I Want To Mediate - My Spouse Is Not Sure - Help!
“I’m ready for a PeacefulSplit®.” I hear this desire often from the spouse who initially contacts me about using mediation to settle the issues in their divorce. My usual followup questions is “is your spouse on board?” This is when I hear silence or the response “I think so” or “he/she is thinking about it” or “I’m not sure.” In theory, it would be great if, at the outset, both parties were both well-informed about mediation, its benefits, its economical cost, and how a PeacefulSplit® Divorce Mediation can be so much more advantageous to their well-being of themselves and their family. However, in reality, it is often one spouse who has done the preliminary research about mediation, or has heard good things from a friend about their own experience, that is the one who makes the initial call to me.
Divorce mediation is unique when compared to mediating disputes in other subjects (e.g., business issues) because of the strong emotions involved. Couples going through divorce will experience a gamut of feelings and emotions, including sadness, anger, desperation, hate, apathy, regret, happiness, and animus. In divorce mediation, those feelings popup when least expected, and it is my role, as a trained mediator (and graduate student in Marriage and Family Therapy), to assist the couple in balancing their strong feelings with the desire to resolve and negotiate their issues. That is a challenging task, but completely manageable. On the contrary, it is the existence of these strong emotions that can serve as a roadblock to couples even deciding on mediation as the vehicle to resolve their issues.
When spouses think about whether or not divorce mediation is right for them, they often start with the inherent bias that each wants to be the “winner” in their divorce. Of course, when one person is the “winner,” that means the other person must be the “loser.” This false belief is an impediment to mediation. As a Florida Supreme Court Certified Family Mediator, I encourage both parties to speak with me simultaneously to discuss the pros and cons of mediation. This helps to alleviate the initial “win-lose” belief that, almost always, never ends up with a “winner” declared. My belief is that if a divorce ends up in litigation, both parties lose. However, if both commit to a PeacefulSplit® mediation, I believe that both will walk-away as winners.
During my initial conversation with the couple, my goal is to explain the following mutual benefits:
- Mediation is basically risk-free. That is, other than the fee, neither party waives any rights they have. If mediation does not work-out, both parties can still pursue the same remedies and options they have before agreeing on mediation;
- Mediation is confidential. Except for a few limited situations in which the law requires a mediator to breach confidentiality (e.g., allegation of child/elder abuse), whatever a party says or admits to or agrees upon in mediation is strictly confidential, and cannot be used against them in a future court proceeding. This assurance allows each party to be flexible with ideas and proposals, and immeasurably assists the negotiations. Outside of mediation, offers or admissions can often be used against the spouse in court. In mediation, this is not the case; and
- Nothing is agreed upon until an agreement is signed. Both parties have the security in knowing that regardless of what they may agree to during the mediation sessions, they can always change their mind and renegotiate issues anytime until they actually sign the Mediated Marital Settlement Agreement and/or Parenting Plan. While it may delay the mediation process for agreed upon issues consistently need to be renegotiated, it is often reassuring for spouses to know that they have the freedom to change their minds anytime up until they sign the agreements.
Remember, All Issues, Including Retirement Plans, Are Resolved In Mediation!
It is quite normal for spouses to want to be divorced, but have different ideas, beliefs and desires about how best to achieve that result. I work with couples to help them understand and accept that it does not make a difference who calls me first, or who initially thinks mediation is the best options for them. For me, what’s most important is that both spouses feel secure in choosing the mediation process, and understand that I will be strictly impartial and neutral during the entire mediation experience. My role is not to choose “winners” and “losers” nor to pressure either spouse that mediation is the only option for them. In truth, for some people, their primary goal is to seek revenge, or to cause harm or pain to their spouse, and mediation is definitely not the proper venue for that. It requires a shift in philosophy and belief to appreciate the benefits that mediation offers divorcing couples. It requires a change in their desired outcome from a goal of getting divorced and coping with a judge deciding a “winner” and a “loser” to be comfortable with the concept of becoming divorced via a process that results in a “perfectly imperfect” resolution of all issues. That is, a resolution devised of absolute “winners” and “losers” but replete with amicably negotiated issues where both parties receive benefit.
Even If You Don't Know The Finances, You Still Have Power Over The Settlement!