Why is it that the first idea that most often comes to mind when an individual is considering divorce is “I need a lawyer”? The reasons are frequently similar:
I know nothing about how to end this marriage and how to get divorced.
I need someone who will argue for me.
I want to get him/her back – I want him/her to suffer.
Many individuals simply fail to realize that another option is available to them – mediation. The process of mediating a divorce is not a new concept – indeed it has a long history. Yet it is an almost invisible, unrealized alternative, one unknown and not considered by the majority of divorcing couples. Friends and family, the media, and even the majority of professionals who deal with divorcing individuals, also think first and foremost of the court system and its players.
The majority of separating couples have never heard of “mediating” a divorce. Prior to working at the Centre for Mediation & Dispute Resolution, I had never heard of mediation either. It was a new concept for me. Apparently I am not alone in my ignorance. I personally know 39 couples, friends of mine, who have gone through the divorce process. Only two of the 39 couples chose to mediate their divorce. The rest took the adversarial, litigation approach – either by choice or by not realizing that any other option was available to them.
The divorce process for most of these couples took more than five painful and costly years to complete. On top of that, many of them, who are now divorced, continue to pass in and out of the court system because their divorce agreements do not fully and clearly address many important areas. For some agreements those areas that come into play down the road after divorcing could be: financing of their children’s college education and/or weddings, health insurance and/or medical issues, traveling with the children overseas, need for private schooling, upcoming graduations, the arrival of grandchildren, etc.
To obtain a divorce, all couples are required to appear in front of a judge and have a divorce agreement in hand, which contains provisions for the division of assets and debts, the care and support of children, and perhaps even spousal support.
The need for an agreement does not mean that participants need to take an aggressive stance. Mediating a divorce is not just about the agreement and paperwork needed to secure divorce. Mediation is a non-adversarial approach. It takes conflict outside the legal arena into a private, comfortable, and confidential setting conducive to identifying needs, airing concerns, and solving problems thereby avoiding a lengthy and expensive court battle. The non-adversarial nature of mediation is especially appropriate for individuals in the kind of on-going relationships found in the family setting.
Mediation is an empowering experience, helping individuals to acquire a skill set that enables them to communicate better and parent more effectively. Even after divorce, couples use their mediation skills to navigate their future interactions, benefiting the social and emotional well being of the family as a whole.