Frequently asked questions
- What is mediation?
Mediation is a process for reaching agreement in which a trained
neutral person helps you identify the issues, gather the necessary
information and documentation to enable you to make informed decisions
and explore settlement options, and, once agreement has been reached,
prepare a written agreement. The mediator is not a judge and does not
“decide” the outcome. Rather, the mediator’s job is to help you and
your spouse resolve the dispute between you on mutually agreeable
- What is family mediation?
Family mediation is a special kind of alternative/appropriate dispute
resolution for family matters, including: divorce, separation,
annulment, child custody, parenting time (visitation), division of
property, child and spousal support, prenuptial agreements, domestic
partnership agreements, and the dissolution of domestic partnership.
The goal is to help you and your spouse resolve the issues outside of
court so you can have an uncontested divorce. Dissolving a marriage in
a cooperative—rather than a combative—manner is particularly helpful if
you have children.
- How does mediation work?
With the help of a mediator, you and your spouse will identify,
negotiate, and equitably resolve the issues raised in divorce. Once
this occurs, the mediator may draft an agreement for your review and to
review with legal counsel if you wish. If everyone is satisfied, the
agreement is then sent to court for an entry of judgment. In the case
of a prenuptial agreement, the document is a legally enforceable
- How much will mediation cost?
Mediation typically costs substantially less than a contested divorce.
The cost will be determined by the complexity of the issues, the time
required to reach agreement, and the willingness of both parties to
work on resolving the issues. Hourly fees are charged for mediation
services and preparation of agreements.
- How long does mediation take?
A typical mediation takes two to five sessions of around two hours
each. If the mediation is successful, our office can draft a divorce
agreement for you and your spouse to review.
- Is mediation confidential?
Mediation is confidential and nothing that is discussed in mediation
can be used by one party against the other. The mediator cannot discuss
anything that occurred in mediation with others unless you request it
and sign a release for the mediator to talk to attorneys, accountants,
- Why should we use mediation?
Although mediation is less expensive and time consuming than
litigation, the best reason to use mediation has nothing to do with
time or money, it has to do with relationships. Research shows that
families who mediate their differences have a substantially better
after-divorce relationship than families who litigate their
differences. If you have children, mediation helps construct and
preserve a solid foundation for co-parenting. If you don’t have
children, mediation helps you end your marriage with dignity and
respect, rather than anger and blame.
- Should we try mediation first?
Mediation is usually a better first course of action, although there
are some exceptions. Mediation is generally not suitable in cases of
ongoing or threatened domestic violence, or if one of the parties is
mentally incapacitated due to psychiatric problems or substance abuse.
If one party believes that assets are being hidden, mediation of
financial matters may be premature until an attorney has completed
legal discovery. These problems do not always completely preclude
mediation, but they may require special attention. A skilled mediator
is trained to manage imbalances of power, level the playing field, or
even terminate the mediation if the process is not working.
- Do I still need an attorney?
Although most issues can be resolved with the help of a mediator, each
party is encouraged to review the decision made in mediation with an
independent attorney before signing an agreement. Even if the mediator
is an attorney (as Ingrid Slezak is), the mediator does not give legal
advice to the parties, but may point out where the legal positions of
the parties might differ. In some mediations, attorneys attend
mediation with their clients, either for all or some part of the
process. No final decisions are made until each party is entirely
comfortable that they have obtained the necessary information and
advice they need.
- What about my other professional advisors?
The mediation process may also include other professionals, including
independent accountants, financial planners, appraisers, custody
evaluators, psychologists, or other therapists. Our office is skilled
in working with all types of professional service firms. These
collaborative efforts often result in a greater degree of client
satisfaction, a stronger commitment to follow through on the terms of
the agreement, and significantly less emotional and financial strain on
- Will I have to go to court?
A judge signs a divorce or modification judgment or decree; however, if
all issues are agreed to, the documents can be mailed or delivered to
the court without the necessity of the parties appearing.
- Is mediation binding?
Mediation itself is not binding, but the agreement reached in mediation
will have the same effect as a court decree after the parties sign it
and the court approves it. Research has shown that parties are more
likely to comply with mediated agreements than orders imposed by the
- What guarantee do I have that the outcome will be fair?
