In a recent conversation with Joann Babiak, a San Francisco Bay Area attorney who handles many family law matters including divorce and mediation of family-related conflicts, we discussed the topic of mediation. With a background in psychology and extensive training in mediation and dispute resolution, Joann is well-qualified to answer the following questions about divorce mediation and how to make the most out of the process.
What is mediation and how does it work in divorce proceedings?
Divorce mediation is a process in which a neutral person, who is trained and experienced in conflict resolution, facilitates change and agreements between divorcing couples through meaningful discussions. When people experiencing challenges try to talk things out just between themselves, they may be well-intentioned but oftentimes unskilled at dispute resolution strategies. A professional mediator has the skill sets and sophistication developed through working over many years with people dealing with divorce.
Who are good candidates for mediation?
You know, some people react to disagreements by rolling up in a little ball; others come out fighting like a hellcat. To them I would say, “Would you rather duke it out in court, or discuss your disagreements in mediation?”
Sometimes a client who just wants someone to tell them what to do might head to an aggressive litigator. But they might fare much better by turning down the hostilities and mediating with the soon-to-be “ex”. Communicating actually helps with healing, and sometimes huge transitions occur. I frequently suggest parties in conflict try mediating with a skilled mediator. Unlike a litigated divorce, mediation can be a private and confidential out-of-court process which allows participants control over decisions that will affect the rest of their lives. Most of the time, couples will do better creating their own agreements rather than letting a judge who doesn’t know them or their needs decide the shape of their future.
Good candidates for mediation are those who are ready, willing and able to fully engage in the mediation process, invest time and energy in an out-of-court experience, and craft a mutually satisfactory resolution.
How does one select a good mediator?
Mediators are not necessarily attorneys, and not all attorneys are mediators. But anyone conducting divorce mediation sessions should be very knowledgeable about divorce and family law. Except for court-connected mediators, there is currently no certification required by law in California for an attorney to act as a mediator. However, there are many excellent training programs. When considering a mediator, be sure to ask about his/her specific qualifications and experience.
Also, ask a prospective mediator how he/she conducts mediation sessions. Ask a lot of questions. Get a feel for how well you relate to each other. Make sure you feel comfortable, and if you detect any bias (such as gender, role, race, or financial bias), keep shopping around.
How does one make the most out of the mediation process?
Listen to and work with the mediator. Identify problems that present challenges to settlement, solutions you really want and various alternatives you can live with. Be prepared to really listen (not just hear), and seek to understand the feelings and needs of your spouse. Remember, you have a common purpose – to get through the disputes and arrive at a decree of divorce in a way that allows each of you to smoothly start a fresh new chapter.
The divorce facilitators who are part of the Divorce With Dignity Network are available to assist people seeking a peaceful divorce. Sometimes this includes referrals to mediators or other professionals our clients may need to help them through the divorce in the most supportive way. Visit our website to learn more about how we can help you get through this difficult time in the best way possible.