The concept of caucus in mediation was originally designed to provide parties in a mediation dispute with some time to move away from joint sessions and discuss concepts with an advisor or divorce mediator on their own. These separate sessions weren’t intended to give the parties more support or an unfair advantage over their counterpart. Instead, the caucus sessions allow for the clarification of issues, the opportunity to reflect on short-term and long-term goals, and the chance to reflect on proposals and options for the future. According to Steven Leigh’s, article linked to here in Mediate.com the best times to use caucus are:
- When mediators need to explore or clarify statements made by a party
- When information is revealed that a party would like to remain confidential
- When parties need privacy to determine the options, they want to explore in mediation
- When options suggested in front of the other party may be seen as a premature commitment
- When parties feel uncomfortable exploring their options in front of each other.
What is a Divorce Mediation Caucus?
According to an article I link to here on beyondintractability.org, caucuses are meetings that are held separately with mediators at each side of a dispute. They can be called by divorce mediators or one of the parties to determine the problems occurring during the mediation process. Sometimes, there are factors that can create changes or new tensions in mediation that would make caucus an effective opportunity. For instance, perhaps changing economic events or rules would affect the needs of the negotiating parties. For instance, the changes to the tax law may affect the way that parties want to discuss spousal or child support.
There are also times when internal mediation dynamics require caucus. For instance, relationships between parties may be problematic at times, caucus may be an opportunity allow parties to vent built-up and intense emotions with aggravating the other party. Caucuses are sometimes helpful in clarifying misconceptions in these circumstances. In some circumstances, a caucus may even be a way for the parties and mediator to clarify the process for negotiation that’s being used. These moments would allow parties to discuss how procedures can be adapted going forward. Sometimes parties will need to clarify their positions, weigh the other party’s proposals and identify new options in private.
Caucus in divorce mediation allows for:
- Stronger and more open communication between the party and the mediator in caucus
- Better understanding between the mediator and the party in question to keep the process moving forward.
- Better management of emotions for both parties, allowing people to be more flexible, understanding, and creativity.
- More comfort for the party when discussing underlying assumptions, interests, and other information.
- Intimate discussions between the party and the mediator, without causing the mediator to seem more biased.
- The mediator to directly challenge one of the parties to solve specific problems, without allowing them to shift the responsibility.
Using Caucus in Mediation
Although traditionally I have not mediated by caucus, I am always open to different techniques to make progress in mediation. A caucus can sometimes be an effective tool in divorce mediation, when it is used correctly. According to an article linked to here in TheBalancesmb.com, mediation provides parties in a divorce with an opportunity to get together with a mediator and work out an agreement suitable for both sides. When a mediator such as myself works with a couple on their divorce, it’s important to start by having all the parties meet with me together so that the couple can make a joint discussion on whether they want to allow for caucusing or not. Also, I believe it will be important in that joint meeting to discuss and agree upon what the expectations of privacy or confidentiality will be with information shared with the divorce mediator in private. Will this information be shared with the other side or not? I want this to be clear and agreed upon ahead or time if we are to have caucus sessions. Absent an agreement on this issue then I do not believe I would engage in caucus sessions as typically mediation is a process done in the open with everyone present. If we do have an agreement to caucus and regarding the sharing of information, or not, from there, I can allow for the opportunity to go into a separate room with me and discuss the issues that each party has in private. When we return back into the main room as a group, we can discuss all of the issues that need to be addressed.
Sometimes, there’s no need to discuss anything in a caucus. Instead, when tensions are running high in the mediation session, I can offer the caucus as a time-out session for one of the parties, allowing them to either vent their frustrations or just cool down before they return to the negotiation. This can allow the mediation to progress as smoothly as possible, without additional issues arising between the couple that may end up making it difficult for a divorce to be managed quickly.
I can even offer caucusing as a way for the parties I’m working with to work on unresolved issues of anger or discomfort. As this Mediate.com article notes, Caucus can be particularly useful at any time when my intervention as a mediator could run the risk of causing one of the parties to seem weaker, embarrassed, or uncertain in front of the other. I will always strive to ensure that neither party in a divorce “loses face” in front of the other party. Other reasons to caucus may include:
- Discussing “what if” scenarios with the mediator
- Accessing negotiating advice
- Exploring alternatives to a proposed settlement
- Testing with proposals are realistic
- Working to develop an alternative proposal
- Sharing information that might not come out in a joint meeting
If you’re thinking of using divorce mediation to negotiate on your issues with your partner, and you think that caucus may be a good decision for you, you can discuss your options with me in a free initial consultation with your spouse. Contact me at (516) 333-6555.