What Are the Three Different Approaches to Divorce Mediation?
Parties who are considering mediation to resolve a family law issue often have different expectations about the process. This is because, within the world of people who practice mediation, there are different approaches with different emphases. Basically there are three schools of thought when it comes to mediation:
- Facilitative — In this type of mediation, the mediator leads the process by which parties reach a mutually beneficial resolution but does not make recommendations to the parties. A skilled facilitator asks probing questions, smooths over rough points in the parties’ communication, and assists in analysis without ever revealing a point of view on the disagreement or the quality of proposed resolutions. The advantages of such an approach are that parties feel validated and express their positions freely without fear of judgment. The disadvantage is that parties don’t get the benefit of the mediator’s substantive knowledge. The parties could agree to a solution that is not practical or even legal, and wind up re-litigating the issue later.
- Evaluative — This process takes its cue from settlement conferences that judges often preside over. Here the mediator is free with criticism about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the parties’ case. Evaluative mediators spend a greater amount of time in separate caucuses with a party and his or her attorney, using substantive knowledge to move them from an unreasonable position to a more reasonable one. The advantage here is the substantive knowledge of the mediator infused in the process. But the disadvantage is that the parties take a back seat to the mediator and the lawyers, so they have less true ownership of the final settlement.
- Transformative — Transformative mediators use the process to remedy problems in the parties’ relationship rather than simply resolving the issues on the table. The advantage to this approach is that it helps parties, especially parents who must continue to work with each other, rebuild trust and respect so they can more easily cooperate. The disadvantage is that parties can easily get sidetracked from the legal issues they need to resolve, so the process can be longer and more circuitous.
At Solutions Divorce Mediation, we use an approach that incorporates the best aspects of all three concepts. Our mediators encourage free and open discussion of goals and positions, but we don’t leave our clients in doubt about their legal rights or the legal implications of a proposed solution. Without being heavy-handed, we give our mediation clients the benefit of our substantive family law knowledge. Finally, although our primary goal is productive discussion of issues leading to a timely, cost-effective resolution, we maintain a respectful tone to the proceedings so parties with strained relationships can take positive steps to heal, for their sake and their children’s.