Sadly, contention and acrimony are too frequently a part of many divorce proceedings. Particularly when multiple issues are in dispute and/or when children are involved, nothing good can come from an emotionally-charged, hostile courtroom divorce. For many divorcing couples in Southern California, the disputed matters in a divorce can be dealt with more appropriately through an alternative divorce process, away from the courtroom.
Divorce mediation, where divorcing spouses work with a neutral divorce mediator to resolve the issues in dispute, is the right option for many couples, especially when you take into account the emotional and financial costs of a contested, courtroom-focused divorce. Even if one or both of the spouses is reticent regarding mediation, both partners should learn more about the option before rejecting it.
Well-known Beverly Hills psychiatrist and expert witness Carole Lieberman, M.D., M.P.H., has over twenty years of experience in divorce and child custody cases and other civil and criminal cases. She says, “Divorce mediation can make the process less painful and less expensive if both partners really want to do what’s best for the family and are willing to be open-minded and cooperative. But when one or both spouses are hurt and angry, they usually want to control or take revenge on the other, which makes mediation an exercise in futility. So, you need to ask yourself what is more important: making an awful process a little less painful through mediation or inflicting pain on your spouse by dragging them through the courts.”
Dr. Lieberman adds that, “On the other hand, some spouses make mediation impossible by being so demanding and irrational that it takes an imposing judge to give them a reality check.” In southern California, an experienced Long Beach divorce attorney can help spouses determine if mediation is their best option. Divorce mediation is most likely to be successful when most or all of these ten conditions apply:
1. When the Divorce Is a Joint Decision
When both partners decide, more or less at the same time, that a marriage is over, and a divorce is in their mutual best interests, mediation may be the most appropriate path to divorce. When the divorce decision is a joint decision, it’s easier to move quickly toward a mediated settlement. When only one partner decides on divorce, it’s no surprise that the other spouse may resist moving ahead with the process.
2. When Reconciliation Is Not an Option
When two divorcing partners soberly accept the reality of being permanently divorced, and when neither partner has any desire for a reconciliation of the marriage, the couple has probably arrived at a point where mediation can be constructive. Partners in a mediated divorce need to focus clearly on their futures and need to deal with the business at hand. Mediation is not about blame, recrimination, or the past. It’s about the future.
3. When You Want To Remain On Good Terms
The desire to remain on good terms with one another isn’t essential to a successful divorce mediation, but it doesn’t hurt. Partners may have a number of reasons for remaining on good terms, and those reasons always help to advance the divorce mediation process. In divorces where one or both partners feel strong anger and hostility, counseling might be appropriate, but a mediated divorce may not be the best option.
4. When Both Partners Understand the Financial Situation
Financial issues are central in almost every divorce. To obtain the fairest and best possible financial agreement, a full understanding of the financial realities by both spouses is a must. Mediation can help divorcing spouses with a better understanding of the marriage’s financial situation and the future prospects for each partner. On the other hand, the more spouses understand before a divorce procedure begins, the fewer surprises they’ll confront. If one spouse has generally handled all of the finances, the other spouse may feel disadvantaged.
5. When Both Spouses Have Been Honest with Each Other
If one spouse has lied about something important in a marriage, the other spouse may need to have a divorce lawyer conduct legal discovery of the facts and the complete financial situation before starting the mediation process and working to negotiate an agreement. When trust is lacking, one or both spouses should probably work with a divorce lawyer and/or a financial adviser to find settlement options that don’t rely on the other spouse to provide truthful information.
6. When Spouses Don’t Blame One Another
If both divorcing spouses are willing to admit that they both share some blame and some responsibility for a marriage’s failure, mediation will probably work for them. But if one partner feels that the other is entirely at fault for all of the marriage’s problems, it may be difficult for that partner to enter into any agreement that the other spouse might find acceptable. If one partner makes demands regarding marital property, alimony, or child custody and the other partner resists those demands, an experienced divorce lawyer should be consulted about a contested divorce.
