Most of us regularly give up control over various aspects of our daily lives. We let the deli guy determine the amount of milk in our coffee, we trust the hairdresser to trim and coif our hair. Generally, it’s routine stuff. Other times, however, we have no choice but literally to put our lives in the hands of others (doctors and pilots come to mind).
Divorcing couples face life-changing decisions that will potentially impact the rest of their lives. They can choose control over those decisions or they can lose control by having attorneys conduct adversarial negotiations.
What is it about the mediation process that provides divorcing couples the opportunity to retain control over their choices and arrive at a satisfactory outcome?
Separating decisions from emotions Couples who can discuss issues for decision making without attaching punishment are on the right track. An effective mediator will recognize the need for people to express their feelings and acknowledge their emotions but also to highlight and separate those feelings from the decisions being made. As a mediator, I have seen that it is productive to give people the space to vent their feelings. In fact, some people may not be able to focus on decision-making unless and until they have had the opportunity to get some feelings out in the open or to respond to what has been brought out. What is not productive is a rehashing of the past. Mediation provides the opportunity to state one’s views and agree to disagree. Such acknowledgment can be satisfying and save a lot of time and money!
Thinking ahead about needs and wants Discussions in mediation involve gathering facts and then negotiating around them. That doesn’t mean divorcing people need to become trained in the Art of the Deal (Not an endorsement!). It simply means that people who know what they really want and need to fulfill a realistic vision of their future will have a greater likelihood of getting there. In mediation, you have the chance to express your needs and wants and your spouse can do the same.
Understanding marital finances When making decisions about how to divide marital assets it helps to look at budgets. Seeing the actual numbers for income and expenditures helps a couple see what is realistic and can help them eliminate unnecessary spending. There is opportunity in mediation to plan for future financial obligations like the costs associated with two households, children’s college expenses, etc. Having a specific budget for current and future needs can avoid feelings of unpreparedness and financial insecurity.
Making decisions together Similar results can feel vastly different depending on who made the decision. Two of the most important issues in divorce (in life really) revolve around money and children. If two people are able to discuss and decide the amount of spousal support and the duration for those payments it is more likely that it will be acceptable and adhered to. And of course, joint decision making around parenting is clearly better than creating a contest between parents. No one wants to be told what he or she must do. In mediation, decisions are made by agreement of the couple, not coerced or imposed by others.
If you are facing divorce, in mediation you can take control over the important and personal details that will be the foundation of your future.
Image credit: Dean Hochman, used with Creative Commons license.