Anger in Mediation

by Michael Stokamer

Did you ever regret something you did in anger? Most people have. When people's actions are controlled by emotions, they do not usually think about ultimate consequences.

Almost all people going through divorces, as well as most people who mediate their divorces, feel angry and frustrated at times during the process. Some people are so angry with their spouses that they are barely on speaking terms and they may believe that they can't sit in the same room to mediate their divorces. But, in fact, they can do very well in a mediated divorce.

Litigation the alternative (i.e. taking your divorce case to court). Did you ever notice that the caption of a court case reads like a prize fight: "Jane Doe, Plaintiff versus John Doe, Defendant"? The titles of the court papers that start the case, summons, complaint, answer, counterclaim, predict a battle. The content of each of those papers lists past allegations of wrongdoing by the other side. Often they are exaggerations or even lies. The parties, the wife and husband, are usually told not to talk about the case to each other, but rather to leave all the discussion to their lawyers. The nature of the litigation process makes angry and frustrated people even angrier and more frustrated. The process takes "forever". Decisions are often based on emotions, rather than needs or interests. Litigation is not for angry or frustrated people. It makes them more frustrated and angrier. The movie War of the Roses is a highly exaggerated account of a divorce case, but its appeal and popularity is a result of the basic truths of a divorce action.

Mediation does not reduce or eliminate anger. Rather, the mediation process recognizes anger, deals with it, and encourages people to set aside their anger to make decisions on what is in their best interests and the best interests of their children. Couples in mediated divorces focus on making realistic plans for the future, not on the deeds and misdeeds of the past. Anger is present, but it is managed. People have the opportunity to be heard, and to listen. Often, the effect is to lessen anger. Yet, mediation is not therapy or counseling.

When a divorcing couple has children, especially young children, they will need to communicate with each other for many years. Children's needs change as they get older… Divorced couples may need to modify Parenting schedules or amend the amount of child support. Both parents will want to attend life events, such as graduations, confirmations, bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings, etc. The parents will have many occasions over the years where they will need to communicate with each other. The mediation process teaches them that it can be done.

Will Mr. and Mrs. Rose ever be able to have a civilized conversation, let alone agree on anything after the divorce? Studies have shown that the re-litigation rate (i.e. going back to court after the divorce) in mediated divorce is much less, a mere fraction of, the relegation rate for litigated divorce. The difference is not because the parties were angrier. It is because couples who chose a mediated divorce learned how to manage their anger and make decisions with their brains, not their emotions.