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While we wouldn't say that co-mediating your dissolution or custody matter is necessarily superior to engaging a sole mediator, we find that there are benefits to co-mediation that particularly assist some parties. Could a team of two oppositely gendered professionals be more effective than the more traditional practice of using only one?

The reality is that men and women experience the breakup of marriages or non-marital relationships differently, and this assertion is supported by research in the mental health sciences. We suspect this comes as no surprise since many of the couples we meet complain how the other failed to understand differences in emotional views and experiences as the relationship unraveled - indeed, it is always one of the contributing causes. This tension accompanies people into the mediation room and without guidance it continues to block a dialogue that is necessary to sensitively address the needs and concerns of each partner; it is sometimes a source of immense frustration that actively inhibits a solutions based conversation that tends to swing some people into at least mild fits of outrage. Such moments are exactly what fuels the litigation alternative as one or both parties shuts down and gives up, ready to engage in an adversarial arm's race "no matter what it costs" or "to the last penny" that no calm person would want for themselves, much less for their children. The essence of conflict, and the best way to perpetuate it, is to wrap one's fist tightly around a core value seen only from the point of view of the observer and refuse to budge. Gender differences can take control of the dispute and yet be entirely unnoticed.

At DFMS we consider such moments to be opportunities to begin to reframe the discussion. Co-mediation can help each party to understand that the different approaches to conflict that seem so divisive (and truly can be) aren't so much 'personal' as they are a function of conditioning. This is not imply that mediators carry some magic wand of understanding that automatically relieves the tension and discord of views in collision, but where disputants are willing to open up just a little and to admit the possibility that differences in perspective are natural and unconscious  - conditioned and possibly even biological - mediators can facilitate movement that is otherwise unexpected. Whole new possibilities arise.

With one mediator and two parties a sort of triangulated interrelationship can seem to begin to develop. The parties' interactions become one side of that triangle with an energetic anxiety moving back and forth between them as difficult subjects relating to the functional consequences of divorce are aired and considered. Each party may be, quite reasonably, fearful that the familiar communication blocks will re-emerge and limit considerations relating to the needs of each side. Indeed that often does occur for a time. If that anxiety is not redirected by the mediator, each party attempts to align the mediator's views with their own in a bid for reassurance. If unchecked this inevitably leads to a sense of bias for the other party who worries that the mediator is being swayed by the first party, regardless whether bias in fact exists. Since with a single mediator for opposite sex parties one person is of the same sex as the mediator, suspicion or worry over bias can even reach panic proportions. Obviously it takes skill for the mediator to de-escalate such concerns, but perhaps you can see that a dual mediator model allows each party to feel equally supported and reassured.

There are many other benefits of co-mediation. Two mediator professionals assisting a couple always creates a synergy and a collective wisdom of what is actually happening in the room between the parties, and even an inspired approach to problem solving. It serves as a regulator on unconscious biases which might be held by the mediators and so enter the process.

At DFMS we believe that "two heads are better than one." We recognize that this can make the process more expensive than many families can afford, or to cost more than the parties want to spend even when their resources are substantial. We do not mean to imply that a successful mediation requires two facilitators. It is simply another tool to assist you these difficult transitions, of greater or lesser value depending upon the dynamics of your relationship. We are passionate about mediation and honestly love what we do. Co-mediation makes the process even more satisfying for us, but our joy derives entirely upon meeting and working with you towards positive outcomes. For this reason we reduce the fees together significantly below what each of us charges individually.

If you believe that some of the tensions that your relationship dispute includes relate to male/female differences in viewpoints, or if co-mediation is a process that has advantages that resonate for your life, please consider it is a worthy option.

Thurman W. Arnold, III, CFLS
Mediator and Family Law Attorney


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