A small percentage of my clients have reached the point in their relationship where it is too difficult for them to be in the same room at the same time. Too much history. Emotions are very high. Some experts refer to these couples as “high conflict couples”. They are so frustrated and angry that they are unable to speak to each other and while it is very disturbing to see, these couples should not be denied a chance to participate in the mediation process. Only about 10% of all couples fall into this category. These couples can especially benefit from mediation because litigation would only exacerbate an already toxic situation.
When the client contacts me, often the calls go something like this:
“We can’t be in the same room together without arguing and yelling at each other. Can we mediate our divorce? We still want the benefits of mediation, like being in control of the process, being able to direct the outcome and keeping the costs low. The only problem is we can’t be in the same room at the same time. Can you do it?”
The answer is Yes. So far this year, I’ve done quite a few mediations with high conflict couples. In these cases, I generally ask for a retainer. We start with a conference call and I encourage as much dialogue as possible between the couple to get input on both sides as to what is important to each of them.
If that is too difficult, then I will speak to each spouse individually, write up a set of proposals, discuss areas of disagreement and explore what kind of compromises might work. Finally, we arrive at a settlement proposal. Generally, the spouses are consulting with attorneys so I can have conversations with their attorneys about the proposed settlement. (Important Factoid: Believe it or not, there are attorneys on this planet who will accept a more modest retainer fee, when reviewing a mediated Agreement. Their role is that of advisor during the mediation process, not to go to court and litigate.)
As involved as that sounds, the mediation often goes a lot faster than most people would imagine. This method is successful and doesn’t take a lot longer than a regular mediation process. So, the clients are able to avoid going to court and the high costs of litigation.
Yes, with many high conflict couples, mediation can work:
- Even if you can’t be in the same room
- Even if your relationship is at a point where it is really toxic
- Even if the way you are communicating with each other is by slamming doors and yelling
Mediation, with all its benefits, is a process that can work for you.