Mediation offers a good alternative for some divorcing couples

This article looks at divorce mediation in British Columbia, including some of its advantages and drawbacks.

Divorce mediation has a long history in British Columbia, having been first recognized and regulated by the Law Society of British Columbia in 1984. However, as the Vancouver Sun reports, it has only been in the past decade or so, and in conjunction with governmental support, that mediation has grown to become a viable and popular alternative to resolving many divorces in the province. The advantages of mediation are fairly numerous, including often being cheaper and less adversarial when compared to litigation. Mediation, however, is not a panacea that will resolve all divorces equally well and it is important for couples considering mediation to know whether the process is likely to work for their needs.

What is mediation?

As the British Columbia Ministry of Justice points out, mediation can take a variety of forms. A mediator, for example, may be a Family Justice Counsellor, a lawyer, judge, social worker, or other professional who is qualified to carry out family dispute mediations. Likewise, while some mediations proceed with both spouses sitting at the same table along with a mediator and resolving their issues face to face, in other situations the spouses may be kept separate from one another and negotiate their settlement through a neutral mediator. What is most important to understand about mediation is that it is an alternative to litigation, meaning that outstanding issues that arise during the divorce are resolved out-of-court and by the spouses themselves (with the assistance of the mediator).

What are the benefits?

Every divorce is unique and couples choose mediation for a variety of personal reasons. Money can be a big motivating factor, since mediation typically costs just a fraction of what litigation would cost. However, couples should not choose mediation based on finances alone; rather, they have to be well-suited to a mediated settlement in order for the process to work. Couples who are still able to negotiate in a mature and respectful manner with one another and who can keep their own emotions from overwhelming their decisions are most likely to benefit from mediation. Furthermore, mediation tends to be less adversarial than litigation, which can make the process less upsetting not just for the divorcing spouses, but also for any children they may have.

What are the drawbacks?

While it would be great if all divorces could be resolved amicably and without the intervention of a judge, the fact is that in some cases litigation is a necessity. Mediation often fails when there is a power imbalance in a couple's relationship or when trust has broken down during the negotiations (such as if one spouse attempts to hide assets from the other). In highly complex divorces, as well, couples may need or may prefer to rely on the court to resolve the numerous issues that can arise when dividing a large marital estate.

Family law

Deciding whether or not mediation may be the right process for a particular couple requires careful planning and consideration. A family lawyer, who has experience in divorce mediation, can inform couples about what mediation entails and whether it may be suitable to their particular circumstances.