In mediation, you will not agree to anything until you are satisfied that the decisions you make are appropriate.
- My spouse and I are very angry. Will mediation still work for us?
Any divorce is usually accompanied by strong emotions, including anger.
Mediation does not require that you feel particularly kindly toward
your spouse, only that each of you fully disclose all material assets
and be willing to work at resolving issues of mutual concern (e.g.,
future needs, children, equitable distribution of assets, etc.). You
need not even be in the same room with your spouse while the mediation
takes place. As a mediator, Ingrid Slezak is skilled in facilitating
communication between couples who do not communicate well.
- If I start mediation and need a little more time to sort things out, can the process be suspended?
Certainly. Mediation is voluntary and can be suspended or terminated by
either party at any time. The mediator may suggest a break i order for
one or both of the parties to complete homework or research, such as
educational resources, job opportunities, career counseling, financial
- What happens if we can’t agree?
Even if you cannot resolve everything, mediation can still help narrow
the issues and limit the time and expense you spend in court. Mediation
does not mean giving up your right to litigate other parts of your
dispute if you wish. If you do decide to litigate, mediation
proceedings are not admissible in court, so you can proceed as if
mediation had never taken place.
Parent and child divorce education programs
†Reduced to $55 in certain circumstances
Article: Bridging the Gap - Mediating in Situations of Power Imbalance
by Ingrid E. Slezak, JD
Published in the "Oregon State Bar Alternate Dispute Resolution Section Newsletter,"
Every family law mediator has encountered a situation somewhat similar to this:
25 years of marriage, the kids are grown and Husband and Wife are
emotionally done with each other. Husband wants a divorce so that he
can move on with his life. Wife is angry that it's come to this, but
can't stand another minute. Husband has always controlled the finances,
both at home and for his business, Wife has no marketable skills or
current work experience and feels bullied by her husband. Husband
offers the wife the home and $5,000 per month for five years on a "take
it or leave it" basis. Wife would rather take it than confront her
husband. After all, "he always gets his way." They come to mediation
because Husband says it will cost less.
situation raises, among other things, the issue of whether mediation is
appropriate in the light of an imbalance of power. If the fundamental
principle of mediation is that parties exercise self-determination in
reaching resolutions that meet their respective interests, is it
appropriate to mediate at all when participants have markedly unequal
power or status? Assuming that mediation goes forward, what is the
mediator's role in such cases? Is it to advocate for the powerless? To
work toward a solution that is equitable and just? To advocate for a
settlement that conforms to statutory and case law? To make whatever
resolution is possible under the circumstances? Or it is presumptuous
to intervene when the mediator cannot predict how a perceived imbalance
or power actually plays out? There is a subtle dance between couples
that unfolds during mediation and the mediator risks compromising
another fundamental principle of mediation - that of mediator
Numerous commentators have addressed
this issue without clear-cut conclusions. The purpose of this article
is to look at that question through the prism of mediator's practice.
My comments address pro se mediations, and for purposes of this
article, do not include attorney/assisted mediations, although having
attorneys at mediation may, in fact, be one strategy to address
perceived power imbalances.
In his book The Dynamics of Conflict Resolution,
Bernard Mayer defines power in the context of conflict as "the ability
to get one's needs met." He distinguishes between two types of power:
structural, and personal. Structural power is situational. It includes
the resources that persons possess-their authority, assets, earning
power, status, contractual rights and so on-and the legal and political
framework within which the conflict occurs. Personal power includes the
qualities of the individual-determination, focus, eloquence,
forcefulness, knowledge, empathy-that help him or her advance his or
Power comes in many forms, some more subtle than others:
• Formal authority
• Legal rights
• Information and expertise
• Tangible assets
• Intangible personal qualities
• Power to reward
• Power to punish
• Power over process, closely related to:
• Power to define issues and options
• Power to obstruct
• Moral power
•Perceptions of power
may or may not be aware of their own power, or may mistake their own or
another's resources for power. Conversely, a person may project a power
they do not in fact possess. Power may be most potent in its latency,
not in its use. And power may be applied in a variety of ways: 1)
through an appeal to values and beliefs (normative power); 2) through
an appeal to self-interest (utilitarian power); or 3) by threatening
sanctions or taking away options (coercive power).
