There is still some mystery surrounding mediation, both amongst people who might attend mediation, and amongst some solicitors who refer clients to mediation. In the first of a series of blogs examining what happens in mediation we are looking today at exploring options.
When somebody first makes an enquiry about mediation they may have some idea that mediation is to help separating couples talk about what they’re going to do but they often do not understand how the mediator will go about this. The purpose of mediation is not to offer counselling to the parties about the breakdown of their relationship. But the mediator may well suggest that those attending mediation attend counselling (if they have not done so already) if they feel this will help them to move forward. It is often the past that can stop those in mediation being able to make plans for their future.
Mediators work by getting both parties to engage in the process of trying to find a resolution that will work for them and their family. They use various different techniques to help encourage discussion and also to help each party hear each other. One of the crucial parts of mediation is exploring options.
In making any decision people have to know what their options are and weigh up the options to determine which is best. This can be particularly complicated when a couple are separating for a number of reasons. Firstly, they may not be aware or able to define the options available to them. Secondly, they may not be in the right frame of mind to properly appraise options and thirdly, there may be considerably more information that is needed before they can make an informed choice about which option is best.
The mediator will be able to help the couple to define and explore the options that may be open to them. Family mediators have considerable experience of separation and so can suggest options that the couple may not have been aware of. Lawyer mediators will draw on their lawyer experience to be able to suggest further options. They can help the couple to highlight where further information may be necessary in order to properly explore an option.
In addition to this they can offer something called reality testing. When people enter mediation they can have an idea of what they hope to achieve. Sometimes this is based on facts and figures, and sometimes it is simply based on a hope that what they think will give them the best outcome emotionally, will also work financially. By exploring different options and seeing how the practical realities would work the parties can examine whether an option is a realistic one or not.
The mediator can also help the parties find other experts that may assist with exploring options. A pensions expert may be able to help the parties understand the different options with regard to their pensions and the advantages and disadvantages (and potential costs) of each option. Alternatively if one person, or both people, is having a hard time letting go of the relationship (or something in particular for example the family home) then they can refer the couple (or one person) to a counsellor or family consultant to try to help them come to terms with that issue so that progress can be made.
Often participants come into mediation feeling confused and vulnerable and frightened about what will happen next. By allowing them to explore and understand options they are empowered to be able to make informed choices about what happens next for them and their family.