Knowledge Base

How Women Approach Divorce Mediation 


September 1, 2016
Written by Lynne C. Halem

Why do separating and divorcing women shy away from divorce mediation? 

Surely, we cannot make the generalization that women are uncomfortable in collaborative settings; or that woman are resistant to a process that involves expressions of feelings and ideas; or that women are opposed to problem-solving. Psychology and sociology tell quite a different story. In fact, studies show that it is women who are the predominant participants in support groups, and women who reach out to others in their endorsement of open communication and exchange of ideas.

So again I ask, why do women shy away from divorce mediation?

The answer is simple, if surprising. Women believe that mediation is something like a Venus flytrap. The appearance is beguiling, but the results are deadly. Relatives and friends often plant the seed of doubt.  They are the messengers who, striving to protect the divorcing woman, warn that she will only end up getting “taken” in the mediation setting, that her concern for fairness and openness will leave her holding the short end of the stick, and especially when it comes to child-support, that the woman will exchange child-related advantages for monetary benefits.

We should ask these do-gooders, what is a woman to do?  “Stick it to them!” they respond.  And, what if the woman is not the warrior type?  What is she to do then? “Hire a gladiator,” of course; “No dirty hands for our lady.”

Whether or not women actually buy this argument is less clear. The pressure of friends’ and family’s advice, however, is great and often insistent. For example, one 45-year old professional woman in mediation told of how her father called nightly to warn her of the folly of her ways. For individuals going through a separation, the last thing they need is to expend more energy advocating for the “goodness” of their choices or to feel as if they are 12 years old again. They need supporters, not naysayers.

Perhaps the most important question to ask is: What is the real scoop on mediation? Does it render women powerless? Do they get a ‘less good’ deal because they picked the ‘civilized’ route?

Mediation may be a collaborative process for decision-making, but let’s be clear, it is not based on an ‘other-world’ philosophy in which legal entitlements and laws are trampled in the name of communication. Participants do not relinquish their right to legal counsel. The law is alive and well in mediation.            

The approach in divorce mediation however, is different, as is the focus. In mediation, couples look at the well-being of the family unit, and what it will take to forge new lives. Often the final agreements display creativity of ideas and solutions. But creativity does not translate into doing “less well” or “giving in” financially or emotionally. An experienced mediator will help couples to understand different financial scenarios, as well as the advantages and disadvantages to each party. Neither party should be blind about the implications of their final agreement.

There are real reasons why mediation agreements outlast litigation documents; why mediation participants attest to significantly higher levels of satisfaction, why women (and men) feel empowered by the process, and importantly, why post-divorce relationships tend to be more supportive and children continue to have two cooperating parents. The reasons are obvious. An agreement crafted from the hard work and the participation of two parties, not a battle waged in the name of justice or revenge, ultimately makes more sense for everyone involved- especially where there are children involved.

It is the mediator’s responsibility to make sure that all the parties in the negotiation, both women and men, have the knowledge to make informed, intelligent choices. It is each participant’s responsibility to structure an agreement built on knowledge and understanding-one that provides the supports necessary for each person to build a new future. 

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