the parties in family law mediation have different sources and degrees
of power, differ in their awareness of the power they possess, and
differ in their ability to assert their power to advance their
interests. Many factors enter into the power balance: education;
professional status; earning power; self-esteem; depression; sex-role
ideology; a sense of guilt or victimization, attitudes of entitlement
or obligation. In spite of the complexity, though, it often occurs that
one spouse enters the mediation clearly subordinate to the other. In
such a case-in the case described at the beginning of this article, for
example - should the mediator intervene at all? And if the mediator
does intervene, how can he or she redress the "imbalance of power?"
is not alone when he states that "balance of power is a confusing and
possibly meaningless concept. It's not a measurable quantity. Rather,
one should look at differences in power and whether someone has the
power to make something happen. ... the idea that power can be balanced
to produce some equality is misleading as it fails to account for the
dynamics of power."
Instead of equality, Mayer
says, what is needed is that each party have "an adequate basis of
power to participate effectively in conflict...they must be able to
engage with some hope of being influential and effective." If a party
lacks an adequate basis of power due to domestic violence issues, or
other emotional, psychological or social factors, a mediator should
postpone, withdraw from or terminate the mediation. Christopher Moore,
in his book, The Mediation Process, writes "all parties must have some
means of influence, either positive or negative, on other disputants.
This is a prerequisite for a settlement that recognizes mutual needs."
starting point should perhaps be the Model Standards of Conduct for
Mediators adopted by the ABA, the Association for Conflict Resolution
(ACR) and the American Arbitration Association (AAA). Standard VI,
Quality of the Process, states:
A mediator shall
conduct a mediation...in a manner that promotes diligence, timeliness,
safety, presence of the appropriate participants, party participation,
procedural fairness, party competency and mutual respect among all
If one party has the means to force
an "unsatisfactory settlement" on the other, says Moore, ..."the
mediator will have to decide whether and how to assist the weaker
party." Moore recognizes, however, that "empowerment of the weaker
party by the mediator requires very specific intervention
moves-activities that shift the mediator's function dangerously close
And here is the debate that splits
the field. One school believes that a mediator has an obligation to
create fair and equitable settlements and in order to do so must use
techniques to shift the balance of power. Another school argues that
mediators must not meddle with the power relations of the parties
because to do so would compromise the mediator's impartiality, and that
a level playing field is an illusory concept.
submit that the mediator can remain neutral and employ a number of
strategies to address inequities of power. The mediator's commitment is
to both parties. His/her primary goal is to help them reach an
agreement that works for both of them, and in order to do that the
mediator must assist both parties in asserting their legitimate
interests. Indeed, a party may be dominant as to some issues and
disadvantaged in others. The husband may be more dominant and forceful
in the matter of financial assets, a wife more dominant in the matter
of the children, or in her use of anger to achieve her goals. The
mediator may need to help the wife assert her interests productively in
regard to assets and help the husband assert his interests with regard
Bridging the power gap in mediation is
not about reaching an agreement that a mediator feels is just or
equitable. It is not about favoring the weak against the strong. It is
about assisting parties to overcome the barriers to negotiation and
agreement that are presented by overreaching power on the one hand or
passive weakness on the other. The mediator creates a forum and a
process in which both parties are able to assert their respective needs
As the intermediary, the mediator
has numerous powers and tools to use toward this end. Moore defines
some as structural, others as personal.
- Providing a safe and respectful forum for negotiations in which each party can feel empowered.
- Managing the sequence in which issues are addressed.
- Applying appropriate levels of pressure to the parties to encourage movement toward agreement.
- Managing and clarifying communications between the parties.
- Schedule management, so that communications, offers and responses keep moving toward agreement.
- Information exchange, ensuring that both parties are satisfied that the relevant data is on the table in a usable format.
