One of the things to think about when you are looking for a divorce mediator is whether they will meet with both of you together or will meet with you each separately.
Meeting with each person separately in mediation is called “caucusing.” Mediators who caucus often do “shuttle mediation” — they go back and forth between parties who are in separate rooms, helping each identify their priorities and working toward a resolution.
But I don’t do it.
I meet with both clients together and communicate with them together. This is how I was taught by my mentors, Gary Friedman and Jack Himmelstein, at the Center for Understanding in Conflict. They use a model called Understanding-Based mediation, which is a “no-caucus” model. In other words, the 3 of us stay in the room together. It’s not always easy. But it’s impactful. Why?
As an example, let’s say Betsy and Loren are divorcing and cannot agree on whether to sell the house. Perhaps Betsy wants to keep the house and Loren wants to sell it. They have been arguing about this for months, and it seems like an intractable problem. I ask Betsy questions about why it is important to stay in the house, and she tells me that the children are experiencing too much change right now, and she wants them to have some stability. I ask Loren why it’s important to sell the house, and Loren says that renting is not a viable long-term, and that they need to have access to their investment. Both of these are reasonable positions!
So the three of us work together to find a solution that allows the kids to have stability while Loren can access their investment. We may brainstorm ways that Betsy can access funds to buy out Loren’s share of the house. (For instance, she could finance, or borrow funds from somewhere or someone else.). Or we may brainstorm ways to keep the kids in the house for a few years and then sell it later. As we work through different possible solutions, we know that we have 2 goals in mind that are not mutually exclusive. In other words, this is not about a compromise that no one is happy with. It is about figuring out what are the core priorities, and finding ways to address them.
Notice that the important thing here is not just coming up with a solution. In brainstorming solutions, Betsy and Loren go from being enemies to being people who can work side by side to solve a problem. We have not only solved the issue, but transformed the nature of the conflict itself.
And that is the magic of mediation!
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