Showing Respect in Mediation
Marriages end for many reasons. In some cases, the causes are extreme enough (infidelity, dishonesty, abuse) to undermine any sense of respect between spouses. In other situations, the choice to divorce stems from different factors that may not erode respect.
Mediation is intended to be a civil and respectful process. Because the emotions associated with ending a marriage can often trigger disrespectful statements and behaviors during mediation sessions, one of the roles of a professional divorce mediator is to facilitate open and honest dialogue—while at the same time maintaining a safe environment for everyone.
The principle I endorse is that you don’t have to respect someone in order to be respectful. As a mediator, it would be unacceptable for me to require that my clients respect each other. Yet I feel totally comfortable in actively encouraging respectful behavior.
I realize how hard it can be for one or both spouses to feel that they can respect each other, given the circumstances that bring them to divorce. The principle I endorse is that you don’t have to respect someone in order to be respectful. As a mediator, it would be unacceptable for me to require that my clients respect each other. Yet I feel totally comfortable in actively encouraging respectful behavior.
So here are some ways in which you can be respectful in mediation, whether or not you feel respect for your spouse:
Fortunately, many of my clients have ended their marriages but have not stopped having respect for each other. They have just grown apart, or realized that their expectations for each other are no longer in sync. Or perhaps they have lost the basic ability to be happy in their marriage. Regardless of where you lie on the spectrum of respect for one another, consider these suggestions about respectful behavior to help you both as you navigate the transition toward ending your marriage.
What can you do to further the process of reaching agreement before or during divorce mediation? My clients frequently ask me that question.
When you engage my services as a mediator, I have no expectation that you will have discussed any of the aspects of your divorce ahead of time... [But] if you and your spouse have worked out some agreements on your own, that is commendable, as this can often reduce the time we spend in mediation.
When you engage my services as a mediator, I have no expectation that you will have discussed any of the aspects of your divorce ahead of time. Interestingly, you may think you need to have agreements BEFORE you begin mediation. But that is not the case.
On the other hand, if you and your spouse have worked out some agreements on your own, that is commendable, as this can often reduce the time we spend in mediation. Since a goal of our process is informed decision making, I will review your areas of agreement, with the intent of exploring any logistical considerations and confirming that the plans are workable.
While I would not seek to undo anything that you’ve agreed to, decisions that can be implemented successfully and hold up over time are the ones that will usually best meet your expectations. In reviewing what you have come to, together, I may highlight concerns that an attorney or a judge may raise when there are differences between the terms of your agreement and legal guidelines. This applies especially to the financial support of children.
During the mediation process, the intervals between mediation sessions also create an opportunity for you and your spouse to have discussions. Having that time is a key advantage of the process. I’ve been told about attorneys in divorce litigation who create firewalls between their clients. Not so in my process—I encourage an open door for communication, with certain guidelines.
For example, any constructive dialogue that leads to exploring settlement options and weighing the pros and cons can be helpful. At the same time, any hint of conflict should be seen as a warning to press “pause” and resume the conversation with me as mediator. Remember, I am a trained conflict resolution specialist.
You will ultimately be the ones who can best determine your ability to work on your own to either start mediation with a foundation of early agreed upon decisions or further the progress made in mediation by working toward agreements on your own. As long as you see this as an opportunity and not as an obligation, expectations can be met, both in the mediation room and outside it.
Don’t Forget the Pets
This is our dog, (Sir) Winston and our cat, Thundercloud. They are camped out in my home office. Our human children are grown and off on their own, so these guys are the “kids” in the house. And we love them very much (almost as much as our real children).
After all, who doesn’t love their pets?
For years, it seems that the legal system has viewed pets as property, while, in reality, our pets are much more to most of us than possessions.
This is why any divorce mediation I conduct includes a discussion about pets. For years, it seems that the legal system has viewed pets as property, while, in reality, our pets are much more to most of us than possessions. They live and breathe; they require love and attention; they require food, shelter and trips to the veterinarian. Sounds like children to me, except for the clothing and perhaps the attitude (although Thundercloud has more attitude than our kids ever did, combined).
Any conversation about pets is likely to include these questions:
In some states, like Illinois, the ownership of and responsibility for a pet who was adopted or acquired during the marriage can be decided by a court, awarded either solely to one spouse or jointly to both. In making these decisions, the well being of the pet is considered.
Because pets matter, and because they deserve thoughtful planning just like all the other aspects of divorce, mediation creates a neutral setting where these decisions can be discussed, taking into account the needs of the spouses and the needs of the pets.
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