Co-Mediation is a variation on the typical Mediation process. In a garden variety divorce mediation in Tennessee, one neutral mediator, typically a lawyer, works with a divorcing couple (and their attorneys if they have them) to try and craft a settlement, which includes a Marital Dissolution Agreement and Permanent Parenting Plan if the parties have children together. Co-Mediation, like Collaborative Divorce, is a process that assumes that divorce is a life event that includes legal, financial, and emotional elements, all of which need to be addressed one way or the other. As such, co-mediation includes a lawyer/ mediator to work with the clients on the legal issues and draft the settlement documents, but it also includes one or more additional mediators to work with the parties on the emotional issues in the divorce, and/or to guide the clients around more complicated financial issues in the divorce.
Co-Mediation gives divorce clients the option to decide how much support they need in each of the three dimensions of divorce – legal, emotional, and financial. If they are experiencing a great deal of conflict, struggle to communicate effectively, and/or are looking to be solid co-parents following the divorce, the idea of having a neutral mental health professional coaching and supporting them through the divorce mediation can be very satisfying for clients. Any seasoned mediator will tell you that when clients struggle to agree to settlement terms or reach an impasse, very often there is an emotional dynamic at play that is part (or all) of the problem. So having two mediators working together – an attorney and a mental health professional – can help the parties bring a more efficient resolution to the divorce.
Other clients may not have children together or may not struggle as much interpersonally, but they have complicated financial estates or issues that need to be addressed in the divorce including around taxes and how they impact the settlement. In those cases, C0-Mediation with an attorney and a financial expert can be the right combination to help the clients in mediation. Financial Mediators should have a nationally recognized credential, such as being a CFP or CPA, so that parties can fully rely on the mediator’s expertise as he or she guides them through thinking about property/ debt division and alimony (spousal support).
Finally, some families decide they could benefit from a mediation process that includes a mediator from each of the three disciplines so that all three of the elements of the divorce are being held by a neutral mediator from each of the three areas.
Divorce clients always have the option of hiring attorneys to represent them in divorce. That is true in mediation as well, although some clients prefer not to pay lawyers to represent them and prefer to work only with a mediator(s). For those clients, one of the things they appreciate about divorce mediation is the fact that the mediator(s) are neutral – they are looking to support both parties collectively rather than strategically trying to jockey on behalf of one party as over and against the other the way attorney/advocates typically do. That neutrality can create a sense of balance and fair play for some clients who worry that the traditional legal system will only deepen the conflict and further damage their relationship – while running up large legal bills. Co-Mediation maintains neutrality across all of the professionals while still providing robust support around the legal, emotional, and financial aspects of the case.
Co-Mediation is a cutting edge practice in Nashville and Middle Tennessee in general, and I believe it can be another helpful option among the “problem solving” approaches to divorce for which so many families are looking as they face the crisis of divorce.