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5 Stages of Mediation

Family mediation is now the preferred method of handling divorce and separation cases in Canada. One reason why is that mediation tends to be faster and more comfortable than settling in court. Also, the results are more favourable since both parties are more involved in negotiating the outcome. In spite of this, many people are not very familiar with how family meditation works. In this article, we describe the five stages of the family mediation process.

First, What Does a Family Mediator Do

Family mediators are neutral third parties. Their job is to guide both spouses through the process of achieving a final agreement. The mediator does not act as a lawyer or advisor for either spouse. However, the mediator generally brings family law experience and knowledge to the table. The mediator is responsible for ensuring that each party gets equal time and opportunity to share their story and helps to ensure that the process stays on track for productive negotiation. A large part of the mediator’s job is to listen and know when to step in to address a barrier or impasse that could jeopardize the mediation.

Before the actual process begins, the mediator may provide opening remarks which set the ground rules for conduct and communication, outline the process and set a timeline for getting to a final agreement. Once this is done, the mediation process can begin.

Stage 1 – Statement of Issues

One of the benefits of mediation is that each participant gets an opportunity to fully communicate their issues and concerns. In divorce mediation, there could be several issues, including those surrounding parenting, child support or spousal support needs, and division of property or assets that have been acquired during the marriage. Spouses may speak for themselves. However, lawyers for each spouse may also be present to frame the issues before the spouse adds their remarks. Often the mediator will shuttle between mediation rooms either virtually or in person, so the spouses might not meet face to face.

Stage 2 – Information Gathering

Once each side has had an opportunity to speak about their concerns, an information gathering stage begins. Usually, the mediator will request that financial documents, tax returns, mortgage and investment information are provided. If these have been provided in advance, there may only be a few additional pieces of information needed. If information is not readily available, the mediator can also help both parties understand what kind of documentation is acceptable and how to obtain it.

Stage 3 – Identification of Problems

Emotions run high in divorce cases – there is no way to prevent it. The result is often that both spouses see the issues that need to be resolved through a lens clouded by anger and resentment. It’s the mediator’s job to take in all of the facts, along with the emotional undercurrents and identify the issues that really need to be solved. Sometimes these can be different from the problems stated in stage one. Getting to the underlying issues will provide a path forward for brainstorming ideas and negotiating resolutions.

Stage 4 – Negotiation or Bargaining

In this stage, both parties and their advisors are encouraged to present solutions to the problems identified in the previous stage. It often requires compromise and concessions on both sides, which can be difficult. The mediator’s role is to ensure that the negotiation proceeds and that any potential barriers are dealt with to ensure the process does not begin to break down. If the parties are not able to arrive at suitable solutions on their own, the mediator may also suggest some. Negotiation may occur with both parties in the room, or the mediator may meet separately to hear ideas before presenting them to the other spouse. At the conclusion of the negotiation stage, there should be agreement on the issues from both sides.

Stage 5 – Settlement

Settlement is the final stage of mediation, in which the agreed-upon negotiated terms are finalized and put into writing. Both spouses have a final opportunity to review and consult with their advisor before the agreement is signed and made official.

A family mediator knows the mediation process well and is also trained in managing personalities, emotions, and other factors that can affect the positive outcome of a mediation. They will ensure that the five stages of mediation are carried out so the process goes smoothly and that an agreement that satisfies the needs of both parties is the result.

Kelly D. Jordan is a specialist in family mediation with over 25 years of experience. Kelly’s compassion and creative approach to problem-solving have helped countless families successfully navigate divorce through mediation. Find out more about the benefits of family mediation and contact Kelly for a consultation.