An Intern's Perspective: Mediation Observation Process

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This week I had the opportunity to observe a divorce mediation session.  The two parties nervously entered the office.  Jacquelyn guided each of them into separate conference room while the mediators prepared for the case.  In divorce cases, Mediation Services prefers to have one male and one female mediator to make the parties feel more comfortable.
The mediators typically arrive thirty minutes prior to the start of mediation in order to familiarize themselves with the details and history of the case. They also discuss their roles in the session, such as who will read the opening statement.  When they feel adequately prepared, the mediators bring both parties into the mediation room.
The first step of mediation is to have all participants, including mediators, observers, parties, and attorneys, sign a domestic mediation consent form.  This document ensures that any agreement is legally binding, the mediators are not to give legal advice to either party, and the details of the case are confidential.
One of the mediators then reads an opening statement to clarify the role of the mediators, explain the rights of each party, and discuss the steps necessary to fulfill court ordered mediation.  Parties indicate that they understand or ask any questions they have of the mediator.  Each mediator has slightly different tactics for beginning the session, but in general the plaintiff speaks first since they started the mediation or court process.
The plaintiff explains his or her reasons for being in mediation as well as what he or she hopes to gain in the process.  One of the mediators responds with a summation of the plaintiff’s statement and asks questions of the plaintiff to make sure the party’s feelings are clearly understood.  Next the process is repeated with the defendant.
Once both parties have had the opportunity to state their side of the case, the mediators help the parties create a list of important topics to be discussed.  This helps keep the discussion on track and focused on areas where an agreement has yet to be reached.  In a divorce case, these topics generally include custody, support, and equitable division of the property, assets, and marital debts. There is no limit to the topics that can be covered in mediation, but these are the typical categories.
Finally, the discussion begins.  There are snacks, beverages, pens, calculators, tissues, and notepads on the table to keep the mediation moving forward.  The mediators are attentive to the emotional state of the involved parties.  They call breaks as needed to relieve tension in the room and encourage the parties to have a snack or consult their attorney as needed.
Though mediation is scheduled in three-hour time blocks, the mediation session can last as long as the parties feel is necessary to reach an agreement or exhaust all possible discussion.  Above all, the mediators are in the room to be a resource to the parties.

Charlyn Pelter