Does Mediation Work?
Results from Research and Compiled Data
People in the process of trying to decide if mediation will be of assistance to them often ask, "Does mediation really work?" In a word: YES. We know from years of research that, when you compare couples who have mediated their divorce with couples who go through an adversarial/litigated divorce, mediating couples are more likely to be satisfied with the process and the results, likely to take less time and spend less money, and are less likely to go back to court later to fight about something.
The main advantage of mediation is that it keeps you and your spouse in total control of your divorce. That can make all the difference in your recovering from your divorce and moving on with your life. Mediation allows the two of you to get through your divorce with less conflict than you would experience in an adversarial divorce.
Researchers have conducted more than 50 studies since divorce mediation first appeared more than two decades ago. Current data has been gathered and conducted to begin drawing clear conclusions about whether mediation works. The results of this research are very encouraging about the effectiveness of mediation in the divorce process.
Mediation produces agreement in 50 to 80 percent of cases. This is the case whether the mediation is court-referred or privately placed, whether mediation is voluntary or mandatory, and whether the mediating couples had a history of domestic violence or intense marital conflict.
Overall Client Satisfaction
Couples who mediate the issues of their divorce are significantly more likely to be satisfied with the experience of their divorce when compared with couples who have finished an adversarial divorce. At final divorce, according to one study, 69 percent of mediation respondents were somewhat to very satisfied, compared to only 47 percent of adversarial men and women.
The perceived skill level of the mediator, the creativity of the mediator, the effectiveness in helping clients deal with anger, the mediator’s success avoiding imposing his or her viewpoint on the client has a huge impact on the success of mediation. Additionally, mediation can have an extremely positive effect on the spousal relationship, satisfaction with the property settlement, satisfaction with arrangements around spousal support, satisfaction with parenting schedules and arrangements, and understanding children's needs and issues. In most cases, mediating couples reported significantly higher levels of satisfaction than those that did not have the opportunity or knowledge of mediation during the separation or divorce process.
Satisfaction Among Women
In general, the difference in the levels of satisfaction with mediation among men and women is not statistically significant. This is in contrast to adversarial divorce, where men are significantly more dissatisfied than women with the process and outcome.
There has been some discussion of findings that women are disadvantaged in mediation, but that initial research has been discredited. On the whole, women in mediation express greater satisfaction with both process and outcomes than do their litigation counterparts.
Effect on Terms of Agreement
In general, mediated agreements tend to be more comprehensive than settlements reached either voluntarily or involuntarily in adversarial court. In general, mediation results in more joint legal custody compared to adversarial processes, but not necessarily a different parenting schedule. Researchers have not noted a statistical difference in the treatment of child support payments, although mediating fathers are more likely to agree to pay for "extras" for their children and are more likely to agree to help with college expenses.
Long-term Mental Health
Researchers agree that mediation does not seem to have any long-term statistically significant effect on the psychological adjustment of either divorcing couples or their children, whether the mediation is custody only or comprehensive.
Cost in Time and Money
Mediating couples tend to resolve the issues in their divorce in substantially less time than that taken by their counterparts in litigation. They also tend to spend significantly less money. In one study, couples in the adversarial sample reported spending 134% more (more than twice as much) for their divorces than those in the mediation sample. Most reports tend to find less dramatic differences, however, in the 30-40% range.
Compliance and Re-litigation
Researchers generally report higher rates of compliance with mediated agreements, when compared to agreements reached in the adversarial process. This includes parenting schedules, payment of child support and spousal support, and completing the final division of property. Re-litigation rates are generally lower among mediated data and are lower than in adversarial data.