The greatest challenge to any thinker
is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is mediation?
Mediation is an enlightened approach where two or more people, with or without legal representation, have a dialogue that is facilitated by an impartial third person to create a workable solution. Debra Synovec uses an integrated approach to mediation in which legal, financial, and relational aspects are considered.
Is my situation appropriate for mediation?
Most people are able to achieve positive results through mediation. Debra Synovec’s client-centered mediation approach is based on the belief that most people in mediation are capable of arriving at a constructive agreement. This type of mediation focuses on the unique needs of the parties in each case and is tailored to meet those needs to achieve the best possible outcome for everyone. Divorcing couples are able maintain much more control and self-determination compared to other approaches. Even people who have experienced high conflict and acrimony are able to efficiently and rationally resolve their conflicts using Debra’s mediation framework.
How can we mediate since we have so much conflict?
Mediation is not just for people who are cooperative and able to talk with one another. Mediation can be used by all divorcing couples, including high-conflict couples. The mediator manages the process and helps people, whether they are hostile, cooperative, or someplace in between, to identify issues, create options, and add structure in order to reach agreement. No matter how much conflict is involved, a skilled mediator uses various methods to facilitate cooperative communication, balance power differences, gather information, keep the parties on track, and avoid impasses so that the parties are able to reach an agreement.
How can mediation work if the other person is so much more powerful?
Power differences occur in most relationships. Power is very hard to identify, and clients do not know their own power. Through various rules, communication techniques, information-gathering methods, and intervention skills, the mediator is able to even out most power imbalances. The goal of mediation is to empower both clients while seeking a mutually agreeable solution.
How do we select a mediator?
Choosing your mediator is an extremely personal decision. Select a mediator as carefully as you would choose a heart surgeon! You will be discussing and making decisions about the things you care about most, so make sure the mediator is someone you can trust. Interview the mediator, ask questions, and make sure they are knowledgeable, dedicated, and compassionate. Questions to consider:
- Education and Credentials. Is the mediator an attorney, a therapist? Did they receive their training from a nationally recognized provider? Have they continued to update and perfect their skills? Are they listed with credentialing organizations, such as the Association of Conflict Resolution? No matter what their education is, make sure the mediator also possesses sufficient experience to mediate your particular case effectively.
- Has the mediator mediated a substantial number of cases? (Some people within the mediation profession believe a mediator does not become masterful until they have completed at least 100 cases.) Have they had experience with the types of emotional situations you anticipate? Mediation is not therapy, but emotions will flare up, and the mediator needs to be able to guide you through these stressful situations. Does the mediator have experience with the types of substantive issues you need mediated (legal, financial, family, business, and divorce)? If they do not have sufficient knowledge about your type of dispute, the mediator may either miss important issues or may require that you see an outside specialist, which might cost you more time and money.
- What process does the mediator use? A facilitative process with the parties in the same room, even if it sounds hard, is the most productive. It leads to the most durable agreements and client satisfaction. Shuttle mediation, in which clients are separated and the mediator goes back and forth between them, may sound promising, but it can be cumbersome and ineffective because the clients lose the benefit of face-to-face dialogue. In fact, shuttle mediation is often done not for the benefit of the clients, but for the benefit of the attorneys who are often unable handle their clients’ emotions themselves.
- Is the mediator dedicated to the mediation process? The most effective mediators are the ones who believe in the mediation; they know it serves clients best.
How should I prepare for mediation?
Think about these ideas before attending mediation or discuss them with someone you trust. Understand your goals and needs, what matters to you most. Think about how an outcome will benefit not only you but your family.
- Expect the discussion to go beyond the legal issues. Think about what is of highest value to you. Examples may include: your children’s stability, being respected, a constructive relationship with someone, or ending the stress of litigation. These can be of equal or higher value than money or principle.
- Think about what interests are most important for you to achieve. Understand where you may be willing to make concessions to get what you most want.
- Think about what the other person needs. The other person’s goals and needs may overlap with yours or they may be different. Mediation helps people find creative ways to common ground. Think about questions to ask the other person to find what is most important to them.
- Create a list of options. Consider a variety of ways to meet your needs and those of the other person. Be creative and leave open the possibility that you will find more options through your discussions in mediation.
How does mediation compare to Collaborative Law?
Mediation and collaborative law are two methods that have the objective of resolving issues cooperatively. Collaborative law attorneys enter into an agreement to cooperate and to not litigate even if the couple is at an impasse; however, the attorneys have an ethical duty to protect their own client’s interests. If the parties are unable to reach settlement, the attorneys are required to withdraw from the case. With the collaborative law practice, a team approach is frequently used, and the team controls the process for the clients. Collaborative law may be preferable if the clients need real-time legal advice.
Using the facilitated mediation method, Debra Synovec works with her clients to determine the process. The mediation process is determined on a case-by-case basis that focuses on the clients’ unique needs and interests. Thus, Debra’s clients typically have more self-determination in the facilitated mediation approach than they have in collaborative law method. If mediation clients prefer or need to have real-time legal advice and representation, their attorneys may be present during the mediation session or available by telephone. During her many years of mediation work, Debra has found that mediation is often more empowering, more efficient, and less costly than the collaborative law approach.
How does mediation compare to litigation?
Mediation allows the couple to address all issues of the dispute. With the traditional legal approach, the judge imposes a decision or the attorneys craft an agreement, often leaving parties feeling as if they are on the sidelines. In mediation, the parties make their own decisions based on their particular circumstances. Mediation usually reduces resentment and emotional and physical stress, requires less time, saves money, and creates effective ways to resolve future conflicts. Mediation establishes an environment that is supportive and promotes cooperative communication while balancing power differences. Mediation allows the parties to resolve their issues privately with dignity and integrity. Specifically, mediation:
- promotes communication and cooperation
- allows the parties, not the court, to make decisions affecting their future
- promotes positive relationships by reducing conflict
- is confidential because there is no public disclosure of personal problems or finances
- usually costs less than litigation
If I use mediation, do I also need an attorney?
Debra Synovec encourages each party to have their own attorney in order to obtain legal advice throughout the process or, at a minimum, to review the final documents. The degree to which the parties use attorneys depends on the nature of the case and their needs. Debra Synovec is an attorney, but she does not act as an attorney or represent anyone in mediation. She does not advise clients regarding their legal rights or responsibilities. An attorney can play an important role by advising you, clarifying legal issues, helping you to understand your needs, and by creating options. Debra Synovec is comfortable working closely with clients and their attorneys to further the shared goal of resolution.
How much does mediation cost?
The cost of mediation depends on the complexity of the situation. Mediation services are charged on an hourly basis for the time the clients spend in session and are paid at the end of each session. Additional charges are incurred for the time that it takes to draft the mediation agreement and are paid when the document is completed. There are no hidden charges in mediation. One study done by Boston Law Collaborative indicates that divorce mediation was approximately one-third the cost of a collaborative law divorce, one-quarter the cost of a litigated divorce that does not go to trial, and less than one-tenth the cost of a full-scale litigated divorce.
Is the mediated agreement legally binding?
Yes. The mediated agreement becomes legally binding once the parties have signed the written agreement. If litigation has already started, the court will enter a formal order or release.
What happens if no agreement is reached?
If you are unable to reach an agreement in mediation, you are free to use any other method of dispute resolution that is available. Mediation is a confidential process, and the mediator cannot be called into court to testify except in rare instances.