Tag Archive for: Mediation

The following are a few thoughts and some guidance on how best to prepare for your first mediation appointment.  It is often a stressful time, so a little preparation can help alleviate some of the anxiety and fear going into the mediation process.

1)    Take the pressure off yourselves.  The first mediation session is purposefully designed to be low conflict and low pressure in order to assess individual and family needs, questions, interests, and goals as well as building a foundation for a successful mediation outcome. During this initial meeting, typically between 1 and 2 hours in duration, you can create a roadmap together with steps and “action items” for each participant to move forward toward resolution and implementation of any agreements.  You may also address any time sensitive issues or concerns and brainstorm solutions during this first meeting and assess what other resources, if any, are needed.

2)    Choose format for first session.  Inquire with your chosen mediator whether he or she hosts in person and/ or virtually. Think about and choose the best option for all involved.

3)    Goal setting.  Ask your mediator for a handout or resources for ideas on typical topics that arise in separations and divorce, or if you have a different situation inquire about any preparation materials. It will be helpful to get more comfortable talking about your short- and long-term goals around issues such as housing, finances, and children (if applicable). It may also alleviate stress to practice talking with a friend, family member, or therapist about your vision and goals.

4)    Begin gathering documents.  This is optional ahead of mediation, and there is no requirement to bring in documents at your first session. That said, having a good sense of a “high level” overview of family finances such as approximate or average incomes, types of assets and debts, and overall current cash flow situation is helpful to share in the first stage of mediation.  This will help to better assess what resources or tools will be most efficient completing mediation. For example, getting acquainted with employee benefits such as stock options, whether a pension is vested, as well as life insurance details will help in preparedness for mediation.  

5)    Keep an open mind.  One of the barriers to a successful mediation can be one or both participants (or the mediator) having a rigid or fixed mindset on the division of assets, debts, or the payment of support. Often, issues are intertwined and creative solutions may be available to meet the approval and acceptance of all involved (including the court’s necessary approval in some areas). It is most helpful in mediation to allow brainstorming of different scenarios and “what ifs” as all discussion is confidential and without risk.  Once options are exchanged, then proceeding with evaluating and prioritizing what feels acceptable or not may be more effective to allow for the maximum likelihood of success.

6)    Coaching or therapy.  Sometimes barriers occur in the ability to communicate or be heard effectively, especially in the stressful family law transitions with often raw emotions and high conflict. Please reach out if you or a family member could benefit from talking to a divorce coach or mental health professional such as a therapist. A divorce coach is a professional trained to help people process any emotions surrounding a family issue and help provide support throughout the stages of separation or divorce if needed. Coaches and therapist can work with one person or both as well as children depending on the professional and scope of his or her role. In some cases, an employee assistance program (EAP) or health insurance may be utilized to reduce out of pocket costs.

7)    Legal consult.  This is optional at any stage of mediation.  In my experience working with families over the years, feedback from clients is having an initial consultation with a collaborative attorney ahead of a mediation session helped create a smooth path for mediation to move forward with less conflict. This attorney can also review drafts of documents ahead of signing and filing. Please keep in mind each professional may only assume one role (either mediator or consulting attorney). Bridges Divorce members are happy to provide a list of recommended collaborative attorneys or mediators if helpful.

Please reach out to anyone at our office if you have questions.  We are here to help and want to make it less stressful for everyone involved, as it’s already a difficult time for most participants.

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Tonya Alexander
Collaborative Attorney & Mediator
Alexander Law, PC
1925 NE Stucki Ave Ste 410
Hillsboro, OR 97006
503-531-9109

Tonya’s Website
Email Tonya

 

Jim O’Connor set the stage for negotiation by focusing on the future rather than the past in his recent blog – https://bridgesdivorce.com/negotiating-with-your-partner/

            Let’s carry that forward using the steps of a collaborative or mediation process.

High End Goals

We start with goals for the process and for yourselves.  What matters most to you? Take some time.  Do this in a quiet setting with a quiet mind if at all possible.  To come back to your heart will be an important skill for this exercise.

