Laura and Russell Collins, Family Mediation Services
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The Lawyer/Therapist Team

There is much debate yet little hard research demonstrating the benefits of one style of mediation over another. There is, however, some evidence that different mediation styles have different strengths, and that a combination of styles may be the most effective of all.

Traditionally, mediators come from one of two fields, mental health and law. Lawyers come from a long tradition of protecting the rights you are granted under the law. Psychotherapists and other mental health professionals, such as Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, are trained in healing emotional and relational wounds, child development, and teaching couples to communicate. It is no wonder that mediators from these different backgrounds have different styles of working.

The style of mediating that flows naturally from the legal orientation is sometimes called evaluative. Evaluative mediators are concerned with the fairness of mediation outcome as measured against some established standard, law or precedent. In divorce mediation in California, this means the statutes and principals embodied in California Family Law. Evaluative mediators ask—and use their expertise to answer as accurately as possible—"what would the judge do or say about this?" or "what would the likely outcome be at trial?" Advocates of this style of mediation say this orientation toward the law ensures that both parties are protected in the process. More importantly, they claim, the rights of children are not trampled as couples fight to get the best deals for themselves.

Critics of this evaluative style complain that it robs the parties of their ability to creatively make arrangements that work best for them. After all, don't they themselves know their own needs and requirements, regardless of what the law says? And, while the law is clear in its demand that divorce arrangements be "in the best interests of the child", who is better qualified to make that determination, a judge who is a stranger to your children, or you, who know them best of all?

In contrast to the evaluative mediators are the facilitative mediators. Psychotherapist mediators are more likely to subscribe to this model. Facilitative mediators focus on the process of mediation rather than on its outcome. Skillful mediators, they say, facilitate healthy communications, harmonious relationships and mature compromise, which produce fair and lasting agreements. Critics of the facilitative model in divorce say it can be abused by the partner who is more powerful, more knowledgeable or simply more aggressive in pursuing his goals.

We agree with both sides. As an attorney, Laura brings the expertise necessary to accurately explain the law and an orientation that emphasizes the rights of each spouse. As a licensed marriage and family therapist with years of training and experience resolving conflicts between couples, Russell facilitates communication between the divorcing parties. The combination, we believe, optimizes emotional resolution while ensuring fairness with an awareness of the law—an outcome that is good for children and adults alike.



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