Mediation – A Labyrinth, Not A Maze

By Laura Melton Tucker, April 30th, 2009

When I ran into a friend at a party recently, we got onto one of my favorite topics, mediation. I was discouraged, however, when this friend launched into a jeremiad on the evils of non-attorney mediators. (Okay, the live band was loud and maybe he raised his voice to compete with them.) As a non-attorney mediator, I am sensitive to the arguments against us. Let me paraphrase how they go:

Non-attorney mediators are fine for some types of mediation, (neighbor to neighbor, small claims, teacher student problems, etc.) but not for family divorce mediation. Divorce and/or custody mediations must be guided by a lawyer so that the disputing parties are not allowed to bring faulty thinking to the table: “he owes me this, she owes me that” – when in fact no judge would ever grant this or that. Without an attorney, says the argument, this type of mediation might result in an agreement that no court would honor.

I have to admit, the argument makes sense…except that it is based on the erroneous premise that non-attorney mediators don’t know and aren’t capable of understanding the statutes that govern Iowa divorce and custody rulings. Good mediators stay current on Iowa law, not to give advice but to guide conversations toward issues that can be mediated, and away from issues that the court will decide.

It is helpful to compare successful mediation with walking a labyrinth (which is not to be confused with a maze, one of those hedged walks with trick turns and dead ends!). Labyrinths have a single start and end point, and though they’re filled with many turns (giving you the impression that you’re going back and forth) the labyrinth path will take you in a single direction, forward and out again.

When you’re walking the labyrinth you move at your own pace, you decide if you’re reflecting on a particular question or walking the path to see what you discover. One of my jobs as mediator is to keep you from getting stuck on points that don’t take you forward. These might be issues like minimum child support payments, which the court determines by a calculation. Quarreling over child support may be a waste of time, whereas comparing insurance benefits, discussing extracurricular activities and determining childcare options are excellent topics for mediation. There are other topics that Iowa law influences, including grandparent visitation rights, college tuition subsidies for dependent children, or equitable distribution of assets, yet fine points in all of these areas are appropriate for mediation. Parties consult their attorneys prior to mediation to know what issues the law will and won’t decide for them, and to decide ahead of time what they need to work out during mediation.

Here’s the takeaway: A divorce mediation should be a labyrinth and not a maze; the stepping stones of the path – Iowa’s marriage and domestic relations codes – keep the conversation on track. Mediators are trained to assist you in the conversation that attorneys prepare you to have. You are the experts in solving the issues unique to your situation. Since settling issues in court is both costly and emotionally painful, mediation may be your short cut to moving forward.

For more information on Iowa Dissolution of Marriage and Domestic Relations Code: click here
To roughly estimate State of Iowa Child Support Payments: click here
Please consult your family attorney for more information about Iowa law, appropriate topics for mediation, and all other questions regarding the specifics of your situation.

4 Responses

  • Thanks for your kind words, Carroll. Please feel free to leave a link to your blog in this space. I’d love to read about your mediation work.

  • Holly, thanks for your comment. The analogy of a labyrinth and mediation is intentionally hopeful, since a labyrinth has a starting point and an ending point. Of course, when children are involved, there is no ending point. Connections between parents last a lifetime. I believe mediation has the potential to deliver people to a different place once they finish the process …ideally a place of better understanding, improved clarity, and a new perspective about how to move forward. Moving forward can feel impossible when you’re in the thick of it. My best wishes to you for a good outcome and peace of mind.

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