Family Mediation Enhances an Individual’s Ability to Truly Hear His or Her Spouse

Mediation “produces superior quality solutions for private disputes”.[1]  I would like to explore 2 of the many reasons why mediation is so effective:

(1)  People can be truly heard and understood when they articulate what they want, and

(2)  It produces rich creative results that are tailored to the needs of the family.

Let’s explore how this plays out by looking at two real life examples.

1.       People have the time to express themselves and to hear the other. People have the experience of having been heard, even if they don’t always get what they want. 

In a file I mediated, when we completed our work on division of assets, the wife saw that she would leave the marriage with fewer assets than the husband because of how the law operated in their case. This was mostly because of pre-marriage assets that the husband brought into the marriage and for which he gets a credit when we equalize the assets at the time of separation.

The wife also earned less than the husband and she had a limited entitlement to spousal support due to the short duration of their marriage. She was very nervous for her future.

The wife needed extra time to process what she perceived as an imbalance in how the assets were divided.

In our session, we allowed the wife to be heard and I ensure she felt understood by the husband and by me.

I was very proud of the husband for not being on the defensive and for allowing the wife to be heard.

After the wife felt heard, she was able to hear that the assets she is left with represented roughly half of an inheritance that the husband received during the marriage which he used to pay down the mortgage on their house. Normally a person who receives an inheritance does not have to share it with the other spouse, but in this case, because of how the husband had used it towards the house, the law was such that the wife ended up benefiting from it greatly. Said in another way, were it not for the inheritance, she would be left with almost no assets.

Because the wife resolved her strong feelings about the asset division, she was able to approach the other issues such as spousal support, with more openness. This facilitated a resolution of all of their affairs and limited their legal fees. Unresolved, these feelings of injustice or anger could easily have derailed the negotiations.

2.       It produces creative solutions that work better for their family needs. The Court process, on the other hand, tends to be much more rigid and unimaginative.[2]

In a case, the wife had some entitlement to spousal support but for personal reasons, she decided that she did not want to ask for spousal support. In exchange, the husband was very quick to agree to pay the majority of the children’s expenses, programs and summer camps. Normally the wife would have had to pay these expenses in proportion to her income. This really helped the wife with her cash flow as she re-established herself in her career after some absence to raise the children.

Both were pleased with their deal, and the negotiations ended fairly quickly and without spending so much on legal fees. This kind of creative solution that really benefited these people would not happen in Court.

Mediation creates rich and personalized results because families have time to say what needs to be said, and are enabled to create outcomes that truly meet their needs.

[1] “The Promise of Mediation: The transformative approach to conflict”,  Bush and Folger.

[2] Macfarlane, Julia. The New Lawyer: How Settlement is transforming the Practice of Law. UBC Press: 2008.

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