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Styles of Divorce Mediation

Styles of divorce mediation vary widely among practitioners, but all are designed to avoid the expense, time, and stress of a court case. All styles use a neutral third party as mediator, are confidential, and aim to help divorcing spouses resolve their differences amicably. Divorce mediators generally use one of the following methods:

Facilitative mediation is one of the oldest forms of mediation, and for several years was the only style used. With this style, the mediator is completely neutral, and does not offer advice or recommendations. Instead, the mediator asks questions about the parties’ positions, tries to understand the underlying interests that motivate their positions, and helps the parties identify and evaluate their resolution options. Facilitative mediation developed when mediators were primarily volunteers without specialized knowledge. As religious, counseling, and legal professionals have moved into mediation, mediators have taken on a more active role.

In evaluative mediation, the mediator participates more in the negotiations. He or she may make recommendations, offer an opinion on the likely outcome of a trial, or point out each side’s strengths and weaknesses. The mediator often has expertise in a certain area, such as financial or legal concerns, and this style is frequently used for more complex cases where money is a key issue.

Religion-based mediation, in many cases, has saving the marriage as its ultimate goal. While the mediator may assist in negotiating an eventual divorce, he or she will first attempt to persuade the spouses to stay together. This can be helpful if the parties are unsure about divorce, but may not be the best choice for couples who have already made that decision. In the latter case, couples may prefer someone knowledgeable of divorce laws and procedures, who can help them quickly and peacefully resolve disputes.

Caucus-style mediation resembles a trial; in fact, the lawyers spend the same amount of time preparing their cases for mediation as they do for court. They interview witnesses, gather information, and study records and documents, and only after a thorough analysis do they proceed to mediation. The two sides usually stay in separate rooms, with the mediator going back and forth between them. The lawyer communicates with the mediator on behalf of the client, explaining the client’s position and discussing settlement options. The lawyer and mediator decide what information to share with the other side, and the process continues until both sides reach an agreement. This style doesn’t encourage open communication as well as some other methods, but can be useful in adverserial divorces, in which the spouses cannot cooperate.

Therapy-based mediation shares several characteristics of counseling. Here, the mediator not only helps the spouses deal with child custody concerns or issues over finances or property, but also help them explore their feelings. Therapist-mediators may not necessarily try to save the marriage, but they will often attempt to help the parties understand what went wrong in their marriage and how they feel about it. Mediators who also work as therapists can be compassionate and sensitive, but in some divorces, may not be able to offer enough guidance about legal concerns. However, the process can help couples establish a healthier post-divorce relationship, which is essential if they have children together.

Mediation not only helps a divorcing couple avoid a trial, it can also assist in establishing communication and cooperation. Every mediation style can do this, so when choosing a style, it is important to select the one that feels most comfortable to all parties involved. Whatever style is chosen, it should be flexible, open, and allow all parties to freely express their concerns and opinions.

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