How Mediation Differs from Litigation

Welcome to the second topic in our new series about using mediation to avoid divorce court backlogs. Last month we started with an overview of exactly what divorce mediation is.  Today we will talk about the main differences between mediation and litigation. This information will help you understand why it makes sense for most divorcing couples to use mediation at some point during their divorce. Read more

May the Holidays Bring You Light and Hope

Once again, winter is here. The days have grown short, and the nights are cold. While most of us look forward to the light and cheer of the holidays, for those going through a divorce, light and cheer can feel like scarce commodities. Some people find themselves alone for the first time in years. Others have young children at home but struggle with figuring out how to afford the usual gifts and activities. If this sounds like you, remember that you are in the worst of it right now and better days are ahead. Read more

Scary Behavior in Divorce Mediation

divorce mediation horror stories

If you have read this blog before, you know that as a rule, we strongly encourage divorcing couples to resolve their disputes through mediation. Given our strong support of the process, you may be wondering if we ever think it is not a good idea to engage in mediation. Well, the sad answer is yes. There are cases where one or both spouses show such scary behavior that mediation is not possible.

While virtually no one is always on their best behavior during a divorce, if certain negative personality traits take over, it can make things especially difficult. This does not mean that people who demonstrate such personality traits can never engage in successful mediation, but it does mean that if you spot these traits—either in your spouse or in yourself—there is reason to proceed with caution.

In honor of October, here are a few of the scary characteristics that can derail divorce mediation:


Ideally, you will go into divorce mediation trusting your spouse 100%. Although this ideal is extremely rare in divorce, you must at least trust your spouse to be financially honest. Spouses – even divorcing spouses – are bound by law to be honest with each other about their income, their assets, and their financial obligations. To help keep the parties on track in divorce mediation, they sign a participation agreement pledging honesty during the proceedings. If either party violates this agreement, it can be difficult to repair trust and move forward.


Vindictive spouses are out for revenge. They are not interested in mutually beneficial solutions but instead feel the need to win at all costs. Successful mediation is built on the idea that both parties are pursuing a fair resolution. If you believe that your spouse would rather burn everything down than concede anything, mediation will be challenging.


If your spouse seems to lack empathy and yet still manages to come across as somewhat charming, you may be dealing with a narcissist. Narcissists think they are special. They want to be the center of attention and do not consider other people’s needs to be as important as their own. They may take positions aimed at making themselves look better, such as insisting on primary or joint custody just to look like a good parent, rather than out of a true desire to be a good parent. Successful mediation requires a commitment to reaching a fair resolution, so someone who is continually trying to manipulate things to be heavily weighted toward their own needs will not be easy to work with.

Borderline Behavior

A person suffering with borderline personality disorder is terrified of abandonment and yet often pushes people away first to avoid being left. If your spouse vacillates between putting you on a pedestal and treating you like trash, you might be looking at some borderline traits. Life with someone like this is an emotional rollercoaster and trying to mediate with them will be no different. In fact, it may well be worse, as divorce will trigger all their deepest fears. A person who fears being abandoned by everyone, including their own children, may engage in manipulative tactics in a frantic effort to avoid this.

High Anxiety

People with high anxiety often have trouble letting go of perfectionism. This can translate into difficulty with compromise. The anxious person does not mean to be unreasonable but may be unable to manage the overwhelming fear that certain scenarios stir up. For example, they may be terrified at the thought of running out of money or of losing their home and having to move. Anxiety often spikes especially high around parenting issues. A highly anxious parent may be afraid to leave their children alone with the other parent, even if that parent is a perfectly competent caregiver. This can lead to an insistence on primary custody and an effort to control the rules and environment in the other parent’s home.

Negative Traits and Scary Behavior in Divorce

We all have personalities that include both positive and negative traits. Divorce can bring our worst traits to the forefront, which can lead to scary behavior that may stymie mediation. Hiding information, unfairly blaming the other party for everything that has gone wrong, using the kids as weapons, and trying to manipulate the other party with extreme emotional reactions, such as yelling, sobbing, or making threats, are all forms of bad behavior.

Since October is not just the scary month, but also National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it is important to point out that the ultimate form of bad behavior is domestic violence or abuse. If you have any question about whether your spouse’s behavior is veering into this kind of territory, take a look at this post for guidance on exactly what domestic violence is and when it should (or should not) make mediation completely out of the question.

