I understand it is very difficult for a couple to be in mediation and talk to one another instead of using lawyers to talk for them. They are involved in a process that’s very new to them and have to make very difficult and long-range decisions about their family, money and everything else. I get that. It’s also difficult for the mediator to not say anything that would unduly influence either side.
As a mediator, I am not an advocate for either party. I am a neutral. I am the guy in the middle. But what do you do after 20 plus years of mediating disputes, contracts and negotiating when you hear one side giving up what you think, is too much? You know that they have a long-term marriage, and are pretty much dividing things in half, but one person says, “I don’t want my share of my spouse’s pension. They worked for it and I don’t feel I am entitled to it.” Do they know the value of what they are giving up?
Primarily, I see my role as providing information to my clients, so I would say, “In a traditional divorce, you would be entitled to half of the pension. If you want to waive it, I encourage you to get the pension valued” and I show them a website that will value the marital share. I explain to them the significance of the valuation report so they understand what the value is in dollars. Once they have all the information, but still want to waive it, I have to respect that. Self-determination by the couple is what mediation is all about, so they determine how they want to divide things.
I also have to stop myself from jumping in and saying, “What? Are you crazy? Why are you doing that? What’s the matter with you?” That’s what a lawyer might do in litigation. I am not an attorney, although after so many years of working with attorneys I think some of it has rubbed off. I have to select every word I say carefully so as not to unduly influence either side with my opinion. And I can tell you honestly, that, as the years go by, it doesn’t get any easier. If anything, it becomes more difficult.
So it’s not the law trainings. It’s not the endless trainings by accountants, psychologists and business experts. The most difficult thing about mediating a divorce is remaining neutral and knowing when to keep my mouth shut. “It’s hard work,” but I wouldn’t trade it for any other job.