Unqualified mediators can deepen the wounds of divorce. Choose a trauma-informed mediator.

Unqualified mediators can deepen the wounds of divorce. Choose a trauma-informed mediator


The process of going through a divorce is emotionally charged and can feel like walking through a minefield for many couples. However, amidst the overwhelming legal and financial aspects, mediation is a powerful tool that is often overlooked. When approached thoughtfully, mediation can lead to transformative outcomes, promoting collaboration and minimising the distress commonly associated with divorce proceedings.

But with so much at stake, it is crucial to choose a skilled mediator. The risks of using an unqualified mediator can result in lasting scars and further aggravate the painful experience. Just imagine entering mediation hoping for healing, only to find yourself facing a facilitator who lacks the necessary training and emotional intelligence to navigate the turbulent emotions at play. Without proper qualifications, a mediator may unintentionally ignite past traumas, making the situation much more difficult to navigate. Without proper qualifications, a mediator may unintentionally ignite past traumas and misinterpret emotional cues.


The dangers of unqualified mediation:

Re-traumatisation: Unintentional triggers and insensitive communication can send individuals back into past traumas and reliving them, amplifying anxiety, depression, and emotional distress.
Power Imbalances: When mediators are not equipped to identify and address power imbalances, they can unintentionally contribute to manipulation and unfair outcomes.
Erosion of Trust: When communication breaks down and solutions feel forced, the already fragile trust between partners can shatter, jeopardising future co-parenting relationships.
Heightened Conflict: Ineffective mediation can turn into a pressure cooker, fueling anger, frustration, and ultimately, prolonged legal battles.


The antidote: Trauma-informed mediation

Fortunately, there’s a better way. Trauma-informed mediation takes a holistic approach, recognising the profound impact past experiences can have on divorce proceedings.
This specialised approach is built on these core principles:

Safety and security: Creating a safe environment where both individuals feel heard, respected, and empowered to voice their concerns without fear of judgment or manipulation. To effectively create a safe atmosphere during trauma-informed mediation, it’s essential to address both physical and psychological safety. This entails creating a welcoming physical environment, taking into account factors like lighting, noise levels, and layout. Equally important is fostering emotional safety by acknowledging and validating emotions, providing support, and utilising communication methods tailored to trauma survivors.
Emotional awareness: Recognising and validating the emotional complexities of divorce, using techniques like active listening and mirroring to build trust and communication. Recognise behavioral, emotional, and physical cues indicating trauma in clients.
Power dynamics: Acknowledging and addressing potential power imbalances to ensure both parties have equal opportunity to participate and contribute to the process. Identifying subtle signs of coercive and controlling behavior, emotional manipulation, and related triggers in a mediation setting. Recognise indicators of economic or financial abuse during mediation, such as control over funds, restricting access to resources, or creating debt.
Pace and control: Allowing individuals to move at their own pace, respecting their need for breaks or timeouts to process challenging emotions.
Trauma-sensitive communication: Utilising clear, direct, and non-judgmental language that avoids retraumatising triggers and fosters understanding. It prioritises clear and empathetic language, avoiding triggers or re-traumatisation.


Investing in your well-being: why trauma-informed mediation matters

By choosing a mediator who specialises in addressing trauma, you are investing in not only your own well-being, but also that of your children. This proactive decision has the potential to bring about significant benefits, including:

Reduced conflict and stress: A calmer environment fosters collaboration and minimises the emotional toll of divorce.
Improved communication skills: Learning effective communication tools can benefit not just the divorce process but also future relationships.
Feelings of empowerment and control: Feeling heard and taking ownership of the process can cultivate resilience and a sense of self-efficacy
Sustainable solutions: Collaborative agreements reached with mutual respect are more likely to be adhered to in the long run.
Positive co-parenting relationships: When emotional wounds heal and understanding prevails, creating a healthy co-parenting dynamic becomes more achievable.


Finding the right fit: ask the right questions

Not all mediators are created equal. Before trusting your fragile emotional state to a facilitator, ask these crucial questions:

• Do you have specific training and experience in trauma-informed mediation?
• How do you ensure a safe and supportive environment for all parties involved?
• What techniques do you use to address power imbalances and emotional triggers?
• Will you allow for flexibility and breaks during the mediation process?
• Do you have experience facilitating positive co-parenting agreements?

Using an unqualified divorce mediator can have serious consequences for your divorce process and outcome. Some of the dangers of using an unqualified divorce mediator are:

■ You may end up with a settlement agreement that is unfair, illegal, or unenforceable.
■ Without the proper legal knowledge and expertise, the mediator may not be equipped to help you create a thorough and valid agreement that addresses all aspects of your divorce, including property division, spousal support, child care, and child support.  Inexperienced mediators may overlook crucial details or clauses that are vital to protecting your rights and interests.
■ In the event that your agreement is challenged or questioned in court, you may be forced to restart the process or incur additional costs and delays. Moreover, entrusting your case to an unqualified mediator may prove to be a waste of your valuable time, money, and energy.
■ They may not be able to manage the emotions, conflicts, and communication issues that may arise between you and your spouse.
■ They may also not be able to handle complex or sensitive issues, such as domestic violence, substance abuse, or mental health problems. As a result, you may spend more time and money on mediation than necessary, or end up with no agreement at all.
■ You may damage your relationship with your spouse and your children.

Written by Eugene Opperman (B.Proc. LLB.) (LSSA L.E.A.D., ADR Network, FAMAC) , a legal practitioner and accredited mediator. 22 January 2024.