- Bringing experts into the process as needed to resolve issues.
influence over the parties, by virtue of the mediator's experience,
expertise, empathy and impartiality. During negotiations the mediator
may earn a respect that can in turn be used to encourage agreement.
options and alternatives. This is perhaps the heart of the mediator's
role: "If not X, then how about Y?" Quantifying options enables the
parties to assess and compare them.
- Using doubt to soften positions. As an "agent of reality" the mediator questions assumptions and explores consequences.
- Identifying the benefits, both tangible and intangible, of a proposed settlement.
are some of the powers the mediator has that can be exercised in an
impartial manner. What can the mediator do, however, when it is evident
that one of the parties feels hopeless, unable to participate,
dominated or intimidated by the other party?
are many steps the mediator can take in an even-handed way, without
becoming an advocate for one party. In joint session or in caucus, the
mediator can help the disadvantaged party recognize and use the powers
that he or she already has. Exercising the power to say "not so fast"
or simply "no" can trump even the most aggressive ultimatum. By
emphasizing the voluntary nature of mediation, exploring the
consequences of the termination of the mediation, or a range of
outcomes in an alternative forum such as litigation, the mediator's
process creates an opportunity for the person who feels powerless to
explore his or her interests.
the mediator can arrange the setting and the format for the mediation
in a way that makes both parties comfortable. The arrangement of a
table, the mediator's body language, separate conference rooms, breaks
for tea, water or coffee. If the mediator moves - to an easel or across
the room - the conversation is redirected and focus is deflected from
the parties to the mediator.
and perhaps most important, the mediator can help the party understand
and articulate his/her interests in the matter. One way is to give the
parties assignments that require them to develop the necessary
information that leads to informed decision-making. Another is to
ensure that each party has obtained sufficient financial disclosures to
develop a framework for options to be generated and assessed.
the mediator can brainstorm with the parties and add suggestions to the
different options that might help the parties achieve their respective
interests. The mediator can help the party visualize (and sometimes
quantify) the consequences of different options-including the
consequences of capitulation.
the mediator can validate the concerns of each party, including the
party who feels that he or she is in a power-down position, validating
those interests and helping each party separate out emotions, fears,
resentments, values, and real interests that need to be protected,
including interests of outside parties.
the mediator can help each party see what power he/she has in the
situation, which may be unknown to the party - or to the other. The
more the parties perceive that both have power to wield, the more
likely that they will negotiate in good faith, look for trade-offs, and
move toward agreement. In the example at the beginning of the article,
the wife may not know that she has power in her anger, that she has the
power to explore all possible options, the power to say no, the power
to do nothing. Marriages, especially long marriages, involve
reciprocity, sometimes subtle, and it may be clearer to an observant
mediator than to the spouses what compensatory powers the "weaker"
spouse may enjoy.
mediator can ensure that teach party's interests and positions are put
forward effectively, restating and reframing as necessary. If a party
feels intimidated, verbally or otherwise, the mediator has the power to
set a structure that will prevent this. The mediator can redirect a
conversation, or question the relevance of inflammatory topics,
behavior or issues.
In using these techniques the
mediator is not acting as an advocate for one or the other, nor is the
mediator perceived as favoring one side over the other, which would be
fatal to the process. Rather, the mediator appears as the guardian of
process, ensuring that each party has a chance to be heard, that each
party's concerns are recognized and explored, and that all possible
options are considered, both as they might meet the immediate interests
of the parties and for their subsequent consequences. Full
participation by each party, each wielding his or her power with full
knowledge of his or her options, is the best way to reach an agreement
based on the principles of self-determination and informed consent.
Article: Mediate, Don’t Litigate
a relationship is in conflict, trust is the first thing to go. A
decision to divorce or separate is often made by one person in the
relationship without a lot of discussion or agreement with the other.
Even when the decision is a joint one, the period of time from when the
word divorce or separation is spoken to making the choice of how to
proceed can be a no-man’s land of indecision and panic. In this vacuum,
anxiety and fear have ample room to take over. Neither person knows
what the other is really thinking or about to do. Is my spouse going to
move money around, empty bank accounts, or hide assets? How will I
support myself and the kids? Can I keep the house? How do I protect
myself? How can we afford this?
