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Family Mediation
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While there may be some variations in how a particular mediator works, there are basic guidelines for most states' programs. Your mediation may be regarding your upcoming divorce, or you may already be divorced and trying to agree on specifics - or you may just be trying to save your marriage from a possible divorce. The basic procedures are the same.

What follows are the basic steps you can expect in most mediations:

1. Introduction by the mediator
This will be a formal description of the rules of mediation and how the mediation will proceed. This may take place in two parts - part before a mediation agreement has been signed and part after. Or all may occur before the agreement has been signed.

2. Problem Identification (Parties’ opening statements)
Each party gets an uninterrupted initial period to state their view of the situation and their concerns — why they're here.


3. Two-Way Exchange:
Guided by the mediator, the parties discuss with each other what they have heard. This helps to add information and surface underlying issues. The mediator helps both sides to keep from raising their voices, becoming overly argumentative, using negative attacks, or acting in any way which hinders the negotiations.

4. Issues Clarification/ Agenda Setting:
The Mediator summarizes the surfaced issues and helps the parties move forward to deal with them. Often one side or the other wants to add to or correct issues to clear up inaccuracies. This can lead to both sides' better understanding of the whole situation.

5. Generating Options and Alternatives:
This is the creative heart of the mediation. Both parties put as many options as possible on the table, without having to claim any one solution. This is a “brainstorming” process. Out of the various ideas generated, the parties should be able to craft a resolution that will work with satisfaction for everyone involved.

6. Negotiating and Evaluating Alternatives: 
Ironing out the details and reality-testing to consider how the proposed solution(s) will play out over time. Sometimes, the mediator will use "caucusing" here. This is when the parties are placed in separate rooms to speak with the mediator privately about their requirements or wishes. The mediator acts as a go-between; sometimes called "shuttle diplomacy."

7. Establishing a Settlement and Writing an Agreement (or Memo of Understanding): 
The parties, assisted by the mediator, write out and sign a statement which details what they agreed to. Sometimes this is the end of the mediation, if the parties feel they can trust each other to uphold the agreement.

8. Legal Review / Processing (if necessary): If the agreement is to become part of a legal document (the divorce agreement, for example), the parties will take the drafted agreement to an attorney to have the proper legal forms filed.

This whole process can take as little as one or two meetings of 2 to 3 hours each. Of course, more complicated situations, or cases that will need outside experts' input (such as attorneys, financial advisors, or counselors) may take more time. In those cases, the mediator calls a break for either or both sides to contact the outside source - or take some "breathing time" to collect their thoughts - before meeting again. Generally speaking, even the most complex negotiation can be settled in relatively few meetings.

But the most important factor to remember is that it is not a race with one winner. Your mediation is a process during which you will arrive at a settlement which you can both be satisfied with permanently. So you will be encouraged to think carefully about the settlement you create.

"Thanks for your caring heart. Thanks for giving of your time and self to help families out here in the world to make it. God Bless you."
Betty S, Utah

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Bob Collins, 479-522-7490, FamilyMediator; Fort Smith, AR 72917 - NWA Western Arkansas Eastern Oklahoma

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