What a High Conflict Divorce Mediator Wants You to Know About Mediation

Note: This is according to Minnesota. Other states have different rules and laws. This should not be substituted as legal advice. This post is for information purposes only.

As a child focused divorce mediator, I work with high conflict parents to establish a workable parenting plan. It is tough and often grueling work that can often be volatile in nature. I work with parents who are highly stressed, beyond angry and sometimes dealing with mental health issues. I often get asked how can mediation work for this population. It can work. (*Note: In domestic violence situations, mediation is not recommended.)

I am a firm believer that mediation can and will work with high conflict parents if done properly with professionals who are trained in high conflict and have a background in mental health. I say this because many high conflict people are dealing with a mental illness whether that be depression, anxiety or personalty disorders. In order to control the mediation session, one needs to understand how people interact with each other as much as you need to know the rules and laws of divorce. Having a knowledgeable and well trained mediator is not only a necessity, it is the only thing that will work in situations like this. It is my job to make sure we get a workable compromise so that you can avoid court and the fees associated with that.

Divorce Mediation

Mediation can be considerably cheaper than going to court to fight it out. However, you need to understand what mediation is and what it isn’t.

1. Mediation is not court. The mediator is not the judge and we don’t make binding rulings. In fact, the mediator doesn’t make any decisions. We are simply there to facilitate the communication so both parties are heard. Often, high conflict parents don’t listen to each other even when they are saying the same thing! It is a pattern of behavior that both parents exhibit. Mediators are there to break the pattern and say it differently so the other parent can “hear” it.

2. Mediation is not binding. The decisions that are made in mediation are not legally binding. That only happens when the parties take the agreements to their lawyers and get it submitted to the court. Both parents have the absolute right to back out of the decisions made during mediation. However, it would be a waste of time and money if parents did this. There is research that states that parents who come up with agreements on their own (not court ordered) will follow the agreement more. This is great news and can save a lot of money in the future.

3. Mediation is not a time to delve into emotional issues. It is not a therapy session. We do not hash out every past mistake. A good mediator will ask the parents for an agenda for the session. Topics that need to be discussed and decided upon. As a mediator, it is my job to keep both parents on topic. Yes, sometimes emotions need to be discussed but it is about the issue at hand.

4. Mediators are neutral. It is our job to not take sides or offer opinions on a subject. We are there to brainstorm ideas with the parents or offer different options.

5. Mediators are not lawyers. Sure, some mediators are lawyers but that is not the role they are in during mediation. They cannot give you legal advise. Mediation sessions (in Minnesota) are confidential. Therefore, whatever is said in mediation states in mediation.

6. Mediation is strictly voluntary.

7. Mediation occurs over time. Sometimes parents think that one session will solve everything. They get frustrated and don’t return. They state that mediation didn’t work for them. Mediation takes time. It can take several sessions over a few weeks or even months. However, overall mediation can and will save you money in the long run.

8. Mediation requires compromise. If you go into mediation, unwilling to budge on the issues at hand, it will be a waste of time and money. In high conflict mediation, most parents aren’t willing to compromise on the issues at the beginning. I have worked with many clients who were considered a lost cause come out in the end with a workable plan. It can be done. I see it a lot in my practice.

9. Mediators in high conflict divorces should have a background in mental health. Lawyers are not trained in psychology or family systems theory. There are many nuances and dynamics when it comes to high conflict parents. It is best suited to be handled by mediators who have gone to school for this.

10. Mediation can work. It takes a lot of work, patience and communication. It can work with the right mediator. Mediation is much cheaper than going to court for every disagreement.

I love my job because I see parents who come in with little hope that things will get better instead they often leave with a workable plan, less stress and the belief that things will get better. I hope these ten things will help you in understanding divorce mediation.

Sarah Heil-Brenny

Sarah Heil-Brenny is a single divorced mom of three teenage boys who lives in a suburb of the Twin Cities. Pack leader of two dogs with a combined weight of 9 pounds. She is often found knitting in inappropriate places, watching way too much Netflix, posting too many pictures on Instagram, and munching on anything gummy. Sarah pretends she is an extrovert but she is a closeted introvert who adores spending an obscene amount of time by herself and a few awesome friends. She is an adolescent psychotherapist who has a private practice. Photojournalism was a passion that turned into a business but really it’s because she can fly her drone. She does this all the while going to school for her PhD in Social Work. Someday she hopes she can just sit, relax and not stress about her yarn stash. Until then, she lives her chaotic life. Welcome to it.

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