“Co-Mediation” refers to one or more adjunct professionals being in the same room at the same time to mediate a divorce. Rarely are all of them in the room at the same time. (See “Enhanced Mediation” page.) The co-mediators may be present for all or part of the meetings scheduled with the mediating attorney. Not all of Pasadena Collaborative Divorce (PCD – see pasadenacollaborativedivorce.com) attorneys practice co-mediation, so it is important to ask about this up front, when selecting your primary, neutral mediating attorney. I only refer to professionals to whom I would send my mother or my children – Ask me for referrals, whether you decide to use me or not!
Collaboratively trained licensed mental health professionals, financial specialists and family law attorneys know how to “dance together” effectively and efficiently. For couples of more modest means, collaborative professionals can design and adapt collaborative divorce protocols to help cut a couple’s divorce costs. For example, couples often come to Ria for a private Divorce Options orientation (see also Free Divorce Options Workshops) and when Mediation is the best option, begin by having her mediate the parenting plan (formerly called a “Custody Agreement”), then or simultaneously having a neutral financial specialist gather and organize all the financial data, and then go to a family law attorney to mediate the division of assets and debts and write up the final judgment (agreement). The couple and attorney mediator may request the co-mediating mental health professional to come in as needed, when conflict is likely to run high, or may request their financial specialist to attend to clarify tax matters.
Ideally therapists are brought in from the beginning if there is any kind of emotionally-loaded conflict that could stall the mediation with an attorney mediator. Bringing in co-mediating therapists later may be less effective simply because it is harder for the co-mediating therapist(s) to grasp the couple’s hot buttons and manage difficult communication late in the game.
Sometimes a single Divorce Coach serves as a neutral co-mediator, shared by the couple throughout their mediation with the co-mediating attorney. Some partners may each need their own Divorce Coach to help them practice and prepare for how to best approach the difficult but necessary conversations that occur during the mediation. A primary attorney mediator may be working with a couple that is stalled, for example, because of their inability to communicate effectively and because their emotions are so escalated they can’t think straight. Rather than giving up on the couple and sending them off to litigate in court, the attorney mediator may call in either one or two co-mediating mental health professionals to serve as “Divorce Coaches” to help the couple communicate, and to teach them to regulate their emotions sufficiently to be able to proceed effectively with mediation.
Similarly, a couple may be stuck on the details of a financial issue, that only a CPA can fully address. One of our collaboratively-trained financial specialists may be invited in as a neutral co-mediator to help clarify the financial challenges at hand.
When a couple that has been focused on litigation decides to mediate their divorce, they will need a neutral, attorney mediator. To stay out of court, It is wise to hire a mental health professional to mediate the parenting plan first, to select a neutral financial specialist to handle the financial data and to select a primary mediator: a collaboratively-trained family law attorney who will write up all agreements and negotiate the division of assets and debts.
In all mediations, the primary attorney mediator recommends that each partner hire a consulting attorney. While the primary mediator can inform the couple about the law, s/he cannot offer either partner specific legal advice. Consequently, it may be wise to meet with your consulting attorney early in the mediation process if you have concerns, so that you don’t get close to the end and find out you need to go back on earlier agreements that are not advantageous. Going back on earlier agreements may risk undermining the effectiveness of the mediation process. Ideally the consulting attorneys are mediation-friendly, collaboratively-trained family law attorneys. Depending on the case, consulting attorneys can be in the room at the same time as the primary mediating attorney — yet another form of co-mediation.
Ria Severance, LMFT is an experienced co-mediator.