How long is the mediation process? Can you speed it up?
Compared to the alternative, mediation is a very efficient process. Once it gets going, mediation moves at “warp speed”. Most couples complete their divorce in four to six meetings.
The key to the timing is to remember that mediation is a process. Though not always evident, the steps consist of: gathering information; identifying issues; brainstorming options to resolve the issues; and discussing the options to see which ones are acceptable to both parties. If you skip the process and just jump to bottom-line positions, you run a strong risk of reaching an impasse (and possibly missing better solutions).
Mediators strive to achieve durable agreements, as opposed to the usual last-minute settlements that emerge from adversarial proceedings. Too often, parties in the adversarial process settle merely to “get it over with” and have not really bought into the terms of the settlement. Sometimes, they are back in court within months of obtaining their divorce.
Mediators recognize that people do not like to feel rushed when making important decisions. Often in divorce, one person has already “checked out” of the marriage and has firm ideas of how things should proceed. The other person, however, may be back at “day one” and require some time to get his or her bearings. In addition, people have different decision-making styles. If one person needs a little more time, others need to respect that requirement. To hurry such a person risks reaching an impasse or a supposed settlement that rapidly unravels.
The best way to expedite the process is to gather information ahead of time about finances, school schedules, housing options, and whatever other data you need to make informed decisions. The other proactive step you can take is to remain in contact with your attorney. Ask your attorney for his or her impression of how the legal process might deal with an issue and get a range of outcomes. It will speed up the mediation if you know your best and worst alternatives to a negotiated agreement. Think about your real interests (as opposed to just a position) and your spouse’s, and try to envision what you want your life and your children’s to look like after the divorce.
Through the development of information and consulting with your attorney, become an informed participant. Concentrate more on the quality of the decision-making rather than just the speed of the process. The more informed the participants, the better the chance of moving forward in the mediation.
Jerald A. Kessler is a family law attorney with a full-time divorce-mediation practice in Highland Park, Evanston, and Libertyville, IL. He is a past-president of the Mediation Council of Illinois and an Advanced Practitioner Member of the Association for Conflict Resolution.