Middle ground

Divorce may cause a lot of unhappiness for families, but through mediation couples can find some neutral territory.
By Tamlyn Vincent

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Divorce can be difficult, especially when children are involved. Long, drawn-out court proceedings, angry disagreements and unresolved conflicts will make it difficult for parents, but even more so for children. While divorce has become more common, there’s no need for it to get messy – and that is where mediation could help.
“Mediation is a conflict resolution process where an unbiased and professional third person facilitates discussions between disputing parties,” says accredited mediator Nina Mensing. The mediator’s job is to help both the husband and wife come to an agreement and resolve conflicts, such as co-parenting issues. The process, says Mensing, is flexible, voluntary and can help you stay out of court, as the mediated agreement can be made a court order. The mediator is a neutral party with either a legal or mental health background, and it is her job to ensure that everyone agrees to all of the decisions, and that they fit within the legal framework.
Moving forward
This is one of the major benefits of mediation – no one feels like they’ve been manipulated or have lost out on something, so everyone is happier with the outcome. You have the chance to discuss issues and concerns and to decide on the best outcome together, says Mensing. Stacey Lewis, founder of a divorce support website, recommends mediation first, saying it gives the couple more control over their lives, so there is greater likelihood of reaching a win-win situation without anger and resentment building up. Couples are also more likely to stick to an agreement they had a hand in making. Mediation often takes less time, and costs less than litigation. Lewis jokes that her lawyer once said, “Divorce is not grand, it’s a hundred grand”. Attorneys charge per hour, and two attorneys cost double the amount, making mediation a more cost-effective route.
Mediation is a good route to take, especially when children are involved. “Recent studies illustrate that children are more affected by the conflict during and after divorce than the actual separation itself,” says Mensing. Trying to avoid this conflict through mediation, which can lessen the hostility and stress, can have a more positive impact on children. Mensing emphasizes that a mediator will help support the couple, and encourage them to arrive at acceptable solutions to separating as well as building a respectful co-parenting relationship.
Research has shown the positive long-term impact that mediation can have, especially on children. Given this, Mensing says, “The Department of Justice is phasing in that all disputes for Family Court need to have first tried mediation before approaching the court.” But for mediation to work, both parties have to be willing to negotiate and to stick to the agreements they make, warns Mensing. If both parties aren’t committed to the process it may not work, Lewis adds. She also advises against mediation in situations where there is abuse, or where there are large sums of money being considered and one of the parties may not be forthcoming about their income and assets. But for the most part, mediation does offer positive outcomes, especially when children are involved.
The Divorce Source offers quality resources for divorced or divorcing women.

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