Knowledge Base

Defining the Mediation Process


March 1, 2005
Written by CMDR Staff

One way to define the mediation process is to say that in mediation, a neutral, third party, otherwise known as the mediator, uses a variety of techniques to help two individuals, otherwise known as Husband and Wife, and technically defined by law as opposing parties, to reach agreement on various issues. These issues may, and often do, include, especially in pre-divorce mediation: division of marital assets and liabilities, child and spousal support, legal and physical custody, visitation or joint custody arrangements, living arrangements, health and life insurance, present and future educational needs, and provisions for the resolution of future disputes. The end goal is a fair, thorough, and workable agreement that incorporates provisions for present and past future needs of all family members.

That is the general definition, but it tells you little about how these so-called opposing parties, herein labeled Mary and John, can reach agreement. Each is experiencing many different and even conflicting emotions, both individually and towards each other. They don’t even want to be in the same room together, let alone sit down and rationally discuss their present and future needs, wants and goals. Mary may cry during half the initial sessions; John may pace back and forth, at times and at other times stare at the wall with his back to Mary. There is anger, hurt and fear—all are present and have to be dealt with, though not necessarily resolved, since mediation is not therapy. Yet in most instances, Mary and John do learn in mediation how to communicate face-to-face in an environment that must, to be effective, be non-threatening and safe. The screams and the tears subside somewhere along the way—though all couples are not openly emotional—and agreement is reached.

To accomplish this “magic”, the mediator has to use many different techniques and approaches, for there really isn’t one mediation process, one technique or one model of mediating. While it is also true, that some researchers have gone so far as to label different models of mediation and type cast mediators in different roles—the polar extremes being the didactic, authoritarian mediator versus the laid-back warm and fuzzy mediator. However, it is foolish to rely on one model or stereotype. In order to be successful, mediators must be able to change approaches and models, often within the context of one session.

Indeed, not only does the process vary with different couples, but so should the final agreement. This agreement should, to truly reflect the need and goals of the parties. Consequently, there is never a boiler plate agreement written at the Centre for Mediation & Dispute Resolution. Each agreement is unique to that particular couple. The major issues may be the same, but the solutions are often quite different.

Interestingly enough, if you read the following comments from former CMDR clients, you will see that they each view mediation, even with the same mediator, very differently. So much for uniformity!

“Lynne told us that mediation wasn’t therapy. I cried my heart out through the first three sessions. I was so hurt and felt so betrayed. But the mediation process made me stronger. I would have to say mediation was very therapeutic for me.”

“Mediation structured every aspect of our divorce. We worked together, probably for the first time in many years, to write an agreement that was fair for both of us. Mediation was mentally challenging and well worth all the work.”

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