When you are divorcing, the stakes can be high as regards proposing mediation to your spouse. If they are receptive, you will probably complete your divorce in a low-cost, fairly rapid, amicable way. If they are not, you may face the choice of getting stuck in the divorce process or going the adversarial route of litigation. So it makes sense to give some serious thought as to how to propose divorce mediation to your spouse.
There are optimal times for suggesting mediation. This post looks at how to propose divorce mediation to maximize the likelihood of acceptance. There are three major questions: who should make the proposal, how it should be made and what should be said.
How to Propose Divorce Mediation to Your Spouse
Ideally, you would be the one to propose mediation to your spouse. However, if communication has broken down to the point where anything you suggest is going to be met with a negative knee-jerk reaction, someone else should probably present the idea of mediation. If the situation is strained but some communication is still possible, you will have to use your judgment as to who proposes the idea.
If you decide it’s best to have someone else suggest mediation, preferably it will be someone your spouse respects. This might be a trusted mutual friend or relative, a counselor or spiritual advisor you know, or perhaps a family accountant or financial advisor. If this isn’t feasible, and you both already have lawyers, you can ask your lawyer to propose mediation.
If you don’t have lawyers but have found a possible mediator, you can ask the mediator to introduce the possibility of mediation to your spouse. Most likely this would be in the form of a free, introductory consultation. However, it is usually best to separate proposing mediation from proposing to use a specific mediator.
The first and most important objective is to gain agreement on trying mediation. If this is successful, it then usually works best to involve your spouse in the mediator selection process. It may help to allay your spouse’s concerns if you let them take the lead in identifying mediators and selecting one.
The proposal to mediate can be conveyed orally or in writing. If the two of you still communicate fairly well, you may want to make the suggestion to mediate informally just by talking about it. Otherwise, you might well be better off making the proposal in writing. Although this may seem a little strange, it allows you to pick your words very carefully and hopefully minimize any negative reaction from your spouse.
If someone other than you will be presenting the idea of mediation, consider with them what communication approach has the best chance of success. When you are making the proposal yourself, give some thought as to the environment and timing. It’s best to choose a setting in which your spouse will be relatively relaxed and attentive.
Present mediation in a way that is informative, neutral and non-threatening. Highlight key benefits of mediation over other approaches, but avoid making your spouse feel like he or she is being coerced or receiving a sales pitch. Make sure your spouse understands that you are willing to consider their point of view on whether, when, how and with whom to start the mediation process.
Here are 7 tips on how to propose divorce mediation, taken from the excellent (but now out of print) book “Using Divorce Mediation – Save Your Money and Your Sanity” by Katherine E. Stoner:
- Do your homework. Find out about mediation, how it works, its benefits, what it costs and who offers mediation in your area;
- Give neutral reasons to mediate, such as its low cost and emphasis on a fair and amicable settlement;
- Share information. If you have any literature or links to web sites explaining mediation that you think your spouse might find helpful, pass these along.;
- Give your spouse choices. For example, you can give your spouse a list of several area mediators to choose from or ask your spouse to suggest a mediator;
- Don’t oversell. Give your spouse a short summary of why you think mediation is a good idea, offer to share the information you have and then back off and wait for your spouse’s answer;
- Don’t threaten or patronize. Don’t issue ultimatums and don’t act like an expert on the subject. Emphasize the voluntary and confidential nature of mediation;
- Try again after a while if your spouse doesn’t respond or turns you down. No matter where you are in the process, you can both still save time and money and retain control over the outcome of your divorce through mediation.