Caucusing in divorce mediation “speak” means meeting separately with the spouses. Generally speaking, divorce mediation is more efficient and effective when the mediator meets with the spouses together. Most divorce mediators will sometimes caucus but not use it as their main approach.
So that it’s not a surprise, a divorce mediator will usually mention at the beginning of working with a couple that caucusing is a possibility and might be useful. Either spouse or the mediator can request a caucus. Caucusing of course shouldn’t be done unless everyone is willing.
In general, most mediators treat conversations in caucus as confidential unless the spouse agrees that it’s okay for the mediator to share certain specific points with the other spouse.
The decision to caucus shouldn’t be taken lightly. It causes a shift of power to the mediator and often results in a greater reliance on the mediator.
A mediator should be able to articulate good reasons for a caucus and not just do so because the mediator thinks it’s an easier way to proceed. When the mediator suggests a caucus, it should be because the mediator thinks it’s the best approach for making progress. Caucusing is more often used near the end of mediation, especially if there are some sticky points that are resisting resolution.
Reasons for Caucusing
Here are some possible reasons for a divorce mediator to suggest a caucus:
- Develop settlement proposals;
- Allow private consideration of a proposal from the other spouse;
- Discuss with a spouse whether their proposals are realistic;
- Engage in a what-if conversation;
- Act as a sounding board;
- Discuss with a spouse how best to go about negotiating;
- Gather important information that otherwise may not come out;
- Have a conversation a spouse doesn’t want to have in the presence of the other;
- Avoid offending a spouse or having a spouse lose face from something the mediator thinks should be said;
- Create a pause which may relieve tension and create an opening for progress;
- Slow down thinking and responses. Sometimes spouses respond to each other too quickly.
- Discuss rationale(s) for accepting an agreement;
- Assess the alternatives to a negotiated settlement;
- Work on unresolved emotional issues that are impeding the mediation.
Besides shifting power to the mediator, there are other possible downsides of caucusing. For example, if in caucus the mediator suggests reconsidering a position, the spouse may wonder if the mediator is leaning on him/her more than on the other spouse.