Most separated parents have heard of the word mediation, and whether that word makes you uncomfortable or even fills you with dread, if you view it the right way and go in prepared, mediation can help you establish a co-parenting relationship with your ex when you feel like you’re getting nowhere yourself. Simply put, mediation is a formal process where both parties come together with a mediator to help them generate solutions and discuss options to move towards agreements.
The upside of mediation
The great thing about mediation is that it’s an alternative to reaching an agreement through lawyers or going via the Family Court, which can be stressful and costly. Also, by using mediation, you remain in control of your future. You make the decisions rather than submitting to a ruling or judgement imposed by a third party.
Mediation is far less costly than heading to Family Court, where you’re likely to be looking at many tens of thousands of dollars to end up with a ruling that ultimately is out of your control. There is also a huge emotional toll involved in a drawn-out legal battle, not to mention the time it can take to have the matter heard in court, which in some cases could be more than a year.
It’s important to note that some matters do need to be heard before the Courts. These include cases where there are allegations of violence and abuse or where parties still can’t reach an agreement after attempting mediation. The thing to remember about going to court is that no matter how confident you may feel about your legal case, once you go before the Court there is no certainty about the outcome. At that point, the decision is placed in the hands of the Judge who can call on input from an independent children’s lawyer or a family consultant/psychologist, and from there, it’s out of your control.
In the many cases we’ve seen, we firmly believe that as much as you may feel like you have no idea where your ex-partner is coming from anymore or that you’re already bending over backwards to compromise with them, continuing to try to work towards an outcome with them will lay the groundwork for creating a parenting relationship that will allow you to most effectively co-parent in the future. While your relationship is now over, you may still have many years ahead where you will need to find a way to consult each other about your children’s wellbeing and come to decisions about their welfare in a way that will allow the least amount of disruption to the new life you are building, for both you and your children.
Common topics discussed in mediation are things like communication expectations and changeover routines which will lay ground rules about how parents will deal with each other in the future. This helps to avoid unfortunate misunderstandings, power struggles and uncertainty, especially while emotions may still be raw, and sometimes volatile.
Alternative types of mediation:
If your specific circumstances mean that a standard mediation process is not appropriate, there are still other alternatives you can look at before you resort to going to court.
1. Shuttle mediation
If there is a considerable power imbalance between the parties or there have been allegations of abuse, there can be call for what’s called a shuttle mediation.
This means that each parent is in the room with the mediator at the beginning of the session for the introduction but they are then separated and the mediators move between the two parties conveying each parent’s options and offers.
This can be a slower negotiation route but may be necessary in certain cases to protect the emotional wellbeing of one or both parties.
Shuttle mediation is also very effective when a financial settlement is being conducted and is routinely used for this purpose.
2. Legally assisted mediation
This involves each parent having their lawyer present at the mediation to advise them through the process as well as during final negotiations. While this does create an additional cost of a lawyer as well as a mediator, if effective it will be far less costly and timely compared to heading to court.
It’s important to note that the lawyers are not parties to the mediation; they do not speak directly for their clients but are there to advise their client individually.
How to prepare for mediation:
Mediation can seem like a daunting process; not knowing what to expect, wondering if you’ll have the confidence to stand up for yourself, if you’ll remember to say everything you wanted to say or being scared that you may end up being locked into something you’re not happy with. On top of that, you also have to face your ex-partner again and risk re-opening wounds that may still be mending.
But, with some information and planning, you can achieve excellent results. Before joint sessions start, each parent will have a private session with the mediator. This is your time to tell your story, talk about your fears, what you want to achieve and ask any questions you may have. In turn, the mediator should explain how the sessions will progress and what you need to do to get ready.
Our top 3 tips for getting the most out of mediation:
It can be easy to let mediation become an avenue for arguing or proving a point, and while it can be important for people to “get things off their chest”, it won’t help you in mediation. Mediation is not the time to try to prove or establish who is right or wrong, it’s the time to find a way to close the gap between what you and your ex-partner think is best for yourselves and your children.
In reality the best use of your time, money and energy in mediation is to put emotions aside and focus on the facts. Here are our top tips to help you do just that:
1. Don’t get fixated on what’s fair:
Unfortunately separating, divorce and managing conflict is hard and often it won’t feel fair or just. You may already feel like you are doing more than your fair share of compromising. Whenever you’re feeling that an issue is unfair, it’s a good idea to step back and take a moment to reflect on whether it really matters to you and your children’s lives, even if it is unfair. It’s also a good time to check in with yourself to make sure you’re still fighting for the best interests of your children and not letting your own pain momentarily cloud your judgement.
2. Come prepared with options:
The session will be most successful when each parent comes prepared with several options for each topic. Without options it is easy for the mediation to stall or for one person to become fixated on a specific outcome. Flexibility is essential so there is some give and take and some goodwill can be established to help move discussion and agreement forward.
For each major topic you want to discuss, think about three things:
- What outcome is your ideal outcome?
- What outcome is something you could live with?
- What outcome is unacceptable to you and would trigger you wanting to take the matter beyond mediation and to Family Court?
3. Keep cool, calm and collected:
While it’s easier said than done, try not to let the mediation process take you back to any emotional turmoil associated with the breakdown of your marriage or partnership. While mediation is far less formal than a court process, try to see it as a business meeting and the mediator as a chairperson guiding the meeting, it will make it easier to stay calm and focused. If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable or unbalanced, ask to take a moment to yourself, sit and take some deep breaths and refocus on the goals you’ve set.
And remember, the mediation process doesn’t all happen at once. It usually takes a few sessions so you have time to contemplate, regroup and readdress issues if you are uncertain or uncomfortable with the way things are progressing. Like everything in the divorce and recovery process, be kind to yourself and focus on getting there one step at a time.
About the author – Gloria Hawke
Gloria is a Director at Hawke Segal Mediation in Sydney. She is a nationally accredited mediator and family dispute resolution practitioner, accredited by the Attorney General’s Department.
Gloria is a mother of two young boys and has a degree in communications. She has a background working in the corporate world as well as the not for profit sector.