Divorce Mediation: A "Holistic" Approach to Divorce
Author: Joelle A. Perez
When I am meeting a person for the first time and sharing with them what I do for a living as a divorce mediator, I often describe divorce mediation as a more holistic approach to divorce. We often hear the term holistic used in medicine, but what does this really mean when used to characterize a divorce process?
If you Google holistic, you will find the following definition: “characterized by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just physical symptoms of the disease.”
I think of divorce mediation as a holistic approach because its focus is not only on the termination of the marriage, but rather, it focuses on the entire family, the continued relationship of the parties to a divorce (especially where children are involved), how to best prepare the parties to anticipate future events that may occur after the divorce is finalized, and provides the parties with an overarching framework for moving on with their lives.
The divorce mediator has many roles. As mediators, we must have a good understanding of the law to provide our clients with helpful information; we must be able to wrap our brains around the parties’ financial circumstances (or know when to bring in an expert to assist); and, we must help our clients navigate the murky waters of co-parenting, among other things. We do this by providing an emotionally safe and supportive environment that fosters honest negotiation that leads to agreement and ultimately, the comprehensive settlement of the disputes. While we must fill all these roles and remain neutral, we also keep in mind that often times, we may need to refer our clients to independent legal counsel, financial advisors, therapists and other professionals in order to see that all of our clients’ needs are being met.
Some of what we do focuses on fact finding, such as completing financial budgets to better understand the future financial needs of the parties. We also help our clients' gain a full understanding of their goals when it comes to parenting time and decision making for their children - assisting them in putting together a plan that works for the entire family and that anticipates changes as their children get older. We explore a variety of living arrangement options and discuss the implications of those options, including keeping or selling the marital home. The list goes on and on.
My point is, we, as mediators, are not just in this to reach a simple end result—i.e. terminating the marriage or, focusing on the “physical symptoms”, if you will. We are in this to help the parties focus on moving forward in the healthiest way possible and to provide them with essential information, empowering them to make the best decisions for their family and for themselves. We do this by looking at the family as a whole (not at what is just best for one or the other) and providing them with the tools to handle changing circumstances, to rebuild their lives, and welcome their next chapter.