Among all of the fears about the divorce process (whether in litigation or in mediation) one of the most prevalent is the perception of gender bias. Like most fears, gender bias is composed of a tiny modicum of a basis in fact along with an overwhelmingly large basis in the fear of the unknown, in folklore and in old wives’ tales.
This perception of gender bias works both ways. Claims of outrageous alimony and a prejudice against a father’s ability to raise small children vie with “women always get ripped off” in mediation as perceived realities with very little if any, basis in fact either in mediation or in the modern courthouse.
However, there are steps both women and men can take to assure that there is a level playing field at mediation.
Prior to the mediation request a mediator (or even better, a co-mediator) of your same gender.
Engage the services of a professional of your same gender to be your advocate at mediation.
If there are issues of domestic violence or a real or perceived power imbalance insist that after a brief joint opening session, all negotiations with the mediator take place in private caucus sessions.
Assure yourself that the mediator (or co-mediators) has a reputation for independence, fairness, balance, maintaining neutrality and, as needed, the appropriate forcefulness in insuring that no one is bullied or taken advantage of during the session.
The myth that women do worse at mediation than in litigation is an old one. It’s time to debunk the myth and to take advantage of the customized self-determined outcome that can be yours at mediation with the help of a good mediator.
Suzanne Mann Duvall is a mediator with Burdin Mediations in Dallas. With over 600 hours of basic and advanced training in mediation, she has mediated over 1300 cases to resolution. Ms. Duvall was most recently named “Super Lawyer 2003 & 2004” by Texas Monthly magazine.
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