What is Client-Centered Mediation?

During the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln made a speech in which he referred sympathetically to the Southern Rebels. An elderly lady, a staunch Unionist, unbraided him for speaking kindly of his enemies when he ought to be thinking of destroying them. His reply was classic: “Why madam,” Lincoln answered, “do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

I do believe in the statement that even when confronting divorce, which I would rather refer to as Marital Transition is that “You do not necessarily have a legal problem, but in fact, a personal problem, and that by not being able to reach an agreement between each other, only then can it become a legal problem where you give up your right to decide what is in your best interest and the interest of your children.” Now I’m not implying that after mediation you and your spouse are going to skip off into the sunset with divorce papers in hand, what I am implying is that by using mediation and not creating adversarial conditions by using the present legal system, you can come away with a better understanding of how two people can work together to forge an agreement. Even in a highly emotionally charged state, both parties can maintain their dignity and transition into a new life knowing that your agreement has a much better chance of success. Client-centered mediation uses an innovative approach to resolving problems that is healthier, less invasive, easier for clients to use, financially viable, and quicker, resulting in a far less emotional cost for all parties involved. Client-centered mediation places the clients at the center of the process. Your beliefs, attitudes, wishes, hopes, and desires are the most important consideration. It focuses on the people in the room, rather than on the law of the state or on the past causes of the conflict. During a marriage, when couples disagree as to what school the children attend or on where to go on vacation, they do not hire their respective attorneys to work it out for them; they worked it out by themselves. Simply because you are transitioning between living together and living apart does not mean that you have lost the ability to make rational decisions together.

Client-centered Mediation is more future based and takes a different approach to important questions. For example, “What are the future parenting arrangements the two of you can agree to that allow each of you to build a parenting plan that will work best for you and the children in the future?” This type of question does not encourage participants to engage in a battle over who is the better or worse parent. The Client-centered model shifts parents into a new way of thinking about their future relationship with the children and with each other. Dated law-focused methods use the same old combative questions and try to find a settlement in the context of a battle.

Client-centered Mediation fosters open and honest communication; hence there is no need to engage in the type of deceptive and dishonest communication that so often occurs. Mediation is strictly confidential regarding all statements, documents, and, discussions made by both parties, and cannot be used against them in the event of an impasse. What happens in mediation, stays in mediation. Unlike confrontational divorce litigation, there are no pre-settlement court hearings where family, friends, co-workers and even your pastor are at the mercy of the subpoena, no costly discovery or interrogatories, and no depositions to bog down the process and increase the financial outlay of both parties. How much time, work, and money are you going to lose on countless depositions and fruitless court hearings?

Statistics show that around 95% or all litigated cases never make it to court. The fact is, these cases are normally settled at the eleventh hour on the benches outside the courtroom door. Is this the type of situation in which you would want to make a decision that could affect you and your children for years to come? But you may say that the law will protect my rights; once you turn away from divorce as a personal problem and enter the realm of the legal system for protection, you have given up your right for self-determination. Client-centered mediation encourages participants to create their own standards and laws of fairness. It is much easier to achieve fairness when participants step outside the rigid legal concepts and create their own customized justice principals. When considering divorce, it is beneficial to know that most state divorce laws are designed to serve the court’s need for efficiency, case management, and uniformity; they are not responsive to the needs of families in conflict. Divorce laws take a cookie- cutter approach to the complex problems of joint parenting, child support, spousal support and property division. The question becomes: Why would you let two attorneys and a judge decide your future and the futures of your children, when you are capable as two grown adults to make decisions on your own behalf without interference from the legal system?

If you are already in the throngs of a litigated case, considering hiring an attorney, separated, or contemplating a divorce action, stop! Take a breath, there is a better way to keep your sanity, your dignity, your time and money. There is a better future for you ahead even if things look bleak right now. Give Client-Centered mediation an opportunity to work for you.