What about the other types of scary behavior? If you have identified your spouse in any of the profiles above, you may have a new understanding of where their behavior is coming from. But what can you do with this information? Does it completely rule out mediation? What can you do to move forward, and how can you know when it is time to move to litigation?

In most cases, there is a lot you can do. Come back next month for some details. Meanwhile, do not let yourself be scared off by this post! In the vast majority of cases, divorce mediation offers a host of benefits when compared to litigation. These potential benefits include cost savings, improved privacy, and generally lower levels of conflict.

If you and your spouse are interested in talking to an experienced divorce mediator, contact us today for an initial consultation.

Benefits of Mediation for Divorce

Benefits of mediation

Happy New Year! We hope you have had a chance to rest, recharge, and prepare for whatever is to come in 2023. If one of those things is divorce, we also hope you took our suggestions last month about New Year’s resolutions. Read more

Divorce Processes: Litigation, Mediation and Collaborative Divorce

Divorce processes

If you have been thinking about divorce, or you are somewhere in the process of divorce already, the beginning of a new year is a great time to move things forward. Maybe you are wondering about mediation and want to know if it is a good option for you, but you are still not clear on how exactly it differs from other divorce processes. Read more

Domestic Violence and Mediating Divorce or Parenting Disputes

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month – a good time to review exactly what domestic violence (DV) is, how to recognize warning signs, and when couples with a history of DV may want to consider divorce mediation. Violence between romantic partners is also sometimes called intimate partner violence (IPV). This term can be more specific than domestic violence, which technically refers to violence between any household members. The term “violence” is also sometimes used as a catch-all to refer not only to physical violence, but also to psychological manipulation and abuse. The latter can be much more difficult to recognize than physical violence. Read more

How to Benefit from Brainstorming in Divorce Mediation

Today we will revisit the concept of “brainstorming” in divorce mediation and examine the conditions that support productive brainstorming sessions.  To “brainstorm” is to throw every possible solution to a problem at the wall (or at least onto a whiteboard) and see what sticks. This requires adopting a “no idea is a stupid idea” mindset. Even ideas with no chance of success sometimes contain the seed of an idea that will be very successful. Read more

Parents and Intimate Partner Violence: Benefits of Mediation with Safety Protocols

A recent study of family law cases involving high levels of intimate partner violence (IPV) between parents found that shuttle mediation and videoconference mediation, when carried out by well-trained staff in a protected environment and designed with strong safety protocols, showed several advantages over litigation. The term “intimate partner violence” refers to violence between romantic partners, who may or may not be living together. It is similar to “domestic violence,” but there is a distinction between the terms, as the latter refers to violence between household members. Household members could be spouses or romantic partners, but they could also be children, siblings, or even roommates. Read more

Can Divorce Mediation Lead to Reconciliation?

couple working on marital reconciliation

Not long ago, Soompi reported that the popular South Korean actress and K-pop singer, Hwang Jung Eum, had filed for divorce from her golfer/businessman husband, Lee Young Don. According to a July 9th report in allkpop, however, the couple attended divorce mediation and are now reconciling. This is happy news, and it may lead other people to wonder if they too could achieve reconciliation through mediation. Read more

Reducing Conflict in Mediation by Leaving Blame Behind

The New Year is finally here, and many people are more than ready for a new start. If your new start includes moving forward with your divorce, it might be time to take a look at the level of conflict between you and your spouse. High conflict can make mediation less successful, but there are some ways to address this. If your conflict level is high, it might be worthwhile to consider what lies beneath that conflict. Is it based on rational disagreements? Or is it mainly fueled by anger and blame? Once you have answered these questions, you can consider whether or not there are steps you can take to reduce the conflict. Start by asking yourself where you fall on the following spectrum:

  • Low conflict
    • Neither of you blames the other for your marriage ending, and
    • You agree about all or most aspects of your divorce settlement.
  • Moderate conflict
    • One or both of you may blame the other for the divorce, but neither of you believes that this should impact your divorce settlement in any significant way, and/or
    • You have some disagreements about your marital settlement plan, but they are minor, and you believe that you can work them out.
  • High conflict
    • One or both of you blame the other for the divorce, and
    • You have marked disagreements about your post-divorce parenting arrangement, your property distribution plan, and/or the need for one of you to pay spousal support to the other.

