The work primarily happens in settlement meetings. The meetings are run by a single neutral professional called a Mediator. The spouses are both the subject and full participants. Each spouse has a lawyer, but these negotiations generally occur in three-way meetings: just the Mediator and the two spouses. Each Mediator has their own process, but we work with a standard first-meeting Agenda we find gets people organized and oriented and started into the talks quickly and efficiently. Future meetings are managed to adapt to the issues as defined by the Mediator and the parties, and scheduled to allow information to be acquired and processed, and sometimes to provide time for one or both parties to have a consult with their lawyers.
In the meetings the spouses are guided and supported – within some limits – by the Mediator. Each spouse has counsel that they consult independently – before or after the Mediation sessions. Some Mediators are comfortable with parties having no independent legal assistance, but Chris does not proceed without each party having outside counsel. We believe it is a critical element facilitating informed consent and durable final agreements.
The Mediator does the same things as the Collaborative team does in their meetings: examine and analyze information, define and explore the legal issues, develop and assess solutions, and they provide the benefit of their experience. There is a line however by which the Mediator must guard their neutrality – meaning they cannot directly assist either party strategically or in a way that the other party may feel or perceive as being unfair or demonstrating some sort of bias. In practice this really doesn’t impede progress as each party has their own lawyer for that purpose.
As with the Collaborative process, other allied professionals can be added into the mix (Family Professionals – often with a mental health and/or social work background, and Financial Professionals – with financial planning expertise).
The goal is a cooperative, safe, positive bargaining environment where the spouses take control of their own futures – and explore together what their independent lives mean financially, interpersonally, and as parents. The Mediator, in concert with each party’s independent counsel offline, work to maximize client capacity so they can do their best and get their best deal with less rancour, less anxiety, less expense, and with more control than the court process. A mediation also prioritizes the needs of any children involved and pays close attention to the parents’ ability to work together cooperatively into the future.
Together the parties and the Mediator build agreements on the issues and create terms of settlement that comprehensively touch upon and solve all the issues. What is optimal is defined by the spouses – guided by the experience of the Mediator and their independent counsel. The team ensures that the spouses are fully informed about what the law requires but they are not restricted to just that box – often the best ideas are outside that box! The settlement terms are what they agree upon, not what some judge or court imposes on them.