Things can escalate
are normal reactions to the inevitable stress of an impending
separation or divorce. Many couples are able to calm their fears and
proceed to work things out. Others take unilateral action. They hire
the best lawyer they can (or can’t) afford. They get restraining orders
from the court. They take half — or all — of the cash out of the bank.
The cycle has begun.
Each one thinks that he or
she is acting defensively to protect their interests, but these actions
are always perceived as aggressive by the other spouse, who responds by
defending him or herself. The spiral starts: a series of escalating
moves that intensify the conflict and erode what little trust remains.
Friends and relatives will urge you to protect yourself, assert your
rights, and hire a tough lawyer! Once that occurs, you have made the
most important decision you can make. You have turned your conflict
over to other hands. It will take a long time before things get calmed
Even when a couple is talking and trying to
handle things civilly for themselves and the kids, it is impossible not
to feel anxiety and fear for the future. The ending of a relationship
is often a sad and angry business, and the future outside of the
relationship is unknown and scary.
ninety-five percent of divorce cases are settled before they go to
trial. But litigation has a life of its own, and cases follow certain
patterns before they reach the negotiation stage: attorney/client
consultations, discovery, depositions, expert witnesses, appraisals,
hearings, telephone conferences, settlement proposals . . . the list
goes on, and so do the bills.
What is mediation?
is a process in which a skilled, neutral mediator works with the
parties, using a step-by-step approach, to gather information, educate
the clients, analyze the data, generate options, and, once all the
parties are fully informed, negotiate a fair and informed settlement.
The parties are given information along the way about their specific
issues, and where there are further questions, the couple is encouraged
to get independent advice from attorneys, accountants, custody
evaluators, psychologists or other professionals. Mediation does not
eliminate the right to have an attorney advise you of the best options
to protect your interests; rather, it works in conjunction with
attorneys to allow individuals to collaboratively negotiate an
agreement for themselves. Mediation can help you work out property
settlements, child support, spousal support or alimony, as well as
custody and parenting time plans.
You save money
if both parties have retained legal counsel, the cost of settling
through mediation is substantially less than settling through
attorneys. Rather than paying these highly skilled professionals
full-time, mediation allows you to use them selectively and where
appropriate to ensure that you’re getting the information and advice
you need. Once you reach agreement on all issues, a contract known as a
dissolution judgment will be filed with the court. This contract lists
and divides your property and financial obligations, establishes
custody, parenting time, child support, and spousal support or alimony.
Even if you can’t reach agreement on everything, many issues can be
resolved in mediation, limiting the issues that might need to be
You’re in control
allows people who have a disagreement – and who may even be in high
conflict with each other – to resolve their differences in a way that
is fair to all, consistent with state law, and meets the interests of
each of them. It also helps parties focus on the future, and where
children are involved, on a new relationship as parents. The outcome of
the mediation is in the hands of the parties because they control the
result. Mediation is private and confidential. If mediation fails, the
parties can turn their dispute over to a judge or an arbitrator to make
a decision for them. But when the parties are able to work with a
mediator to settle their issues, they are more likely to tailor a
result that meets their particular circumstances. And when children are
involved, mediation promotes the conflict resolution skills that enable
the parties to put their “marital argument” behind them and cooperate
in the task of parenting after divorce.
Books on divorce
Condrell, K. N., & Small, L. L. (1998). Be a great divorced dad. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.
handbook that covers the practical and emotional issues facing divorced
fathers today. Offers advice, guidance and support for the ever-growing
number of divorced fathers who seek to remain “real” dads, but fear
that their situation after divorce will make that impossible.
Gold, L. (1992). Between love and hate: a guide to civilized divorce. New York, Plenum Press.
with checklists and exercises, as well as case histories of couples who
have found that mediation really works, Between love and hate empowers
couples to negotiate, handle sensitive issues, and resolve conflicts in
a way that allows them to emerge from divorce with their emotional
Ackerman, M. J. (1997). Does Wednesday mean mom’s house or dad’s? Parenting together while living apart. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
this wise and practical guide, Ackerman helps parents deal with the
legal and emotional issues of child custody in divorce. He does not
focus on “winning” custody battles but on finding the best arrangement
for both parent and child. This book guides parents through coping with
children’s guilt, fear and feelings of abandonment, as well as
practical issues such as custody disputes, relocation, remarriage, and
long distance co-parenting.
