The difference between Conscious Divorce Mediation and conventional mediation [book chapter excerpt]
The following is excerpted from the book The Collaborative Divorce Advantage, now available on Amazon.
Reaching a divorce settlement does not necessarily reduce the harmful consequences of divorce. The important thing is reaching an agreement in a healthy way that stands up long-term and avoids ongoing conflict. Conscious Divorce Mediation professionals support this goal by (A) identifying specific values that the parties commit to upholding; (B) helping the parties with holistic preparation for the mediation process; (C) skill building; and (D) offering or directing the parties to post-divorce support.
Committing to Values
One of the ways Conscious Divorce Mediation supports a healthy process is to encourage parents to enter into certain commitments up front. For example, participants are typically asked to commit to upholding the following values:
Focusing on children’s interests above all
Focusing on the future
Maintaining respect for both adults and their relationship with their children
Transparency means full disclosure of all relevant information to each other and the mediator. Conscious Divorce Mediation relies upon this openness to be effective. The court generally won’t approve a settlement if it thinks the parties don’t understand the issues or haven’t had a chance to review the underlying data.
Making sure the interests of children are the highest priority is something most parents can support, even if they’re angry with their spouse. However, parents don’t always agree on what is in the children’s best interests, and can temporarily lose sight of their kids’ interests when emotionally triggered. The Conscious Divorce Mediation process prepares parents by providing parenting resources, as well as tools to communicate and to stay present and focused on what’s most important to them during a time of emotional turmoil.
Focusing on the future means a commitment to thinking long-term and avoiding a scorched-earth mentality. Focus on past behavior and blaming, while understandable, usually only makes a difficult situation worse. On the other hand, many parents discover an incredible sense of empowerment when they are able to take personal responsibility for the health of their family during and after divorce.
Respect for both adults means valuing the basic well-being and health of both parties. It also means accepting that the Mediator will allow space for each person to be heard. Conscious Divorce mediators understand that each person’s perspective is worthy of consideration and respect.
Parties might have other commitments as well, and a Conscious Divorce mediator will ask them what commitments and values they want to bring to the table. Having those commitments in place can be incredibly helpful when emotions start to run high and people tend to forget what is most important. The mediator can support the parties in sticking to their commitments by offering proposals that are consistent with their values, helping the parties stay grounded, and, if necessary, reminding the parties of their commitments if their emotions (understandably) lead them astray.
Divorce can be challenging and triggering even under the best circumstances. Parties should get prepared for this challenge by participating in an orientation that provides techniques to help keep spouses calm, centered, and in productive communication.
For example, an orientation session or class should provide the parties with tools such as:
How to recognize when they are emotionally "triggered" and how to handle the situation when one or both are triggered.
How to communicate effectively, even when they are not liking each other.
How to stay focused on the future or positive values.
How to work with difficult emotions, in themselves and in their partner, and stay focused on what is important to them.
The importance of being accountable.
These tools should be summarized in a poster that is kept visible during all sessions as a reminder to the parties.
Holistic preparation is a hallmark of the Conscious Divorce Mediation process, which often is absent from conventional mediation.
A Conscious Divorce mediator is skillful in modeling conflict-resolution approaches as well as relational communication styles that help couples communicate through difficult situations. Often, people unconsciously create unnecessary conflict simply by how they express themselves to each other. A Conscious Divorce mediator can help the parties engage in powerful, clear, and productive communication that helps them maintain the peace and get what they want.
If parenting children is hard, post-divorce “co-parenting” is even harder. Parents are suddenly confronted with how to talk to and negotiate with their ex-spouse over child-rearing decisions; how to manage their ex-spouse’s anger and resentment and still maintain a good co-parenting relationship; how to maintain flexibility in their parenting arrangements where necessary; and a host of other issues. They can often find the other parent’s demands unreasonable and feel like they can’t effectively talk to each other about it. Many also have a reasonable fear that their new intimate relationships may exhibit the same problems as the marriage they’ve just ended.
All of these issues can be addressed through post-divorce support. No one wants to be in therapy with an ex-spouse, but ongoing support by a Conscious Divorce mediator can help people thrive in their co-parenting relationship, by providing a fresh perspective and offering options to resolve the inevitable disagreements.
Divorcing the wrong way can be emotionally and financially ruinous for an entire family. Until relatively recently, a divorcing couple’s only choice was the traditional “lawyer-up and litigate” method. Predictably, given the rules of that game, the result was often far from ideal for families. Traditional divorce is inherently more combative, financially draining, focused on shortsighted goals, inefficient, procedurally lengthy, and harmful to children.
In contrast, Conscious Divorce Mediation provides a positive return on investment (in immediate cost and reduced future conflict and harm), is focused on the long view, is efficient, can be as quick or slow as needed, and is as protective as possible of children.
Divorce need not be a zero-sum game in which each spousal combatant can only gain at the expense of the other’s loss. Thankfully, for the sake of our children (and the future they represent), more and more people are awakening to the realization that the real prize in divorce is not “winning” from a legal perspective, but preserving the long-term health of their children, and indeed, their entire co-parenting family. Conscious Divorce Mediation is one emerging, powerful method of helping families achieve that prize.
Peter Fabish and John Hoelle are family law attorney-mediators, and the founders of Conscious Family Law & Mediation.