People often call to say that they need mediation for a marital separation, and have agreed to “almost” everything. They expect that shortcuts should be made to the process to meet their needs and to further reduce costs, usually wanting to forgo the individual intake sessions.
However, there is a standard process in separation mediation of seeing each party first before any joint session is completed and there are good reasons for doing so. And, more often than not, the parties who needed the separate intake sessions were the ones who portrayed a picture of being amicable and so close to finalizing their agreement.
“We are in agreement and just need someone to write it up”. However, quite typically it’s those persons who had wishful thinking, were manipulating, or were misinformed about what could be or should be included in their agreement given their needs, and had not thought about or discussed everything. The individual intake session provides the mediator with the opportunity to learn about the parties’ expectations for mediation and can share whether they are appropriate or not.
The first session, done separately with each party, allows the mediator to gather pertinent information, study the safety needs and power imbalances and determine whether any safety procedures should be put in place. It allows the mediator to assess each parties’ unique views and preferences and needs or wants. It also gives the mediator insight as to each person and how they view the other person, the separation, their emotional stability and helps to determine their ability to make decisions. If the individual is not yet ready, is being manipulated or is unable to make decisions, the mediator needs to know this.
If we were to move to joint sessions first, based upon the request of one or both parties, we could miss important information, not provide an opportunity for a party to share what they really want or think, or even worse, miss information about safety or power imbalances.
There simply should be no shortcut to joint sessions. Without doing the individual intakes, we as mediators could be participating in a set up by one of the parties. Part of our role as mediator is to preserve the integrity of the process. In order to do so we must see each person separately to determine how appropriate the matter is for mediation and what safeguards need to be put in place if any.
You don’t want to go through a mediation only to have one person coerced or manipulated. You don’t want the agreement to be overturned due to one party claiming issues down the road. The integrity of the closed mediation process is in part based upon the opportunity to provide some privacy to each party to share information and ask questions before having both parties present.
On my last note, the ones who say they agree to “almost” everything are often the ones who are far apart on the issues not discussed. By having an intake session with each party first, we can find areas of agreement and anticipate where there may be non-agreement.
If you have any separation or divorce mediation questions, just call and our family mediators will be pleased to assist you. Many couples use a mediator to sort out their separation agreement because of the benefits to doing so over and above other processes.
Debra Rodrigues BA, BSW, RSW, Acc. F.M. (OAFM), CP Med., CRP
Director, PCCS Mediators & Counsellors
(905)567-8858 1(866)506-PCCS (7227)by