A process using a neutral third-party to facilitate negotiations and conversation for people in disagreement to reach a mutually satisfactory solution.
Satisfaction· Empowerment· Self-determined resolutions·
Agreements that work· Private
Tony slams the car door a little harder than he means to. He’s anxious. After his lunch with Rebecca, he called his dad to talk about what to do next. His dad knew a good lawyer, but Tony delayed calling. He thought he and Rebecca could probably figure things out on their own. Then yesterday, Rebecca texted him about mediation. It sounded like a reasonable option, and now he’s rushing into the mediator’s office in spite of himself. He isn’t in a hurry to be divorced; just in a hurry to be done with all the negotiating and problem solving.
Tony sits in a low chair across from the mediator. She asks, “Where would you like to start.” He realizes he’s been clenching his fists. He doesn’t know where to start. He just knows it has to be done. “Rebecca told me to call so I booked an appointment. I’m guessing you’ve already met with her, so what things did she tell you? Or is that something you can’t tell me?” Tony starts to panic. He hasn’t thought about how to prepare for this meeting, doesn’t even know the process.
“Yes, I met with Rebecca,” the mediator says, smiling. She explains the confidentiality of mediation, and the process.
“So, what happens at the end?” Tony asks. “Is the divorce still finished?”
“There are two pieces in a divorce,” the mediator explains. “The agreement is one piece and the finalized divorce, the actual divorce documents, is another piece. The agreement is what we focus on in mediation. The divorce can be finalized one year after your separation.”
A year sounds good to Tony. He wants to know there’s a timeframe, but also doesn’t want to rush. “What’s next?” he asks. “What do I need for our first appointment?”
“Just yourself. We can worry about documents later in the process.” The mediator says, standing up as the meeting ends.
Rebecca sits in her car, fingers gripping the steering wheel, eyes forward, not focusing on anything. She dreads opening her car door, and then the door to the mediator’s office, and then every door after that. As long as she can feel the leather of the wheel under her fingertips, she is still in limbo, nothing else has to be real. She is terrified, but of what, exactly? She imagines the mediator, stern and pushy. She still isn’t sure what she wants, let alone what her legal rights are. How can she possibly answer any of the mediator's questions? She checks her phone. Maybe Tony tried calling. Maybe the mediator canceled. But it’s blank; no unread messages. Just the time glaring at her through the screen. Peeling her hands off the wheel, she opens the car door to head inside.
From across the table, the mediator smiles gently at Rebecca, and says, “In mediation, my individual meetings with each of you are confidential. You can feel comfortable talking to me knowing that nothing you say will be shared with Tony, unless you would like it shared. Also, mediation is confidential in the bigger picture. Everything we talk about in mediation, in individual meetings or in joint meetings, is on what’s called a ‘without prejudice basis’ which means if you switch to the court process, nothing discussed in mediation can be used as evidence.”
Rebecca is surprised at how calm and welcoming the mediator seems. She nods her head and says, “Okay.”
“Where should we start?” the mediator asks.
Rebecca isn’t sure how to answer the question. She shifts slightly in her chair and says, “Um well, I don’t really know. I guess I need to know what I have to do. Legally.” She hasn’t met with a lawyer. She doesn’t feel that’s necessary.
“As a mediator, I can’t give you any legal advice. I can provide some information about the legal framework if you’d like.” The mediator speaks slowly, like she wants to make sure Rebecca understands. “But the point of mediation is for you and Tony to come to decisions yourselves. To decide what will be best for your family.”
Rebecca chooses her next words carefully. “How will we decide? Who tells us what to do?”
“We will spend some time talking about what is important to both of you. Then, we’ll talk about the different options that may or may not work and. After that, you and Tony will hopefully come up with a plan to go forward. In mediation, no one tells you what to do and no one makes anyone do anything. Mediation is entirely voluntary. And it is up to the parties in a mediation to decide what to do.” Rebecca starts to feel more in control. She hopes Tony will be open to mediating, but is afraid he might be resistant to it.