Debunking Five Mediation Myths

Mediation has been a beneficial development in judicial administration. It has resulted in the settling of cases that would otherwise have cost the parties countless dollars and emotional distress.

However, it does not automatically result in a happy outcome. One reason people have gone away from mediation with unhappy results has been a false concept of what mediation is about and what one must do to prepare for it.

At Rubinstein & Holz, our lawyers provide objective advice about all of your legal options for your family law issue. We help our clients fully understand what mediation can and cannot do so that they make informed decisions about their futures.

The following are common myths that people have had concerning the process. Having a realistic view of the process is necessary to avoid bad results.

Myth #1: "Everything We Say Is Confidential So I Can Be Perfectly Frank."

While it is true that most communications in mediation (other than those relating to criminal acts) are inadmissible in evidence, it does not follow that you can be perfectly frank without fear of hurting your case. Saying the wrong thing can hurt your case in many ways:

  • You could divulge too much information: While a statement is not admissible in court, there is nothing to prevent the opposing attorney from asking your client a question regarding the statement, either at the trial or at deposition. For example, if you admit to a secret bank account, the other side then can inquire as to that specific account or even subpoena the bank records directly.
  • You might expose your vulnerability: If for example, you say you are fearful of going to court, the other side might be encouraged to press their case rather than settle.
  • You could create resentment among your spouse: If you tell the other side what you really think of them, you might create such anger on their part that settlement becomes impossible.
  • You could hurt your chances in trial: You could disclose your trial strategy or indicate that a witness they fear is no real threat.

Myth #2: "Since No One Can Force Me To Reach An Agreement, I Don't Have To Prepare."

Even where parties enter the process intent on not giving one inch, the process is such that a skilled mediator can exert tremendous pressure to settle. Many people enter the conference thinking that it is a waste of time and they leave with a settled case. As with everything else, the person who is in greater command of the facts will have the advantage.

This is not to say that your preparation should be the same as if you are going to trial because that is neither practical nor necessary. However, it should be clear that you fully understand the case and will be able to handle any contingencies that arise. You should prepare for the mediation in the same manner as you would prepare for serious negotiations, for that is what you are doing.

Myth #3: "To Settle The Case In Mediation, Everyone Has To Be Fair And Nice To Each Other."

This is a wonderful philosophy, and it is the way it ought to be. It is a worthy goal, and this mindset is usually the most likely path to settlement. That said, just because the other side behaves poorly doesn't mean the case won't settle.

People settle cases in mediation as a result of all the psychological and circumstantial reasons they settle it in any context. People want to feel that their needs are being met and receiving a fair treatment. Other less lofty motivations, including fear, greed and embarrassment, will also impact the chances of a settlement.

Myth #4: "Since Settlement Requires Agreement, I Must Convince The Other Side, Not The Mediator."

It is true that the mediator does not decide the case, and it is the other side that must be persuaded to accept your proposal. However, the mediator, particularly a strong and reasoned personality, can be a beneficial force on your behalf. They can impact not only the lawyers, but upon the mediating parties as well.

There are many instances where parties posture fiercely. As soon as the mediator suggests that a particular viewpoint is fair or realistic, the momentum can immediately shift from confrontation to conciliation, and then to settlement.

Additionally, the mediator frequently is the one doing your direct negotiation for you. You may end up negotiating directly with the mediator rather than the other side. While you may want to avoid a direct argumentative plea to the mediator, you need to be aware that the mediator's opinion indeed counts for much.

Myth #5: "A Bad Settlement Is Better Than A Good Victory."

This is another statement popularized by those folks who believe that everyone should get along at the end of the process rather than "winning" by obtaining the outcome you need. There is a lot of merit in that philosophy and approach, but don't assume it is the other parties' goal.

The best way to understand the dynamics of divorcing couples is to follow the news reports in the media as to other conflicts and imagine the parties going through a divorce. Imagine, for example, an announcement prior to the World Series to the effect that the teams have settled their controversy and have agreed that one team beat the other team four games to two, but the losing side's pitcher threw a no-hitter and everyone is happy with the result. We would be astounded because we know that the teams would rather play the game rather than "settle."

If you have any additional questions about mediation, contact our Fort Myers office at 239-790-4314.