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Divorce Mediation - Divorce Mediation Process

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaDivorceDivorce Mediation - Divorce Mediation Process, Models Of Mediation, Mediator's Role, Advantages Of Mediation, Disadvantages Of Mediation

Divorce Mediation Process

Though mediation has only formally existed for approximately twenty-five years (Helm, Boyd, Longwill 1992) the process of mediation has been around for centuries. Ancient Chinese used mediation as the primary means for conflict resolution. This ancient process involved a neutral third person helping parties to resolve disputes. This, in its simplest form, is the essence of mediation today; a settlement process emphasizing informed decision making and mutually acceptable agreements between disputants. Mediation can provide an alternative to the adversarial approach of the legal system. It is goal-focused and time-limited; targeting the issues to be resolved (Beck and Sales 2001; Gentry 1997). Common issues addressed are division of property, spousal support, child support, custody, and visitation (Emery 1995; Schwebel et al. 1994). Mediators assist parties to communicate clearly, clarify their disagreements, determine intentions, interests, and consider settlement options; all for the sake of a fair, mutually agreeable decision. The mediation process can take place, broadly speaking, in either public or private-sector settings.

The context of mediation can be broadly understood to take place either in public or private settings. Mediation that is court-referred, or offered through the court system with mediators contracted through the court system, are examples of public-sector mediation. When the disputants choose, or are referred to, a mediator who has no contractual arrangement with the court system, they are involved in a private mediation setting. Mediators working in private settings can come from professions such as law, mental health counseling, family counseling/therapy, social work, or psychology. The general process of mediation is similar across both settings.

Initial meetings with mediators typically involve a description of the mediation process. Some information may be gathered regarding disputants' perspectives on separation and divorce, plans to communicate with family and friends about the divorce, and child support. If the couple chooses to pursue mediation a contract between the couple and a mediator is commonly signed (see Coulson 1996, for one example of a contract). Once a contract is signed initial meetings commonly include the following steps: (1) orientation and introduction; (2) information gathering to facilitate goal setting; (3) framing issues and developing options for mutual agreement; (4) reaching an initial settlement and drafting a tentative agreement for discussion with attorneys (and possible families); and (5) finalizing the agreement in court.

The divorce mediator (hereafter referred to as mediator) has the immediate task of creating an appropriate, respectful, working atmosphere where the mediator's neutrality is unmistakable (Schwebel et al. 1994). The mediator is faced with working with two people who have chosen to separate and divorce. The range and intensity of emotion can be great. Of paramount importance for the mediator is the instillation of hope; an opportunity to approach that which seems unapproachable: agreement. Though mediation can take place in public or private settings, be voluntary or involuntary, similarities exist regarding the initial tasks of the mediator. Beyond these similarities, numerous differences are possible given the array of mediation models.

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