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Why I Love Divorce Mediation

Marion Lee Wasserman
Copyright © 2010-2011 Marion Lee Wasserman. All rights reserved.

Author's Note: This article is an excerpt from "How I Found Divorce Mediation and Why I Love It." The full article appears in the Fall 2010 issue of the Family Mediation Quarterly ("FMQ"). The FMQ is available online at www.mcfm.org.

About half of my cases are mediation cases, while the other half are cases where I am legal counsel, helping clients reach a settlement and also reviewing mediated agreements. Fortunately, I do not have to choose between the two sides of my practice. My clients make that choice.

Not every client getting divorced chooses mediation, but for those who do, the choice is almost always a wise one. Here are four reasons why I love doing divorce mediation and why it works so well.

There is a common-sense simplicity to the idea of divorcing spouses sitting down together to discuss their settlement with the assistance of a trained, neutral third party. This three-way model is the one I use. In my divorce mediation practice, the three-way meetings are the primary vehicle for achieving settlement. Because this model is so simple, it is easy to explain to potential clients; and couples usually do a good job of self-selecting -- that is, recognizing whether or not this process will be a good fit for them. Although the parties may have lawyers working with each of them in the background of the mediation process, the primary dialogue in the process is the couple's own dialogue, at three-way meetings and between meetings, if possible. The divorce is their divorce. The dialogue is their dialogue. The mediator's humble role -- apart from educating the couple about the legal context of divorce -- is to facilitate the negotiation, to give the couple an assist. Though the three-way model is a simple one, the mediator's role is endlessly interesting and challenging.

The spareness of the three-way model makes it easy for the couple to decide, with the mediator's guidance, whether additional professional assistance is required. Professionals with special knowledge and skills -- for example, financial planners, accountants or child development specialists -- can be brought into the process on an as-needed basis. By agreement, the couple can decide whether to work with an outside expert individually or as a couple; and the expert can provide reports and spreadsheets shedding light on complex financial issues. The expert can attend one or more mediation sessions if this will be helpful and cost-effective. Decisions about the use of experts grow dynamically out of discussions at the three-way meetings. The divorce mediation process is never "one size fits all" but is instead an inherently adaptive and flexible process.

The three-way model makes for a highly cost-effective process. This is an unquestionable up-side for the divorcing couple and their children.

In the Middle
The first few times I entered a room as a mediator for a divorcing couple, I had to screw up my courage. Sitting down at a table with two people going through wrenching, life-changing conflict was scary. Often, the spouses were angry and hurt and could barely abide being in a room together. But in a surprisingly short period of time, my trepidation at being in the middle disappeared completely -- a tribute to the transformative power of the mediation process, not only for clients but also for mediators themselves. I began meeting each new couple eagerly, with confidence in the mediation process. Whatever the couple's emotional dynamic, I welcomed the opportunity and the privilege of creating a safe space they could enter, where they could work through conflict and get divorced in a cooperative, mindful way. Now I thoroughly enjoy the special challenges of being in the neutral middle.

Marion Lee Wasserman is a family and divorce lawyer with an office in Newton, Massachusetts. Her services include mediation and collaborative law in addition to traditional representation. She is a former Vice President of the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation and is currently on the MCFM Board of Directors. She is sole proprietor of Reach Accord Law and Mediation Services and a member of the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council. Marion emphasizes dispute resolution, not dispute escalation.

She can be contacted by phone at (781)449-4815 or
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