in mediation for the first time:
- Listen, listen, listen! Having a chance to meet with the other party really is a golden opportunity – solicitors, with their clients, can try and peer into the mind of the other party from their desks, but rarely have the opportunity to hear what the other party has to say in person. Mediation delivers that scenario – the party on the other side is going to be sitting down and explaining to the mediator precisely what they think about the issues which have brought them to mediation, so listening is the first and most important priority.
- Having listened, it is equally important that you should contribute. You should have a clear idea of what you want to say about the issues in question, in the knowledge that holding back and trying to be too clever are unlikely to lead to a successful resolution
- Posturing and bravado are luxuries that you can ill afford, but having said that it is natural for people who have been very hurt in the recent past to want to put that out there. Accordingly, I never think there is much harm in making a brief and dignified comment about one’s own feelings and hurt, and if it is not asking too much, it would be sensible to listen to what the other party has to say about their equivalent feelings. But do not dwell on this aspect – there is other work to do, and you will need you to concentrate.
- Lastly, do not be afraid. Mediators are skilled, and they are trained to protect each of the parties. Mediation is not meant to entrap people, and the confidentiality of mediation is something that should be explained at the beginning of the process and regularly throughout. That is one of its major components.
You can bring other expertise into the process, for example, financial neutrals and/or family consultants depending on your specific needs. The key is to create a process to work out solutions for you and your family
If you are experiencing a divorce or relationship breakdown and both parties want to avoid the court process, talking to a family law expert with mediation qualifications is an excellent idea. They can talk you through the benefits of mediation and help you agree a location and format that will help you get the most out of the process.