As an addendum to our article Selecting a Mediator for Divorce and Child Custody, we’ll summarize the different styles of mediators that you may encounter – or even select using “style” as a basis.

One of the most overlooked criteria when people are choosing mediation as a way to resolve divorce and/or child custody matters is the style of mediation that the professional employs.   As is often suggested when we write about selecting a counselor or a therapist – it’s just as important to find one with whom you’re comfortable working and their technique is a key ingredient.  There are three primarily used mediation styles.  They are:

  1. Facilitative
  2. Evaluative
  3. Transformative

The facilitative mediation style is most often employed when dealing with parties who are firmly entrenched in their ways, their demands, and their attitudes.  These are the high-conflict personalities who simply refuse to budge from their list of demands and are the most difficult to work with.  By focusing on the high-conflict personality’s underlying motivations, the facilitative mediator forges ahead, enabling the parties to own the determination of potential resolutions.  They don’t give advice.  They don’t venture a guess as to how the family court may ultimately rule.  A good facilitator will, however, offer helpful suggestions or offer alternative ideas if the disputing parties find themselves “stuck” on a particular issue or issues.  The facilitative mediator operates within the frame work of “today’s reality” as it pertains to your unique situation and may ask either party tough questions to shed irrelevant discussion and focus only on the matter being decided.

The evaluative mediation style often seems more familiar with what normally takes place in family court – if your family court uses “Conference Masters” who serve as an interim step to possibly avoid a hearing.  You may have already been before a Child Support Master or a Child Custody Master during your own proceedings.  The evaluative mediator is a director.  They will offer opinions about the position of one or both parties and how things might be expected to play out during a hearing.  They will often have the necessary knowledge and expertise in that regard to make such judgments.  Sometimes one of the parties will feel as though the evaluative mediator is “siding” with the other side, especially when they convey a potentially bad outcome for the person holding out on a particular issue or issues.  A person is left with a feeling that the evaluative mediator isn’t being independently objective or a neutral third-party under those circumstances.

The transformative mediator is one who allows the parties to drive the process.  This is done with guidance, of course.   Rooted in the ideas of empowerment, recognition, and the idea that proper instruction and direction will help to resolve matters by getting the parties to empathize with each other.  It is not a good option for particularly high-conflict litigants.    It requires communication and understanding between the parties.  It works towards having each side understand and acknowledge the position of the other – their concerns, their fears, and their expectations in the aftermath of the divorce and/or child custody matter.  The goal is not specifically driving towards a settlement, though that is the ultimate hope for outcome.  Once that empathy and understanding is established, once the communication is open, honest, and non-threatening – a positive outcome for both sides is (hopefully) a foregone conclusion.