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Should your Divorce Mediator also be a Mental Health Professional?

It would be great if divorce didn’t exist, people were always happy in their marriage, and stayed married for their whole lives. There was a time when people tended to stay married (not that they were necessarily happier!), and divorce was not common.  Unfortunately, today as we are aware, divorce rates have been quite high, and this continues to be the case.

When a couple decides to separate and/or  divorce, there are certain specific steps as well as legal procedures that need to be taken, and the most important and basic one is agreement on the terms of the separation/divorce. This can be simple, as in cases where there are no significant money or other assets to divide, and no children from the marriage. It can also be quite complex, in cases where a couple accumulated a large amount of material possessions over the course of a marriage, which can include real estate, other financially valuable items, money, and complex assets such as retirement plans, as well as items that may not be so financially valuable but have strong sentimental value to one or both members of the couple.  Then, in situations where there are children, a whole new set of questions arises – who gets to make decisions about their lives and futures, how will their expenses be paid for (kids are expensive!!), where will they live, and when will each parent be responsible for their care and have the right to spend time with them?

There are often no easy and quick answers to these questions. So the options to resolve them are 1: hire lawyers to fight, or 2: work things out peacefully. Obviously, #2 is the healthier choice. It can be difficult for a couple to do this alone however, both for practical and emotional reasons. That’s why Mediation has become such an important part of the Divorce process, because it introduces a neutral professional who is trained in the practical aspects of what must be worked out in a separation agreement, as well as skilled at the art of facilitating negotiation – helping the couple to identify areas of conflict and hopefully resolve these in a fair way that they can both accept.

In recent years one focus of professionals who deal with divorces has been increasing the “quality” of the divorce process – in other words minimizing the damage done by it, and creating mechanisms where people have the opportunity to separate and divorce in a relatively peaceful and non-acrimonious way. This form of harm reduction has been increasingly recognized as crucial – because when separation/divorce is unavoidable, the best thing that can be done is to make it as un-damaging as possible to everyone involved.

Divorce Mediation is the best way to manage the divorce process in a way that minimizes damage to all parties involved. Mediation is the process where a trained and certified Mediator sits with the couple and guides them through the entire process in an active and educational way, making sure each party understands every aspect of each decision that needs to be made, and helping them come to resolution on each of these items.

Fortunately, in recent years the use of Mediation has steadily risen. The reason this is so fortunate is because Mediation is specifically focused on reducing the highly negative factors which in a contentious divorce can severely affect the mental health of all those involved in the divorce process, including of course the couple themselves, and any children they have.  So essentially Mediation is protecting the mental health of divorcing families, and that is extremely valuable.

Many studies have demonstrated the high level of harmful mental health symptoms that can be directly attributed to divorces, both for the divorcing couple and their children.  Therefore, it is crucial to have a mental health professional involved in the separation/divorce process who is trained in areas of divorce involved in whatever ways necessitated by the specifics of the case.  It is equally important to utilize a mediator who is well-trained, certified by a reputable Professional Organization, and knowledgeable in the unique aspects of the divorce process that relate to each particular case.

One trend that has recently been becoming more popular is to utilize a mediator who is ALSO a trained mental health professional. This has the positive effect of having one professional managing the process who is able to accurately identify and address issues related to mental health as they emerge throughout the mediation, and address them on the spot. These types of emotional content and mental health issues come up constantly throughout the mediation process. For example, if a couple is attempting to mediate their divorce, but one area of contention that is proving difficult to resolve is the children’s schedule.  If their mediator is a trained mental health professional who can assess the situation objectively and is able to offer the couple options based on a professional assessment of what the children’s best interests are, that is obviously more effective, efficient, and of course considerably less costly,  than having to go out and hire a forensic psychologist to render an opinion about the subject.  A couple is also more likely to agree to the suggestions of their Mediator if he/she is also a trained mental health professional since they recognize that the Mediator’s suggestions are informed by extensive psychological training and education in these specific areas.

The Mediation process is always preferable to its alternatives, which include going to court or having lawyers fight to get the most for their clients in the divorce.  Some additional reasons why Mediation is preferable to any other way of negotiating and resolving divorce are too extensive to list here; you can read about them on my aricle on the topic here: http://www.drwinder.com/divorce-mediation/advantages

Especially when a couple has children, the main Goal of a “successful” divorce process is to leave the couple in a state where they do not feel hate for each other, are able to communicate successfully going forward, and are both active and effective parents to the children. And the goal should be for the children to be emotionally healthy, feel comfortable in their relationships with each parent, truly feel that both parents love and care for them, and believe that all decisions that are being made are focused on their best interest in mind.  Having a trained Mediator who is also a trained Mental Health Professional can maximize the chances of this being the result of the mediation, and thereby maximize the chances of a positive outcome in what is always a very difficult and stressful process.

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