This is a common fear, based on the belief that women are socialized to be accommodating caretakers who cannot assert their own interests in mediation. Also, concerns about economic inequalities and domestic violence or control issues raise questions about who is likely to succeed in mediation. This fear is not one-sided; in fact, men fear they will do worse, because mediators may assume that women should be the primary parents, receive indefinite support, and remain in the matrimonial home.
One fear that often surfaces for women is that they will be pressured into unreasonable compromises with respect to sharing time with children, decision-making, or their standard of living. In cases of domestic violence, these concerns need to be taken seriously. Mediators must screen for domestic violence to ensure agreements are reached voluntarily and without duress. “Trust me,” “I’ll take care of you,” and “We have agreed not to exchange financial disclosure” are common refrains, but women’s best protection in mediation is full financial disclosure and an understanding of their rights, so they can make informed decisions. Mediation works well for both parties when information is shared easily and people are open to creative win-win outcomes.
Many women prefer mediation to litigation because they like to resolve problems by talking rather than have someone else do battle for them. Women who feel unheard in their marriages welcome having a mediator present as a “referee” to ensure their voice is heard and that concerns affecting the children are taken seriously. If a couple can behave respectfully, fairly, and as caring parents, then even in very difficult circumstances such as an affair or family tragedy, mediation will usually produce a unique agreement more efficiently, and result in greater cooperation, at considerably less cost.
Dr. Barbara Landau, president of Cooperative Solutions, is a Toronto psychologist, lawyer, and mediator who assists separating families in creating parenting plans, improving their communication in the best interests of their children, and arriving at fair financial settlements. She is this year’s recipient of the prestigious John M. Haynes Distinguished Mediator Award for her contributions to the field of mediation.