How Conflict Affects Mediation

While it is true that high conflict can make mediation less successful, it is also true that the process itself tends to reduce conflict. Starting off with relatively high conflict, therefore, does not necessarily mean that you should give up on the idea. If you can succeed in lowering the temperature of your interactions, you are likely to benefit from the lower expenses, faster time frame, and vastly reduced stress that mediation can offer. How can you do this? The first step is to look more closely at what is going on. Notice that the categories above identify two distinct types of conflict. Differentiating between these is often the key to success.

The Cycle of Blame

The first kind of conflict is interpersonal and is based on blame and anger. Couples who have low or moderate conflict overall generally understand that blame in a divorce tends to be counterproductive. Even if one spouse did, in fact, do something egregious, the other does not want to focus on this and prefers to focus on the future instead. Couples in the high conflict category, on the other hand, tend to actively blame each other. Typically, one spouse believes that the other cheated on them, lied to them, or abandoned them in some way, and uses this to deny parenting time, demand more alimony, deny alimony, or complain about the division of property. The blamed spouse reacts defensively to these provocative moves and tries to turn the blame around onto the other spouse.

Sometimes both spouses blame each other from the outset. Regardless of how the cycle begins, however, it tends to escalate once a divorce is in progress. One spouse might file a fault-based complaint alleging that the marriage failed due to the other spouse’s misconduct. Proving this requires producing evidence of the misconduct. Even if the complaint does not specifically allege a fault ground for the divorce, there are likely to be affidavits full of aspersions against the other spouse. Once the mudslinging has begun—even if it was justified at the start—it becomes hard to stop. The cycle feeds on itself.

Resolving the Cycle

The point is not that blaming your spouse is “wrong.” In many cases, blame is justified. The point is that holding onto the blame is likely to be counterproductive for you. If all you want is for your spouse to acknowledge that they wronged you and apologize, then by all means, ask for that. If you speak authentically from your heart, you might even get it. Or you might not. Either way, the next step is to ask yourself what is best for you. If the answer is that letting go of your anger will benefit you, but you just can’t seem to do it on your own, then individual therapy can help.

If your spouse is the one caught up in blame, you have a harder task, but there are still things you can do on your own. Therapy might help you limit your reactivity and learn better responses to the escalation of conflict. It can be surprising how much a mutual cycle of reactivity can change for the better even if only one party decides to change.

Separating Rational Disagreements from Blame

The second kind of conflict is different. It is based on realistic disagreements with the other spouse. Couples experiencing this kind of conflict usually understand that the division of property should be fair, that support payments should be based on one’s party’s need and the other party’s ability to pay, and that parenting agreements must be based on the best interests of the children. They simply disagree on what is fair, on who needs what, or on what is actually best for those children. Simply having many disagreements about these types of issues does not make mediation a poor choice. In fact, the more complex your divorce is, the more you stand to gain by staying away from the high expenses of the courtroom.

The problem for many couples is that the two types of conflict tend to intersect. If you are focused on blaming your spouse, it can be difficult not to see everything the spouse proposes through a lens of feeling victimized or of wanting to punish the spouse. Couples who are not focused on blame find it much easier to commit to keepings things amicable and fair.

If you are having a lot of trouble coming to an agreement, it might be time to reassess the degree to which blame might be coloring things. You can then take steps to move forward.

Considering a Structured Process

If, in spite of all your efforts, you and your spouse seem hopelessly locked into anger and blame, you still might not have to give up on mediation entirely. You can look into trying a more structured mediation process.  Start by finding a mediator who has experience working with high conflict couples.   Look for someone who:

  • Offers or encourages pre-mediation coaching,
  • Promises to insist that participants stick to ground rules,
  • Will keep participants focused on making proposals and counter proposals that address well-defined issues,
  • Is willing to meet separately in caucus with each participant as often as necessary,
  • Understands how to help correct any pre-existing power imbalances, and
  • Is comfortable with higher attorney participation if that should prove necessary.

Pre-mediation coaching can improve your communication skills and ability to maintain composure under emotional stress, as well as to set and stick with firm personal boundaries. Ground rules and caucuses exist to help participants move forward without getting caught up and bogged down in emotional turmoil. Attorney participation can help everyone focus on the law and separate real issues from reactive responses.

Are you wondering whether or not divorce mediation is right for you? One of our caring and experienced mediators can help you decide. Contact us today for an initial consultation.