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The Psychology of Divorce Mediation

The Psychology of Divorce Mediation

Going through a divorce is financially and emotionally draining for spouses and family members, especially children.

Divorce is a legal process that involves overcoming many challenges and making tough decisions. The most important legal aspects of divorce include dividing marital property, allocating parenting time, and deciding on spousal support (alimony).

No matter how burdensome, divorce as a legal event is final when a judge signs a marital dissolution decree.

On the other hand, an emotional divorce occurs a few years before legal dissolution and usually consists of several stages. Each is full of emotions, such as anger, anxiety, fear, sadness, shock, bitterness, and resentment. These emotions intensify when spouses decide to end their marriage through the traditional litigation procedure.

Divorce mediation is an alternative to traditional litigation that can help couples resolve their divorce emotionally and peacefully. In divorce mediation, the couple meets with a neutral third party (the mediator) who allows them negotiate an agreement. The mediator does not make decisions for the couple but instead assists them in reaching a mutually acceptable agreement.

The benefits of divorce mediation are many:

  • It is less costly than traditional litigation.
  • It is faster than litigation because there is no trial.
  • It is more private than litigation because all negotiations occur in private sessions with the mediator.
  • It is more cooperative than litigation because both spouses work together to reach an agreement.
  • It results in a more tailored agreement than litigation because the mediator helps the couple identify and address their issues.

Emotional Stages of Divorce

Emotional Stages of Divorce

One of the spouses (more often a wife) usually starts to experience feelings of dissatisfaction, alienation, and loneliness several years before an actual separation. This stage is also known as the deliberation stage. The dissatisfied spouse copes with their feelings, finding ways to save the relationship before finally removing from the marriage. At this stage, one of the spouses is emotionally already distanced from the partner. The other spouse usually reacts with denial, followed by anguish, shock, disbelief, and anger. Anger is usually a secondary emotion covering up the feelings of fear, humiliation, and abandonment.

The next stage is a legal divorce, traditionally conducted through litigation. In a no-fault divorce state, either party may seek a divorce without proving any reason. Not wanting to be married is a sufficient reason to file for a divorce. Going through divorce litigation causes a variety of feelings on both sides. Sometimes the spouse who decided to leave the marriage (usually the wife) may experience feeling guilt for leaving the family. If another spouse reacts with anger, bitterness, and vindictiveness, the wife may respond defensively and with detachment. During the litigation, both spouses often experience economic concerns involving confusion, self-doubt, and fear for survival. Custody concerns also cause bitterness and destructiveness, creating the conflict between divorcing parents. Litigating the divorce further leads to conflict between supporting friends and relatives on both sides. The phenomenon is known as tribal warfare.

The litigation stage is accompanied or followed by the transition stage in which spouses experience feelings of chaos and irrationality. Many divorcing spouses engage in behaviors untypical for them. That is a consequence of loneliness and unfamiliarity with life as a single. With professional help, many spouses go through this stage successfully.

The post-divorce stage is a time of calming down, gaining self-confidence, and making independent choices. That is possible only if the divorce went successfully. The spouses explore new perspectives and lifestyles, including new people and emotional relationships. Otherwise, if the divorce didn’t solve the dissatisfaction in marriage (which often happens in litigation), many spouses will continue living as single, experiencing feelings of loneliness and despair. Some of them become alcoholics, drug-dependent or suicidal. In other words, they get stuck in a divorce.

The Therapeutic Effect of Mediation

Therapeutic Effect of Mediation

In contrast to litigation, the mediation format involves a neutral third party whose role is to enable the spouses to express their feelings and negotiate their differences. The goal of mediation is to facilitate negotiations and settle. From a psychological perspective, such an approach is less likely to impact the divorcing couple negatively.

Unlike litigation, the mediator holds the sessions in a positive and stress-free environment. The friendly and respectful atmosphere reduces anxiety and replaces it with a genuine concern for vital divorce issues, such as custody, alimony, and property division.

Moreover, the mediation process reduces legal fees and expenses, enabling the couple to focus on the substance over form. As a result, litigation produces the opposite effects. Finally, it leaves the spouses fighting over the costs, creating a hostile, vindictive atmosphere.

Mediation creates an environment that enables the free flow of information and the free expression of emotions. That allows the spouses to discuss financial and other crucial issues rationally and free from the influence of emotions.

After exchanging emotional fire and letting off steam in a controlled and respectful manner, the spouses are in a better position to think clearly. Discussing their rights and responsibilities regarding custody, alimony, and property division comes into focus.

The ability to express their genuine feelings is one of the benefits mediation provides to the parties. That makes them feel their emotions are acknowledged. This therapeutic effect of mediation is absent in litigation.

The spouses are not in control of the mediation process. They do not have the opportunity to vent their anger and resentment. The outcome is a more civil divorce with less chance of future conflict.

Mediation can provide an opportunity for spouses to resolve their disputes outside of court, leading to a more civil and less costly divorce. Unlike litigation, mediation takes place in a friendly and stress-free environment, reducing anxiety and enabling the free expression of emotions. This allows the spouses to discuss crucial issues rationally and free from the influence of emotions. For example, after exchanging emotional fire and letting off steam in a controlled and respectful manner, the spouses are better positioned to consider their rights and responsibilities regarding custody, alimony, and property division. InThe key to rational discussion on central divorce, issues is providing each party with sufficient information. Contrarily, litigation often means engaging in an adversarial process dominated by raw emotions. By approaching divorce issues as trade assets, the spouses are more likely to recognize their rational self-interest and behave accordingly. As a result, they gain the feeling of having control rather than being controlled. As long as each party feels that they are holding what the other party wants, and vice versa, the parties move closer to the final agreement.

As a consequence, the parties involved in mediation start to feel empowered. Mediation has the psychological effect of returning the control over the process to the parties. Furthermore, establishing a pattern of successful communication creates an optimistic outlook for future relationships. That benefits not only divorcing spouses but their children, family members, and friends.


Rational discussion of central divorce issues is key to an amicable resolution. By providing each party with the relevant information, spouses can approach divorce proceedings as a negotiation where both parties have something the other desires. This allows for a more cooperative and less adversarial process, leading to a faster and more satisfactory resolution. For example, if you are considering separation or divorce and would like help negotiating these complex issues, please call Stewart Hudson at 850-220-3099 for an appointment. With his years of experience in family law mediation, he can help you reach an agreement that benefits everyone involved.