As a family and divorce mediator in both Chicago and New York state, I have an ethical obligation to mediate impartially. Therefore, my actions and how my clients perceive them must not give any special favoritism to either spouse. Mediators constantly struggle with neutrality, as there can be external factors (the behavior or beliefs of a client) or internal ones (our own beliefs) that challenge us in our efforts to be neutral.
Many of my divorce mediations begin amidst the emotional unrest of my clients and their uncertainty regarding the future. As a mediator, I strive to support the couples I work with who are experiencing the stress of transition without compromising my neutrality. In fact, this support of the clients is an essential component of my mediation process.
There is a tendency for one or both spouses to interpret being stuck on one or two issues as a sign that resolution cannot be achieved. Part of my role is to remind them that many other decisions have already been made that satisfy them both.
In divorce mediation, positive reinforcement is the fuel to sustain the momentum of the process.
As a participant spouse, progress may be hard to see; but, as a neutral facilitator, it’s much easier to track mediation accomplishments. Positive reinforcement is the fuel to sustain the momentum of divorce mediation. I call it “being a cheerleader for my clients.”
In a more nuanced approach, I may sense that one spouse needs more support than the other. In a past mediation, the wife was having great difficulty focusing because she was being challenged emotionally. I met with both the wife and husband separately. In these meetings the wife had the freedom to “vent,” away from her husband, and became ready to resume a serious conversation. The husband was able to meet his need to continue a mediation process that may have otherwise terminated. As the mediation progressed, I sensed an increase in the trust both had in what I was doing.
Even when my clients are in the same room together with me and there are power issues, I may focus on the spouse who needs the support the most while also engaging the other spouse. It’s like lifting unequal weights placed in each hand—I use more energy with one hand than the other but both hands are working.
The neutrality of the mediator is a cornerstone of the divorce mediation process—but so is the creation of a safe and balanced environment. Actively supporting the needs of clients who are struggling with uncertainty and transition helps to provide the environment for meaningful conversations and successful outcomes.