Parker, K. F., & Jones, V. (1993). Every other weekend. Nashville, Tenn: T. Nelson.
Straight talk to divorced men who love their children but no longer live with them.
Ahrons, C. R. (1994). The good divorce: Keeping your family together when your marriage comes apart. New York: HarperCollins.
landmark longitudinal study of randomly selected post-divorce families
offers hope that splitting spouses may be able to handle their breakup
in a way that will permit both “adults and children [to] emerge at
least as emotionally well as they were before the divorce.” The Good
Divorce offers advice and explanations to troubled couples for whom
“staying together for the sake of the children” is not a healthy or
Neuman, M. G., & Bashe, P. R. (1998). Helping your kids cope with divorce the sandcastles way. New York: Times Books.
takes a hands-on approach and believes that children need not be
permanently scarred by divorce—that with work and time, divorce can
actually become a positive force for change. A powerful tool for
protecting children caught amid parental struggles. The book is packed
full of suggestions on everything from the best way to break the
divorce news to a child to facing the holidays, visitation, custody
arrangements, anger, discipline, co-parenting, single parenting,
overcompensation, sorrow, custody fights and much more.
Ross, J. A., & Corcoran, J. (1996). Joint custody with a jerk: Raising a child with an uncooperative ex. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
hands-on, practical guide offers many proven communication techniques
that will not only help readers deal with a difficult ex by describing
examples of common problems, but also teach them how to examine their
roles in theses sticky situation.
Ricci, I. (2000). Mom’s house, dad’s house: Making two homes for your child. New York: Macmillan.
essential guide to life after divorce is a handbook for getting along
and raising sane children in the wake of a divorce. Ricci offers
specific techniques parents can use to establish a working, cooperative
relationship with each other.
Emery, R. E. (1994). Renegotiating family relationships: Divorce, child custody, and mediation. New York: Guilford Press.
Emery has written both a ‘how-to’ and a ‘why’ book. Emery takes
mediators through a step-by-step process of six sessions lasting two
hours each to achieve a win-win, rather than win-lose divorce and
custody settlement. This is a well-written book containing many germs
of truth about social relations as well as highly specific instructions
for accomplishing mediation between conflicting parties. It is a useful
work for mediators, judges, lawyers (whom the author recommends for
reviewing mediated agreements), state legislators who might become
involved in legislation requiring mediation prior to litigation, the
general population, particularly those anticipating divorce or those
who have already gone through one, and anyone involved in an ongoing
Adler, R. E. (1988). Sharing the children: How to resolve custody problems and get on with your lifeBethesda, Md: Adler & Adler.
distinguishes this book from others on divorce is its focus on the need
for businesslike cooperation between the divorcing parents for the sake
of their children. Adler offers much practical advice on how to achieve
such cooperation, even suggesting how to choose a lawyer sensitive to
this issue and including a sample parental agreement. Summary outlines
and appendices, which include a self-help checklist, a comparison of
children’s needs at different ages, and a sketch of the custody laws of
the different states are extremely helpful.
Books on mediation
Butler, C. A., & Walker, D. D. (1999). The divorce mediation answer book: Save time, money, and emotional energy with a mediated separation or divorce. New York: Kodansha International.
this accessible question-and-answer guide, two experts address the many
issues involved with mediated separation or divorce, from finding the
mediator and dealing with emotions to discussing custody arrangements
and figuring out financial terms.
James, P. (2001). The divorce mediation handbook: Everything you need to know. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
an expert in the field of divorce mediation, presents a clear view of
what actually takes place in the mediation sessions and shows how
couples can create a process that is non-adversarial and healthier for
Standards of practice
Ingrid Slezak Family Mediation Services fully subscribes to the Standards of
Practice for Family and Divorce Mediation prescribed by the Association for Conflict Resolution. For a copy of the standards of practice, click here.
If you have any questions or would like more information, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or give us a call at 503-351-4991.
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