April 10, 2018
For the past few months I have had the opportunity to participate in several divorce mediations at MWI. In these mediations I have seen many positive interactions in which couples, despite their challenges, exhibit a level of mutual respect and amicability toward each other. I have also seen some more difficult situations in which couples find themselves tangled in unproductive tension. In light of these observations I have compiled the following 9 tips for minimizing challenges and increasing productivity and communication in the mediation room. These tips are intended for individuals considering mediation for their divorce or separation, to better prepare for and participate in their mediation.
In divorce mediations we see time and again how participants easily turn to blame the other side. Expressing your frustration and antagonism are important elements of your separation process, but there are more effective ways of doing so than through blame. Blaming another person is not a legitimate means of communicating your needs, wants, or experiences. The moment you blame someone else they become defensive, and conversation becomes significantly limited. Instead, choose to reframe. Reframe your blame such that what you say expresses how you feel, what you need, and how the other person’s behavior has impacted you.
Think of what triggers you and decide how you will react if and when you will be provoked by the other party.
Time should be spent discussing topics you need to reach agreement on in a productive way. If you find yourself spending your mediation time expressing your anger and blame toward the other person, be aware that that is a choice you are making. It is okay to do so – the time is yours and for you to spend however you desire. But at a certain point you might want to ask yourself what you can do to reframe these negative expressions into something more constructive, so that you are not wasting your time and money.
Most divorce mediators in Massachusetts utilize both joint sessions (including you, the other party and your mediator) and private sessions (including just you and the mediator). Particularly if you feel uncomfortable, need a break, or want to process something with the mediator in private, you have the power to ask for that space. The mediator will assess whether it is an appropriate time to have a separate meeting – but you can at least suggest this as something helpful for you.
Sitting across from and communicating with your spouse or co-parent is tough. Remind yourself that the difficult and complex feelings you experience are normal. It is not expected that you should be getting along perfectly well with your separating or divorcing spouse. Divorce is sticky. Things will be hard. Be patient with yourself and trust that things can get easier.
Mediation sessions are usually draining. Plan in advance and clear a few minutes that day to do something kind for yourself. Whether you can afford 5 or 30 minutes, do something enjoyable and relaxing either before or after your mediation.
One of the most common questions we hear as divorce mediators is, “What should I bring with me?” For your first session, we recommend bringing the following documents:
Your mediator should encourage you to communicate with lawyers, tax professionals, child specialists, or other professionals during your divorce process. The more informed you are the better decisions you can make.
I hope these tips will help you move from one mindset to another, such that you can engage more productively with your spouse or co-parent in the mediation room. Arriving to the mediation table prepared can help reduce your stress and maximize your ability to work well with the other party.
Daniele Natali Goldberg is a divorce and family co-mediator with MWI. She has been with MWI since the summer of 2017, focusing on divorce mediation. She has a Master’s degree in conflict management and resolution from Bar-Ilan University, Israel. To learn more about Ms. Goldberg, or to schedule time to meet with her, click here.