Part 2: Pre-Mediation Consultation

After a moment’s contemplation, Mary responds: “I tried for a long time. He wouldn’t go to counseling and now he says I’m the one who hasn’t worked on it. I can’t live with him anymore—with his drinking and all. I never know when he’s going to yell at me or the kids.”

“Oh sure, Mary. What about your boyfriend?” John asks, angrily.

“He’s not my boyfriend. He’s just a friend,” Mary counters.

At this point I intervene, saying: “Hold on folks. Since part of my job as a mediator is to provide information, perhaps it would be helpful for you to know that I neither encourage nor discourage divorce. This is your decision alone, and you can take whatever time you need to make it.”

“No, I need to do this now!” Mary insists.

“I hear you. So perhaps I could mention that here in Arizona, as in most other states, if one person wants a divorce there’s literally nothing the other person can do to stop it. But the other person does have a choice as to how it’s carried out. They can enter the legal system with separate lawyers or they can mediate—unless of course they use a paralegal service or do it themselves.”

“I don’t want to get involved with lawyers,” John protests.

“I hear you, John. But could I ask you another question?”

“What?” he replies sullenly.

“Mary mentioned your drinking; would you tell me about that?”

“Oh that’s nothing. I just have a couple of drinks after work,” he curtly responds.

“Okay. What’s your take on this, Mary?”

“He drinks every night. But I wouldn’t call him an alcoholic. I just can’t stand how he yells and…”

Mary begins to answer until John interrupts, adamantly claiming: “I drink a few beers, that’s all. I’m not a drunk!”

“I hear you,” I reply. “But if you choose to mediate with me, it’s my job to be as certain as I can that both of you make fully informed decisions about each and every issue involved in ending your marriage. I’ll explain this in detail at the beginning of the first session but, above all, I want you to know that assisting you both in making informed decisions is the crux of my job. So if at any time during the mediation I sense that either of you aren’t able to do this, for any reason including alcohol use, may I have your permission to check it out with you so I’m clear that your decisions are fully informed ones?”

“Sure,” Mary answers.

“Absolutely,” John says, cavalierly.

“Thank you. And John, I’d like to share something with you about my life. I’m going to take a bit of a risk here, Mary, because I don’t want you to interpret this as my taking sides. But I want to share something about my experience after my first wife told me that our marriage was over. Is that okay?” I ask both of them.

“Yes,” Mary replies, leaning forward with apparent interest.

“I guess,” John says, hesitantly.

“Thanks. Looking back I can see that it took me a good year and a half to get into the acceptance stage of the grief process. And even then I would periodically slip back into anger and sadness. Then, although I wouldn’t have believed it was possible in the first year or so, I began to see the blessings in disguise. I began to see some of the ways in which my divorce was actually for the good. For example, I could see how I was becoming more selfreliant and a better father. And with each year that went by, more and more blessings became apparent.”

“I don’t see that happening,” John maintains.

“Well,” I respond, “I guess there are no guarantees in life, but that’s what happened to me.”

John merely shrugs, and after a moment or two I continue: “Mary, I also see from your intake form that you are a homemaker. Would you tell me more about that?”

Straightening up in her chair and smiling demurely, she replies: “Sure. About six years ago John and I decided it would be best for me to stay at home with the kids. Our son Charlie was having some problems at school and I wanted to spend more time helping him study. Before that I was employed as a bookkeeper.”

“How long were you a bookkeeper?”

“Oh, even before we were married.”

“Are you planning to go back to work?”

Nervously glancing at John, Mary says: “I don’t know… I’m really not sure, with Charlie and our daughter Sarah needing me to be home.”

I then turn to John and inquire, “What do you think about that?”

“She’s gonna have to!” he loudly asserts.

“Do you have a time frame in mind?”

“The sooner the better,” he replies.

“And what about your children?” I ask John.

Looking downward, John responds: “I’m not sure what to do with them.”

“Okay, but let me ask you this: if Mary chose to stay home with them, are you open to talking about financial support for her?”

“Depends,” John responds.

“On what?” I inquire.

“On how much.”

“I see. And yet what I’m hearing is that you’re open to discussing this issue, right?”

“Yeah. I guess so,” he answers.


Even after seven years as a mediator, I still feel awkward every time I begin a divorce consultation. Yet I am very grateful for this feeling because it helps remind me to be humble, empathic, and compassionate while helping people make informed decisions about ending their marriage. After all, I’m a stranger entering into the lives of people who are going through difficult times. Some are embarrassed and ashamed, others are scared, hurt, angry, sad, or depressed. The awkwardness I feel serves as a recurrent and welcome reminder to respond compassionately to people who find themselves in these circumstances.

My overall goal at the beginning of a consultation is to give people the information they need to decide whether mediation, and my approach to it, is appropriate for them. At the same time I need to satisfy myself that each potential participant has the ability to make fully informed decisions. Thus, I made sure to give John the written material Mary had obtained from her counselor, and went into detail about my background, credentials, and approach to mediation. Also wanting to give potential participants a sense of how I go about doing my job as mediator, I disclosed appropriate personal information about my own divorce and provided legal information about how, in most states, one person cannot stop another from obtaining a divorce.

During the initial stages of a consultation, I also want to normalize the grief process. The grief process is one that takes us through the emotions and trepidations of healing from a loss, including the loss of a marital relationship. While we may be aware that a loss has taken place, or is about to take place, it isn’t until we actually go through certain stages of grief that we can truly deal with that loss, and perhaps even learn and grow from it.

Thus, during consultations I make it a point to introduce this process to potential participants, as I did with John and Mary when I said that in addition to helping them “work through all of the legal, financial, tax, and parenting aspects of divorce,” I would also be attentive to their grief process. I want to make it clear from the beginning that painful and confusing emotions are normal during divorce and that part of my job as mediator is to help them transition through these feelings.

There have been numerous studies done on the emotions involved in suffering a loss. Sigmund Freud began with the concept of having to do “grief work.” Later, others came up with their own versions of this process. In 1982, J.W. Worden wrote of the “four tasks of mourning.”2 These include accepting the reality of the loss, experiencing the pain, adjusting to a life without your loved one, and finally being able to invest your emotional energy into a new life.

… To Be Continued. Check back for Part 3!

Author Oliver Ross Mediator Written By:
Out-of-Court Solutions
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