  • Why did you pick a peacemaking process?  What are your goals for the process?
  • What is it you want for your future relationship together?
  • What do you want for the children? What is most important?
  • What are your values about money? What are your priorities?
  • How about personal and emotional goals? How do you want to feel, during the process and afterwards?
  • What are your concerns about ongoing relationships with family, friends, work?
  • What do you need for self-care? Balance of life?
  • What does a positive future look like for you? How do you want to feel?

Negotiation Is Mindful Listening to Yourself and Others.

Negotiation is shared listening.  That is, listening with attention and without judgment.  Attention generates new, fresh thinking.  Mindfulness deepens the quality of attention.  This type of listening helps coherent intelligence unfold.  So better ideas are the result.

We communicate with ourselves this way to unearth our dreams, wants, needs and what’s important to us.  We express this to the other in an environment of mutual respect met with uninterrupted attention.  This is the ideal.  We can come close to it with intention, awareness and discipline.  It’s not easy to do but will make the divorce easier and more fruitful.  It’s a primary requirement of a peaceful process.

Practices of connecting with the heart, meditation and other activities that balance the nervous system assist in making this type of communication possible.  Working with a divorce coach also helps build tolerance and gives practice in better communication to make negotiation at the table much more productive.

Brainstorming Options

When options are proposed, it’s important to consider the interests and needs of the other person as well as your own.  To do this takes courage and letting go.  Relaxing into a process that is not intimidating is important.  Flexibility to listen to and consider options you don’t think would work or don’t think you could agree to requires moving into our higher selves with dignity, patience and understanding.  To listen and not react.

Deciding

Making decisions requires a lot of the same skills.  Know that everything decided upon will not be comfortable.  Any combination of things that constitutes a settlement will require giving up something.  How flexible are you or can you be to accept what is possible or the best possible scenario for your family?  How strong have you made yourself through taking advantage of practices of the heart and other techniques that lead to acceptance.  Acknowledging that you have done the best you can under the circumstances and accepting the result will make a smoother transition moving forward.  It will be a continual practice of releasing and sharing control.  How flexible are you or can you be?  Longevity and happiness require flexibility, acceptance, forgiveness and letting go.

Committing

What does it take to commit to the result and work towards honoring your agreement with good faith, good nature and willingness to adjust to a new normal?  How much can you forgive the past and look forward to a future of cooperation?  These are all skills that can be practiced and mastered.  It’s what makes a better life for us anyway.  This is an opportunity to make life smoother for ourselves and others.

When you go through the divorce process, you will need to address all of the same issues regardless of the process you choose.  When you are choosing between Mediation and Collaborative Divorce, you are choosing how you want to discuss those issues.

There are many similarities between Mediation and Collaborative Divorce.  Both are premised on good faith, full disclosure, and creating mutually beneficial agreements.  There are several differences between the processes, but the main difference is which professional(s) you work with to resolve your case.  Both processes frequently use child specialists, financial specialists and/or divorce coaches.  This article focuses only on the role of the mediator and Collaborative attorneys.

Mediation

In mediation, clients work directly with a neutral third party – the mediator.  Mediation is usually a series of “three way” meetings involving both clients and the mediator.  The mediator does not represent either client and has an equal duty to both clients.  Mediators can provide legal information to clients, but they cannot provide legal advice.  Legal information includes what the rules are in Oregon, how they may apply to your situation, and (potentially) what a likely range of outcomes would be in your situation.  Legal advice is a recommendation about what you should do in your situation.  Mediators cannot provide you with legal advice (even if they are an attorney).

Attorneys are often involved in the mediation process, although they don’t have to be involved.  Clients often consult with attorneys prior to mediation or in between mediation sessions.  Attorneys will sometimes be present during mediation.  This happens more often when a case is litigated (i.e., going through a traditional contested divorce process), but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.

You can learn more about the mediation process here.

