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Can Divorce Mediation Be Used in All Circumstances?

San Francisco Mediators Blog by Lisa Nelson

Can Divorce Mediation Be Used in All Situations?

Divorce mediation can be used successfully in most, but not all, situations where a couple is ending their marriage. The following will explain three scenarios where divorce mediation is unlikely to be successful.

Domestic Violence

The first is if domestic violence is present in the marriage. Often the power balance between the parties is too great for mediation to succeed. If one spouse fears the other, then most likely the fearful spouse is not going to be able to comfortably assert opinions and creatively engage in mediation. This is a situation where each party having his or her attorney present may be helpful. However, as a general matter couples that have domestic violence issues are not great candidates for divorce mediation.

Substance Issues

Another situation where even an experienced divorce mediator will likely have difficulty helping the parties resolve their issues is when either party has a major drug or alcohol problem. Substance issues can be disruptive to the mediation process for many reasons. The user may fail to show up for mediations sessions, or be under the influence of a substance at a divorce mediation session. It is often very difficult to negotiate issues when a party is under the influence. Additionally, the using party may later sabotage the agreement. Generally speaking people with substance issues are often difficult to work with and unpredictable –depending upon the intensity of the problem.

Mental Health Issues

If either or both parties have major mental health impairments, mediating a divorce may be impossible too. This absolutely depends on the type and severity of the mental health issue. It is in a party’s best interest to disclose any mental health problems to the divorce mediator, so that the mediator can honestly evaluate whether he or she believes mediation will work in the situation. Divorce mediation is not as likely to succeed if substance issues, mental health limitations, or any other life circumstance that renders a party unable to think clearly and rationally, are present.


Lisa Nelson

Lisa Nelson  has been a mediator for over 13 years, primarily focused on helping couples resolve issues related to ending their marriage.  She has advanced training in mediation, holds a law degree, and ran a family law and mediation practice for many years before shifting her practice solely to mediation.  She… MORE >

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