I recently came across what I think is an excellent definition of mediation from Greg Rooney, a mediator in Australia: “The insertion of a human buffer between people who need assistance to interact with each other.” I like this definition in part because it doesn’t overly emphasize conflict resolution.  In my experience, most divorce mediation more closely resembles problem solving than conflict resolution.

mediation definitionMost of the couples who ask for my assistance know that they want to:

  • get a divorce and/or accomplish a separation;
  • make the required decisions themselves so a judge doesn’t have to; and
  • be well-informed in their decision making.

The assistance I provide could be summarized as:

  • explaining what decisions need to be made;
  • providing a well-organized structure for addressing everything necessary;
  • explaining what the law has to say as a background for their decision-making;
  • making sure each spouse understands all the relevant facts and everything that is discussed;
  • helping them have conversations that are productive; and
  • clearly documenting the decisions reached.

Many divorcing couples need or want this sort of assistance because:

  • They don’t know exactly what is involved and required in getting a divorce and
  • It’s often difficult to communicate effectively and come to decisions of great importance with someone you are divorcing.

When the spouses are having a hard time communicating with each other, the skills of a mediator are most put to the test.  These communication challenges are where conflict often arises.  It’s here that the mediator needs to be an effective human buffer to help the spouses interact with each other in a useful and productive way.

Different divorce mediators have different approaches as to how they insert themselves as this human buffer.  At one end of the spectrum are those who control the process rather tightly.  This may include meeting with the spouses separately rather than together and emphasizing what the law has to say to guide their decision making.

At the other end of the spectrum are “facilitative” divorce mediators who seek to insert themselves no more than necessary and to empower the spouses in the process as much as possible.  Much of the mediator’s “effort” is to create a safe space and a calm approach in which each spouse can be comfortable and confident.  A “human buffer” of this sort facilitates fresh and positive interactions.  These tend to lead to higher quality solutions rather just quick deals.   This is my basic approach to divorce mediation.