Are two heads better than one when it comes to divorce mediation? When the co-mediators are experienced working together and complementary in style, the answer is invariably “yes”. Co-mediation at its best can offer a great deal more than mediation with a single mediator. The result is can be a symbiosis that provides greater balance, insight, efficiency and equity—all of which benefits the process and the ultimate outcome.
Parties in family-centered conflicts often feel most supported when their gender is represented in one of the mediators. Having gender balance safeguards against actual or perceived over-identification by the male mediator to the husband or the female with the wife. In addition to a greater sense of neutrality, each mediator is also able to offer a male/female perspective in the mediation.
Co-mediators offer a diversity of skills and life experience.
Ideal divorce or family mediations will include a mediator who is a lawyer, and familiar with the substantive legal issues as well as the legal process. A lawyer mediator knows what issues need to be addressed, and can offer information about options and potential outcomes. The lawyer mediator can guide the parties through the court system as necessary, and assist the parties in crafting a legally-enforceable agreement.
For example, a lawyer mediator can detail the factors that are considered in determining the amount and duration of spousal support. Non-lawyer mediators would probably not have that knowledge, so the parties would be making decisions in an information vacuum. Mediators who are lawyers also tend to be better trained at recognizing peripheral issues. For example, divorcing spouses led by a well-intentioned non-lawyer mediator may agree to split the retirement and the house 50%/50%, which sounds like a good idea on the surface. However, they may not have considered the tax implications and early withdrawal penalty if a party cashes out retirement funds early. A lawyer mediator would also examine the “holding costs” associated with keeping the family home, as well as future costs relating to sale.
A complementary non-lawyer mediator will be listening empathetically, helping the parties receive the legal information. The non-lawyer/lawyer team are particularly adept at helping spouses recognize and accept both the emotional and the legal realities associated with a divorce and all its consequences.
Mediating is a complex activity. Mediators are simultaneously listening, analyzing, discerning underlying issues, empathizing, validating, examining their own biases and responses, and guiding the process. Co-mediators keep the process running smoothly, and pick up slack if their partner is out of fresh ideas or stalled for any number of reasons.
Sometimes co-mediators will have brief discussions about the process in front of the parties. “I see what we are doing is focusing on monthly income. I wonder if it might be more constructive to approach the issue from a budget standpoint.” In addition to shifting the focus, it models co-operative behavior when there is a disagreement.
While co-mediating as described above benefits the parties, it can be counterproductive. When the co-mediators have differences in style, mediation philosophy generally or a lack of agreement regarding their roles in the process, the result is not conducive to creating the necessary atmosphere of trust, empathy or professionalism. Random pairings of mediators who are not experienced working together can also disrupt the process.