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Mediation Timing Part 1 – Divorce Mediation

Mediation Timing Part 1 - Divorce Mediation By Gary Shaffer{3:30 minutes to read} What’s the right amount of time for a mediation? As Goldilocks might put it:

  • What’s too much
  • What’s too little
  • What’s just right?

As in many such matters, it depends. Some parties fade quickly, others are happy to go on for hours and hours, days and days. What works differs from case to case. 

In divorce matters, I find that 90-100 minutes is the usual sweet spot for an individual session. It often takes a couple 45 minutes to really get going. The next 45 minutes can be very productive, but after that a couple can quickly become exhausted, and you reach a point of diminishing returns. It can then be important to summarize where you are, describe next steps, provide a useful homework assignment if appropriate (it usually is), and figure out when you will next meet.

Even when you next meet needs to be considered carefully. In divorce matters, the parties often need time to let their feelings and ideas settle.  At the end of a meeting they may not even be aware of what needs settling:

  • A proposal from one side that is rejected during a meeting may later on be acceptable,or acceptable with modifications.
  • Are financial records needed?  If so, who will get them and how long will that take?
  • Can you meet before those records are obtained?
  • Can the couple review them together outside the mediation, or is it better if that happens during a mediation session?

New ideas emerge when people have had time to reflect. If the parties are still living together, details of a move and child visitation need to be decided. Whether still physically together or separate, however, couples are often quite capable of figuring out what works if given the time to live with actual results. At that point the mediation may be most helpful in figuring out remaining details. But making progress on what earlier may have seemed insurmountable, can be what makes a final resolution achievable.

One of the unusual “side effects” of divorce mediation is that having a safe, structured environment in which to work together, a couple can often create a foundation for working together for the future that did not exist during the marriage. This does not necessarily mean the marriage could have or can be saved, but it means a happier family going forward. And when there are kids involved, this provides a critically important life lesson, that people who may not get along can still work together to resolve important, personal matters.

Time may not heal all wounds, but thoughtfully timing things in a divorce matter may create the opportunity for a productive and lasting resolution.

What has been your experience? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments box below.

Gary ShafferGary Shaffer
Shaffer Mediation


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An honors graduate of Harvard University and the Cardozo Law School of Yeshiva University, where he also served on the Law Review, Gary brings more than 30 years of litigation and negotiation experience to his practice as a mediator. He has successfully negotiated and mediated resolutions in family matters, employment cases, commercial disputes, personal injury cases, and major civil rights matters.

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