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How Mediation Is Structured: Family Mediations in Palm Springs, California

At Desert Family Mediation Services we use the Understanding-Based Model for resolving conflict developed by Gary Friedman, Jack Himmelstein and others.

While some styles of mediation focus on more directive approaches that try to predict likely legal outcomes and suggest what is best for you, our experience is that the mediation process can be transformative, and the agreements reached enduring, when partners are facilitated to understand their motivations and to develop their own solutions with compassionate guidance.


Our preference is to have staff at DFMS respond to your initial contacts to answer general questions about fees, getting started, and scheduling. There are also times when we will speak to you directly before meeting face to face for a brief time. In either situation we avoid talking about the facts of your case or what you think you would like to see happen for the simple reason that the other partner is not present. We always strive to remain neutral and the integrity of the mediation process requires that you and your spouse or domestic partner feel confident that this is so. Speaking to one party on any substantive question tends to make the other person fear that a preference is being established, and creates an appearance of bias.

We are commonly asked how best to get the other party on board to begin to meet with us to discuss a possible mediation. There are times when at your request we will attempt to engage the other party directly, often by letter or email, but hopefully you might find that introducing them to this website may be useful.

Orientation Meeting

During the Intake or thereafter, once you and your spouse or partner are ready, we schedule a meeting with you to discuss mediation generally, and to explain how it differs from co-mediation, collaborative law and traditional adversarial litigation. We also explain our mediation styles, overview for you how they are structured, and our fee schedules and how the parties are going to share them, if it all.

We do not charge for Orientations and they create no obligation. They typically take a little more than 30 minutes.

Because our Orientation session is short and without charge we will decline to discuss the facts of your case in any detail. Either then, or later as you wish, we will decide to embark upon a mediation together. It is possible if we have pre-scheduled it to start mediating immediately following Orientation. Many times a couple has already decided to mediate their matter when they initially contact us or make that decision before Orientation and so while we always include an Orientation at no charge we can be available to commence the process at once.

Retaining Your DFMS Mediator

When you are ready to commit to the mediation process you will be asked to sign a written Retainer Agreement and to deposit an amount equal to two to three hours of mediation. Any unused portion of any retainer deposit is always refunded when mediation ends.

Once the initial deposit has been used, mediation services are paid in full at the beginning or at the end as of each session, often from community property funds. We believe that the parties are better served if fees for the process are paid as they are incurred, and invoices will typically be presented at each session. These will include any work that has been performed outside the mediation (including drafting of pleadings or summaries of meetings and agreement). The parties determine at the Orientation whether each pays one-half or which person is expected to make these payments, although the subject of how to allocate the overall cost of mediation may itself properly be one of the many issues to be determined in mediation.

The Mediation Process

At the time fees are deposited we schedule our first session. This is when we discuss in detail not only how the mediation is going to proceed in terms of ground rules and boundaries, joint procedural agreements, and scheduling but also the facts and issues of your case as seen through the eyes of each of you.

Where indicated we will explore the benefits of utilizing outside neutral financial or other professionals.

Later we develop a joint understanding of the personal, emotional, and economic needs and concerns that underlie these facts and issues.

Mediation cannot proceed any faster than each party's ability to understand everything that is relevant to the issues. We do not allow a weaker party to be pushed faster than their comfort demands, and we do not allow a stronger party to dominant the process or the sessions. In many cases we depend on information from outside resources, and so it is difficult here to estimate for you how long before you are finished. Mediation can be concluded in a day, or take several months or more.

We typically will not schedule a session for more than three hours (although not always - different mediators have different preferences), and if necessary to allow parties to assimilate information the meetings may be shorter.

Ultimately with our help you develop and evaluate options for resolution and settlement, once all your values and interests have been understood and expressed between you and your former partner. This requires that we brainstorm all reasonable possibilities before moving to the stage where agreements can be concluded as to the options that make the greatest economic, emotional, and practical sense.

Once both parties are entirely satisfied and comfortable with decisions that they can mutually agree upon the agreement(s) are drafted by the Mediator, reviewed by the parties, executed, and filed with the Court. The mediation is concluded!

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