What, is mediation, and what makes it such a positive tool for conflict resolution within families? I hope to explain mediation and its benefits in this post. Mediation is often described as a “meeting” in which the parties meet with a neutral mediator who helps them reach agreement. Having a face to face meeting between two parties is common, but it is only one from among a wide range of options for mediation. Sometimes parties to a mediation do not meet together at all. Sometimes they meet numerous times. Some forms of mediation will involve an entire extended family or organization. Using modern technology, mediation can also take place internationally or over long distances. The key element of all these variations of mediation is that the parties utilize a neutral facilitator who guides a process designed to help them reach their own, voluntary and authentic agreement.
Mediation seeks to give parties tools they need to resolve their own dispute, using whatever information they believe is relevant, based on their own values and circumstances, and reaching an agreement that is truly their own and which they feel is fair and workable. Does it sound too good to be true? It’s not. The beauty of mediation is that, when parties are mutually committed to fairness, mediators have a large toolbox of conflict resolution skills and processes which can be utilized to help parties reach authentic, fair agreements that everyone can live with.
Sometimes individuals, families, or organizations wonder how they can possibly reach agreement, if they are stuck at an impasse already. The answer is that your impasse is not the end of the story. When you reach your own dead end and aren’t sure where to turn next, that means it’s time to call in a mediator, to see if they can help. The mediator is a professional who has many tools to help parties overcome barriers to agreement. Even if the strategies you have already employed have not resulted in a solution, it is likely that a mediator has more tools that can help you.
Divorce mediation is a key component of my practice, but my practice is devoted to all manner of conflict where relationships are key and where there are mutual, personal goals. I’m certified by the South Carolina Supreme Court as a Family Court mediator, but this is only the beginning of the story where my credentials as a mediator are concerned. Mediation within the court system is focused on cases already in litigation, involving only two parties, and focused exclusively on settlement of “this” case. While settlement through mediation in these cases is generally far preferable (for many reasons) to resolution through courtroom battle, it does dis-service to mediation if it is seen merely as a tool for settlement of an adversarial, litigated case. Mediation offers so much more. Mediation need not be seen as a step along the way in the legal process. Rather, mediation offers a distinctive and different paradigm for addressing conflict, with many benefits. Here is a chart that highlights a few of the differences:
|Empowers parties to make their own agreement based on their own individual values, circumstances, and priorities||Puts decision in hands of a stranger who must impose ruling from outside in, and based on general legal principles|
|Teamwork and collaboration is encouraged||The parties are pitted against one another as adversaries|
|Parties can implement custom tailored, win-win solutions||The judge making the decision in the case is limited to a set range of options|
|Parties can communicate what is important and mutually hear what is important to the other side, without regard to whether evidence would technically be admissible in court||Because the judge can only base a decision on reliable, probative evidence, much effort is made to keep the judge from hearing or seeing “unreliable” evidence|
|Parties may decide mutually to engage neutral experts to assist in formulating solutions||Each party hires an expert to “prove” their case is right and the other is wrong|
I am skilled in many types of mediation, including mediation for extended families and organizations. My signature style of mediation is called conflict transformation. While there are many aspects of transformative type mediation, a significant aspect is that I will be focused not just on “settling” a case, but on helping you — the parties — find solutions that are authentic to your values and circumstances and also which will be workable and sustainable for you in the long haul. I am skilled in many types and forms of mediation, including mediation for divorce and parenting issues but also in mediation and conflict coaching for extended families and for business and church organizations.
I trained in divorce mediation with Carl Schneider and Eileen Coen, a therapist-attorney team in Bethesda, Maryland, because I wanted the best training available, training which equipped the mediator not only in legal aspects of divorce (with which I was already familiar) but also with the emotional and psychological aspects of the divorce and family transition. My training also met the standards promulgated by the Association for Conflict Resolution as the starting point towards seeking certification as an Advanced Practitioner Family Mediator with that organization. (There is no divorce mediation training offered in South Carolina which accredited to meet published educational standard for this training.) I have additional and specific training in mediation of elder care disputes (Zena Zumeta and Susan Butterwick of Ann Arbor, Michigan), church conflict and disputes (Richard Blackburn of Lombard Mennonite Peace Center), special education issues (Cotton Harness through S.C. Department of Education), facilitative style mediation for certification as a S.C. Circuit Court mediator (my initial 40 hour training), and training as a community mediator (Beth Padgett through Community Mediation Center). As an attorney, I have worked on a wide variety of cases through my former work as an appellate court law clerk and staff attorney and as a lawyer for state government working on civil, criminal, and administrative cases and issues. I am also one of a handful of attorneys in South Carolina who is certified as an interdisciplinary collaborative professional by the IACP.
The most common scenario for people to consult with me about mediation is when they anticipate getting a divorce. I would like to say a word specifically about mediated divorce. There is a world of difference between “mediated divorce” and “divorce mediation.” Let me explain. The paradigm of mediation is neutral and non-adversarial. The parties to mediation are engaged in common search for resolution of their conflict, but they are not adversaries. The parties to litigation, in contrast, are pitted against one another in an adversarial, “A versus B” mode. Mediation is used in litigated divorce, but within this already-hostile context, to settle the case. Mediation in a mediated divorce, in contrast, never pits the parties “against” one another. The parties can cooperate and act as a team, even though they are divorcing, to formulate the best possible solutions available for their family in the changed circumstances. The focus of my family practice is not mediation within the context of litigated cases, but rather mediation as a model for helping families address challenging conflict, which may or which may not involve court action, depending on the individual needs and circumstances of each case. When cases are in adversarial mode already, I am happy to assist in settlement. However, most people who come to me for divorce mediation are operating in the non-adversarial paradigm.
If this sounds good to you, be aware that a mediated divorce is not going to happen unless you are pro-active to seek it. If a party seeking resolution of family conflict consults first with an attorney who tells them they need to “file papers,” this means that the attorney already is in the mindset of asking a court to decide the case for you. Filing papers in court takes power away from you to resolve your case and places that power in the hands of the judge. It also sets you up to require the expert assistance of the attorney to manage the process.
If you are considering a mediated divorce, I encourage you to call and arrange a face to face meeting to discuss mediation as soon as possible. Ideally, both spouses should be involved in this decision process. (If you have not discussed divorce with your spouse, then you are likely not ready to consult with a divorce mediator. I suggest that if you have not yet broached this idea with your spouse, a marriage and family therapist is the appropriate professional for you to speak with at this time. I can refer you to appropriate professionals if you don’t know one already.) Ideally, parties will get help from a mediator after they have decided to divorce, but before conflict has become overheated and intractable.
In my office, there is never a high pressure sales job to mediate. My goal is not to convince everyone that they should mediate their case. In fact, some cases should not be mediated. My goal is for mediation to be available as an option in cases where it is a positive, powerful tool for helping families achieve healthy answers for tough family decisions.
To schedule an appointment, call 803-414-0185, or fill out the contact form below.