Collaborative Divorce

 In Collaborative Divorce each client is represented by their own collaboratively trained attorney.  The collaborative team meets together in series of “four way” meetings, although these meetings may also include other professionals if you are working on a “full team” case.  Collaborative Divorce usually does not involve a mediator, although sometimes it does.  The job of the Collaborative attorney is to educate and advise their client while also providing negotiation assistance.  You can learn more about the role of the Collaborative Law attorney here.

You can learn more about the Collaborative Divorce process here.

Which Process to Choose?  The main difference between the two processes is working with one neutral third party vs. each person working with their own collaboratively trained attorney.  There is not necessarily a ‘right’ process, but here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Legal Advice. Do you feel like you need legal advice as part of the process?  Mediators are prohibited from providing legal advice, although they can provide legal information.  You can still obtain legal advice as part of mediation; it’s just usually done in between meetings.  Your Collaborative attorney, on the other hand, is with you every step of the way and is there to provide advice if you need it.  There are differences of opinion amongst professionals about the role of the law in the Collaborative Divorce process, but that discussion is beyond the scope of this article.
  • Negotiation Assistance. When you think of negotiating on your own behalf, what comes up for you?  Is that a comfortable idea?  Is it stress-inducing?  Anxiety provoking?  The job of the mediator is to facilitate the negotiation and to empower both people to effectively advocate on their own behalf.  A Collaborative Divorce attorney, by comparison, would be actively negotiating with you and for you as part of the Collaborative process.
  • Increased Support. Sometimes one person prefers mediation and one person prefers Collaborative Divorce.  In that case we usually recommend choosing the Collaborative process rather than mediation.  If one person prefers Collaborative, it is usually because they feel like they need a heightened degree of support or assistance that their own attorney can provide.  Generally speaking, we’d rather have both people get added support if there is a need for it by one client rather than have someone need an increased level of support and not get it (i.e., by selecting the mediation process).  You can still have the support of an attorney in mediation, it’s just that your attorney tends to be more involved in your Collaborative Divorce case than if they are just consulting in between mediation sessions.

One useful way of deciding between mediation and Collaborative Divorce is to schedule a joint process consultation with a member of Bridges.  A joint process consultation is an opportunity for both of you to sit down with one person to discuss which process will work best for your family.  These meetings are limited just to discussing these process options – you will not be negotiating at a process consultation.

The members of Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions offer both mediation and collaborative services.  Many of us offer joint process consultations if you need help deciding which process makes the most sense for you and your family.

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Randall Poff, Retired Collaborative Attorney and Family Mediator

Someone with narcissistic traits, as explained in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”, the DSM-5, 2013, indicates a person with a sense of entitlement, a belief that they are special and deserve favorable treatment. They have a grandiose sense of importance, need for admiration and lack empathy. Believing themselves to be special, they feel they can only be understood or appreciated by other special or high-status people. They can be interpersonally exploitive, often envious of others and show arrogant, haughty behaviors and attitudes.    

My Clients. In my practice as a collaborative divorce coach and vocational expert, I’ve noticed a marked increase in clients citing narcissistic traits in the spouse they’re divorcing. Since a little before Covid-19, whether they initiated the divorce or not, their complaints had a familiar tone. What follows is my reflection on their experience of sorting things out and confronting the ways they have been undermined, their determination to learn to trust themselves again and make positive life affirming decisions for themselves and their family as they moved through the divorce process.

Confusion was common in the beginning of our work, as my clients put words to thoughts they had never shared.

  • What really brought on the demise of my marriage?
  •  Why was everything always my fault?
  • Why did he/she get angry with me for doing things that they were also doing? Spending money on myself, picking up the kids late. Not paying enough attention to them, while they never noticed what was happening with me.
  • Why do others always think he/she has it so together; is so charming, while I see their self-centeredness destroying those close to them?
  •  Why can’t I trust myself and my ability to make decisions anymore?
  • Why do I doubt that I could have a successful career when I used to be great at what I did?

A New Perspective. Analyzing the dynamics of the relationship was a constant theme. Painfully, my clients shared their stories and the questions continued. It was hard to wonder out loud about the abuse they hadn’t always seen as abuse and then to ask, “Why didn’t I leave sooner?”

