Power Imbalances in Divorce Mediation
One of the basic requirements of divorce mediation is that the mediator be neutral and impartial. Certainly, this means that the mediator should not be taking sides or favoring either party. But it also means that the mediator may need to be more directive at times to ensure the integrity of the parties’ decision-making.
In this excellent blog post, Susan Ingram writes that it’s the couple that makes all of the decisions in divorce mediation, not the mediator. And the couple needs to be able to make “informed decisions.” What do she mean by informed decisions? Each of them must have all of the information, and fully understand that information, in order to make an appropriate decision on each of the issues they are addressing.
Like Susan, I am often asked – but what if there’s a power imbalance between the parties? Can I, as their mediator, successfully mediate their divorce? The answer in the vast majority of cases is yes.
I view my task in these instances as that of being “omni-partial,” meaning that I am partial toward all (or in the case of divorce mediation, both) of the participants. Thus, during our mediation sessions, I am always attentive to any imbalances that may exist.
Power imbalances can take many different forms. They may be overt or subtle. For example:
One spouse may be more knowledgeable as to financial matters than the other. If the less-knowledgeable spouse is having difficulty in budgeting and understanding the implications of various financial options, I may have them work with a financial professional who can clearly explain the options available to them.
If one party is more verbal and/or more assertive during discussions than the other, I will take steps to ensure that the quieter person’s voice is heard.
By being aware of power imbalances, the mediator can support the “less-powerful” person so that he or she can participate fully in the mediation. With balance, both parties are able to make informed decisions for themselves and their family.