In my experience, women are just as successful as men at mediation. Your concern that women may be disadvantaged arises out of two stereotypes about women. One myth is that women don’t know — or they are unable to learn — about financial issues. This is rarely the case. You may have acquired more skill with monetary matters than you realize. For example, you may be employed in a position where you are responsible for financial information, and you may well have experience managing household accounts. The second myth is that women will always give in to keep the peace. A skilled mediator will observe you and your husband and intervene if either of you consistently defers to the other. She will be certain that you both have had an opportunity to express your position and feelings about the issues. The mediator will provide an environment that protects you from being “ripped off.” In California, for instance, your mediator will explain early on that full disclosure is required under state law. In fact, she will insist on full disclosure, and caution you that the Court has the ability to set aside an agreement if relevant information is withheld. Your mediator will also educate you and your husband about your legal rights and obligations so that you are realistic in your expectations, and she’ll help you explore various options and assist you in analyzing the impact of proposed solutions.
There are no absolute answers, but a creative mediator might offer suggestions that have not occurred to either party. A competent mediator will also recommend that each of you has your agreement reviewed by independent counsel before you sign it. Remember that the purpose of mediation is to create a settlement that is fair to both parties.
Will your husband’s work as a formal negotiator give him an advantage? Probably not. This is a divorce, involving emotional, highly personal and sometimes complex legal issues. It is not a business deal. About some issues, you may have as much knowledge as — and, about others, even more information than — your husband. You may not realize it, but you also have experience with the skills involved in negotiation and compromise: most of us resolve questions regularly with friends and business associates about everything from where to eat to what movie to see. If you have children, you know that minor conflicts arise daily with them about many issues such as appropriate dress, friends and homework. Don’t sell yourself short. Seek out an experienced mediator and take advantage of the opportunity to resolve your differences in a way that is economical and emotionally cost-effective.
Genell G. Greenberg (MSW, Esq.) is a sole practitioner with a dual background in social work and law. She practices in Del Mar, CA, where she specializes in family law and divorce mediation.