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When mediation is off the table: Knowing when time's up

You and your spouse never got along well, but once you decided to get a divorce, things got worse quickly. You both determined that you didn't want to waste time in court, so you agreed to head to mediation.

Things were rocky at first, but soon you found yourself wondering if mediation is a waste of time. Your spouse was too aggressive and rude in the meetings, and you just don't think it's right for your situation.

When do you know if you should stop mediation sessions?

First, realize that it's normal to have arguments. Two people trying to come to an agreement when they both have opposing views means that they have to compromise, which isn't always easy. The mediator is there to keep you on task, to inform you of your rights and obligations and to try to keep everyone levelheaded.

There are stories of couples who started mediation with hesitation and then ended up finding solutions that worked for them and resolved their conflicts. There are also cases where neither party would budge on their requests and mediation failed.

You may know that it's time to turn to arbitration or the courts for help if:

  • Your spouse doesn't come to the sessions
  • Your spouse will not negotiate
  • Your spouse is violent or aggressive before, during or after sessions
  • The mediator suggests arbitration for factors on which you cannot agree

Mediators generally believe that two people can come together and find a resolution to a problem, but it's not the mediator's job to force you both to show up or to participate. While mediation is usually cheaper than alternatives, it won't work if no one is willing to compromise. Additionally, if you're the only one willing to compromise, you could feel like you're being cheated, and that isn't something your mediator intends or wants to see happen.

If you are considering turning to the courts for help instead of mediation, first discuss this with your spouse if you can. If it's understood that there is no control over the resolution when it goes to court, he or she may be more likely to negotiate with you in a mediation session. It's worth discussing the reality of the situation when possible so you don't end up in court with a settlement that pleases no one.

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