There are countless benefits for using a mediation process to navigate and resolve the multiple issues that surround a divorce or separation; some of which are listed below. Each listed benefit is also applicable for using mediation in other types of issues and disputes.
- Retained Control and Decision-making
One of the biggest benefits of mediation is that the participants are in charge of creating the solutions, instead of putting the discussion and decisions in the hands of others. This exemplifies a core principle of mediation: That the people who are involved are the real experts when it comes to exploring options and finding solutions, especially around their own property, their financial arrangements, and the day-to-day care of their own children. Within this principle, some mediators may use a blend of suggesting, advising, directing, or even outright decision-making . . . depending on their style of mediation.
- Financial Costs
- Direct Costs - The costs of settling a dispute through mediation is typically considerably less than if the issues are either left unsettled, or are negotiated indirectly by other professionals.
- Control of Costs - The participants in mediation have more direct control over the costs, because they choose how much time to spend in mediation, how in-depth to go into certain issues, and what the mediator spends time on outside of the session.
- Cost and Tax Savings - The flexibility in how parties can negotiate and structure agreements increases the potential for maximizing tax savings and minimizing other financial costs. Parties can ensure they are gaining this benefit by either using a mediator who has the capacity to analyze different options for financial and tax implications (see Financial Analysis Training for examples), or consulting with a CPA/Tax Attorney that is familiar with divorce issues.
- Long Term Costs - Settlements which are either imposed on one or both parties, or reached by one party "winning" and another one "losing" rarely last. These situations usually breed ongoing conflict, with potentially expensive consequences. People are much more compelled to follow through with the terms of a settlement they voluntarily agreed to.
- Agreement Durability
Regardless of the approach to dispute resolution, many people have a strong desire for the final settlement to last through time. However, an agreement is only as good as the process that's used. If the settlement is one that is imposed on one or both parties, the resulting dissatisfaction and resentment is more likely to undermine the terms of the settlement and anything related to it. Everybody knows someone who has been through repeated legal, financial and emotional disputes after what was thought to be a settlement of the issue. Ultimately and ironically, the best protection participants can obtain for the durability of the agreement is the other party's "buy-in" and committment to the agreement; which is substantially enhanced when they voluntarily negotiated and agreed to the terms themselves.
- Privacy and Confidentiality
Mediation creates a safe environment to be creative through the strict confidentiality guidelines, whereby nothing that is discussed in the mediation session can be used outside of the mediation (such as any court proceeding) unless mutually agreed by the participants. Alternatively, if parties decide to take their case to court, what transpires will be on public record.
- Creativity and Flexibility
When the parties in a dispute work together to negotiate an outcome, they bring knowledge about the strengths, challenges, and needs of themselves and their children. The solutions that arise can be a creative and resourceful reflection of their unique circumstances; an outcome that is far less likely when the dispute is negotiated by other parties or decided by the court. Here are a few examples:
- The timing and amounts of payments is negotiated in a way that allows for more flexibility on a property settlement. (Allowing one person to buy the other person out, or time to do improvements for raising the sale value, or sharing a longer term investment).
- The type and structure of a settlement payment can be established to provide tax advantages that both parties share.
- Parents can choose to phase in a new parenting schedule over a defined period of time, rather than having one immediately imposed on them.
A divorce or separation from a long-term partner is one of the most difficult things people face in their lives. In addition to all the feelings around the relationship, people need to gather and process a large amount of information and make multiple complex decisions about the structure of their lives: their living situation, finances, investments, debts, care for their children, etc. Studies show that the psychological stress of a divorce/separation is second only to the loss of a close loved-one.
- Health/Wellness - When the parties place the decision-making for these things in the hands of others, it can add the anxiety of losing control of the situation and how it develops. This tension increases dramatically if the situation becomes adversarial, as people then literally feel as if they are "at war" with the other party. The compounding pressure of these factors can be a dangerous threat to people's psychological and physical health.
- Closure and Healing - The anger, hurt and mourning process of a divorce/separation has it's own course, which is different for each person. When the two parties are willing to face the challenging of negotiating the separation and settlement with each other, they begin to transition from negative communication patterns towards a more respectful "business-like" relationship. This process reportedly supports people in establishing their independence, and eventually, in being able to truly move on with their lives.
- Child Development
Over a million children are impacted by a divorce/separation in the U.S. each year, and 35-50% of them suffer long-term emotional problems which may stunt their development and capacity to be happy and successful in life. It's no surprise that children of divorce have substantially higher rates of teenage adjudication, drug use, teenage pregnancy and school dropout. However, 30 years of research concludes that this doesn't "have to be" so:
The single most important factor in the ability of children to develop and adjust in a normal, healthy way is not the divorce/separation itself . . . but rather how the divorce is done.In other words, the amount of long-term conflict or cooperation between their parents. When parents work to negotiate the details of a separation, several things happen:
- It provides children with what they need most at that time: that their parents will cooperate to care and be there for them, regardless of the circumstances (reassurance of the security and consistency of their love and support.)
- They define areas of parenting responsibility, boundaries and methods of communication, which provides for structure during the transition, alleviates conflict between parents, and protects the child from getting pulled into the heart of the conflict and be subject to "adult" fears and information.
- It enables parents to heighten their awareness about the needs of their children while they are making decisions together that affect the children.
- Each parent can learn to support the other parent's ongoing and separate relationship with the child, without adding the psychological stress of a loyalty tug-of-war or fear of losing one of their parents.
- Long Term Conflict Prevention
Navigating a divorce/separation with the assistance of a mediator can support the participants far beyond the issues at hand, resulting in long-term conflict minimization and prevention. This happens throughout the mediation on multiple levels, including:
- The mediator guides the parties in respectful and productive communications, and assists them in learning a problem-solving/negotiation process; all which can serve as a foundation for future communications.
- The experienced mediator understands the types of issues that will likely trigger conflict in the future, and they guide parties in clarifying and settling those during the separation process. Many issues in this realm may not be considered in the legal process because they are not directly related to legal statutes.
- The process of resolving challenging issues with each other in mediation builds a trust between the participants, a trust that, even though they may have different positions around sensitive issues, they still have the capacity to work through it and come to a mutual solution that each party can live with. This may be one of the most crucial and overlooked benefits of mediation, because once the legal business is completed, the two parties are otherwise left alone again to deal with and negotiate the issues that will certainly arise in the future (especially if they are parents.)