How does divorce mediation work?

One of the usual questions about mediation is this:  “How does divorce mediation work: do I have to see my spouse at the mediation?”

It depends on the dynamic between the parties and their preferences.  In mediations with attorneys, I typically start off and keep the parties in separate rooms.   When I mediate with the parties only, I like to try to keep them in the same room.

The technical jargon for having the parties in the same room is a joint session.   When the parties are separated, called private caucuses, I’ll go back and forth between separate rooms.  Both joint sessions and private caucuses have their advantages and disadvantages and the choice will reflect the mediator’s approach and other factors.

The Joint Session.

If we mediate in joint session you will be in the same room as your spouse.   Sometimes I will start out in a joint session and go over introductions and what to expect in mediation.   Once that is done, based on what I’m hearing and seeing, I might place the parties in separate rooms.

In joint sessions all participants are present.  Joint sessions fundamentally show what mediation is all about,  They cut down on concerns that either party might have about what is being said in the other room.    In a joint caucus anything that is said has multiple audiences so that when one person speaks the other participant, attorneys and I will hear it.  This allows me to watch the speaker and the listener and evaluate non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions and body language.

The Private Caucus.

Divorce mediation has certain factors that make it sometimes necessary to mediate with the parties in separate rooms. In the private caucus, then I will meet separately with a party and if the party is represented, the party’s attorney. Sometimes private caucuses are used when the participants are too emotional to allow a joint session to productive. If I have heard from the lawyers that a joint session will not be productive, I will simply start with separate caucuses.  For example, if there is a history of domestic violence a mediator should never, in my view, have the parties in the same room (if a mediation is appropriate at all).