It’s difficult to feel sure of your perspective when you’ve been discounted for such a long time. But the need to clearly understand what happened in something as important as your marriage, is strong, no matter how hard the truth can be. My clients frequently used words like manipulated, deceived, gaslighted, blamed and shamed to describe the way interactions with their partner made them feel. It was difficult for them grasp or accept that this was the way their partner actually treated them, their spouse. Perhaps the hardest thing to realize was that their partner’s behavior didn’t make sense. They didn’t deserve the way they had been treated.

Finding Support. Being listened to and validated for their perceptions made a big difference, especially around sensitive topics they might not have shared with friends and family. Topics like challenges with a special needs child, their take on a financial issue or ideas for a new career. Encouraged to share these questions and concerns related to the divorce process and being heard by their attorney, mediator, financial or other collaborative professional further solidified their point of view. Becoming more engaged and fully participating in the divorce process ensured a better outcome, as their spoken concerns helped shape the agenda.

New Chapter, Same Dynamic. A particularly tough topic continued to be co-parenting and making sure the kids understood what was happening, given their ages. The familiar lack of respect showed my clients during their marriage, now played out in a lack of communication, too much control or fights around changes to pre-arranged parenting plans, for example. If my client was still being put down, their efforts and time still taken for granted, maintaining a positive view of their partner in the eyes of the children was challenging. Our work here supported their interest in taking the “high road,” and not criticizing their spouse, especially when they felt vulnerable and afraid of seeing the quality of their own relationships with the children suffer, due to these dynamics.       

A Clearer View. Gradually my clients saw patterns, made connections, and began to feel better about themselves. Maybe things weren’t all their fault. Maybe their partner’s inability to take responsibility for their issues played a role. They were encouraged to continue to seek out as much social support as possible. Fortunately, some of the people I was talking with had friends who were able to see things from their perspective too, which strengthened their newfound realizations.

Setting Boundaries. As clients questioned themselves less and had support to think through what they actually needed day to day and in their divorce process, it became clear they needed to set boundaries with their partners. Saying “No” can be hard but vital when your self-care and mental health are on the line. Not to mention finances or childcare arrangements. Or that this isn’t the weekend for their partner to get their stuff out of the garage. Respectfully, clarifying their views one issue at a time, my clients practiced speaking up. Sometimes repeating themselves made a difference and partners listened with the support of the divorce team. What a reward. Clients’ sense of control over their lives grew; they could decide how they spent their time, within the context of agreements made about their separation. They could share their perspectives, make decisions and take action in a way that made sense to them, suited them and their style and way of approaching life.     

Looking Forward. It was now easier to entertain thoughts of the future. Perhaps if they took the time to think about what they wanted (maybe had always wanted) and moved in that direction, things might turn out differently this time. Though it was still scary to think about going back to work, once concerns about children, housing or health issues were addressed at least initially, progress was possible.   

A Gradual Process. Taking the smallest of steps, talking with people in industries of interest and being taken seriously for their ideas was pivotal. Again, it was life changing to have an experience that countered years of feeling discounted, in this case for creative thoughts about work and business. In most cases it didn’t happen overnight, but gradually as my clients built their networks, perhaps enrolled in community college, graduate school, a specific training program, chins lifted. Resumes were updated and particular jobs and companies targeted for their alignment with client interests, values and transferrable skills. Things began to happen. They continued to build momentum in response to the positive feedback and encouragement they received from established and newly formed networks, as unimaginable as this might have seemed a few months ago.

Knowledge and Resources. Practitioners in the mediating and collaborative family law community in Oregon cite the difference that support and education makes for couples that are separating. In the case of divorcing a difficult person, it can make a huge difference. Both parties are eligible for advocacy, coaching, education and care that bring stability and relief to the divorce process, and hope for the future.

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Gail Jean Nicholson, MA, LPC
Divorce Coach / Personal and Career Counselor
1020 SW Taylor St Ste 350
Portland, OR 97205
503-227-4250

Gail’s Website
Email Gail