7. When the Spouses Are Not Easily Intimidated by One Another
In a mediated divorce, spouses speak for themselves and end up negotiating their own agreement. The mediator’s primary work is the facilitation of the process. If one spouse is easily intimidated by the other, speaking up may be difficult. The mediator will help both spouses speak up for themselves, but a spouse who has little self-confidence or feels totally inadequate may need to hire an aggressive divorce attorney and pursue a more traditional divorce process.
8. When Both Spouses Can Disagree Without Acrimony
Mediation usually works well for individuals who can stand up for themselves in a conflict with without losing control. This doesn’t mean that mediation is only for people who are perfect. In fact, helping divorcing partners express themselves is one of a divorce mediator’s task. But if one or both spouses cannot help having strong emotional reactions, mediation may not be the right option.
Dr. Nikki Martinez is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor whose advice has been featured in the Huffington Post. Dr. Martinez says, “I do a great deal of couples work. Divorce mediation works for a specific type of couple. A couple that is uncontested, amicable, and that is divorcing because they have simply grown apart, is ideal for this. Their goal is to end the relationship with calmness and dignity, and treat the end with the same respect they treated the start. This is a difficult fit for people who are not in agreement, are contentious, and do not agree on most matters. If they struggle with the art of compromise, mediation is going to be very hard for them.”
9. When Violence, Alcoholism, and Drug Abuse Are Not Issues
In Southern California, many divorce mediators simply will not work with couples with a record of physical abuse, because it’s essentially impossible for an abuse victim to negotiate on equal terms with an abuser. Alcoholism and drug addiction impair anyone’s ability to think clearly and to make reasonable decisions. Behavior problems linked to alcoholism and drug addiction can lead to irrational behavior that entirely derails a divorce mediation.
10. When Each Partner Believes the Other Is a Good Parent
Mediation may be the best way for parents to negotiate agreements about children. Certified Divorce Coach Rosalind Sedacca says, “As a Divorce and Parenting Coach and Founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network, I highly recommend mediation as the first and best option for parents facing divorce. It’s more family-friendly, gives greater consideration to the needs of the children and results in more positive opportunities for effective co-parenting following the divorce.
“Mediation,” she says, “will work for any couple who make their children’s wellbeing a high priority and sincerely understand the value of remaining a ‘family’ even after divorce. Litigation is much more likely to end in high parental conflict, resentment. and lack of cooperation, the antithesis of the desired outcome for co-parenting success.”
In mediation, the decisions regarding children belong to the parents alone, so nothing needs to be ordered or imposed by outsiders. When spouses can agree on parenting strategies and the amount of time a child spends with each parent, they should probably pursue the mediation process. However, if there’s a lack of trust, or if the spouses strongly disagree over matters related to their child or children, it may be better to work through the courts.
A Final Word Regarding Mediation
Dr. Deb Castaldo is the author of Relationship Reboot: Tech Support for Love, and she’s a Ph.D. couples and marriage therapist who’s been featured as a divorce expert on many television programs and in several magazines including CNN American Law Journal TV, ABC News, Ladies’ Home Journal, Woman’s Day, and many more. She encourages divorcing couples to choose mediation and says, “Although divorce is very complex and often replicates the same problematic dynamics that occurred in the marriage, it is possible for couples to succeed at a peaceful, nonconflictual mediated divorce. Often therapy can be extremely helpful in providing couples with new communication skills to help them move through the divorce process.”
“Will divorce mediation work for you? In the end,” Dr. Castaldo says, “it requires the same communication skills for successful, peaceful mediation as it does for a successful marriage. Those skills involve maintaining respect and civility, while minimizing self-serving, lashing out, and vindictive behavior. I always ask couples in marriage therapy what they will GIVE to each other, and what they will GIVE UP to make the relationship work. Since those skills are necessary for all relationships, divorce mediation can be an opportunity for personal growth and an investment in making sure you don’t end up divorced a second or third time.”
Divorce mediation gives divorcing spouses a fair and sensible way to resolve the important issues in a divorce. If a divorcing spouse becomes uncomfortable with the divorce mediation process, that spouse remains free to examine other options. Divorce is never pleasant, but it does not have to be a battle. In southern California, an experienced Long Beach divorce attorney may be able to help divorcing spouses determine if mediation the right option for their own divorce.