When you hear people discuss divorce mediation, you will often hear them talk about being neutral or impartial. I have always thought of myself in this manner – as a neutral facilitator, or an impartial third party.
There never seemed to be another way to categorize what I do as a mediator, but then I recently heard two mediators in Orange County both describing themselves as “mutually partial.”
I understand why they describe what they do in this manner which has me questioning if we do act in a mutually partial manner. Or are we always acting as an impartial third party? Which is it? And are they really the same thing? Or are they different? Which is better? Is it ok to use both?
Read on for my thoughts on remaining neutral in California divorce mediation.
Impartial Third Party Explained
Someone impartial is not directly involved in a particular situation and is therefore unable to give a fair opinion or decision about it.
Throughout my time doing mediation in San Diego, I’ve never been involved in a situation. To be involved would mean I may be impacted by decisions made as part of the divorce. The only circumstance where I can see this application would be in the event I am acting as a mediator for a friend or family member. When it comes to friends and family – I don’t do it. I pass them along to a colleague.
To conclude, when it comes to whether I view myself as being impartial or partial to a given situation I am mediating, from this definition I would have to stand strong with my original thoughts – I am impartial.
What Does it Mean to be Neutral?
In California divorce mediation, a neutral party is seen as a party with no (or a fully disclosed) conflict of interest in a particular situation and is expected to operate as if it has no bias. Neutral parties are often perceived as more trustworthy, reliable, and safe.
This is a very similar issue as above, which makes sense as “Neutral” and “Impartial” are often used interchangeably. It wouldn’t make sense for a third party to try and assist parties involved in a dispute if the third party has a stake in the outcome – or, in other words, has a conflict of interest. This would provide an imbalance and therefore, likely not be successfully resolved. I don’t believe many professional mediators are comfortable working with participants whom they may have an inherent conflict with.
The second part of the definition, that a mediator is expected to act “as if they have no bias” is also a foundational trait of a mediator or any neutral third party. I appreciate that the definition includes the language “act as if…” because I think everyone naturally has different biases that are formed as they walk through life. However, that is not the determining factor. The determining factor is that the mediator ACT without bias. This is necessary, and I feel like most mediators can do this naturally. Not only with their clients but with people they interact with daily.
Mutually Partial Explained
To define “mutually partial” we must break down the two words as the phrase is not used in a manner enabling me to find the definition of the phrase itself (as the above two can be found together).
- Of, or having the same relationship toward, each other or one another.
- Shared in common; joint.
- Our mutual friend.
- Inclined to favor one side over another: biased.
- Fond of someone or something.
- Relating to or being a part rather than the whole.
From the definition alone, it doesn’t appear possible that one can be mutually partial and still provide a fair and balanced environment to both parties.
However, when I heard the discussion, it came across in a way that challenged this conclusion and that is what I want to touch on. I can get on board with the idea that a mediator shares something in common with the clients. The mediator is a facilitator for both clients, she provides the same information to both clients, and she shares the same goals as her clients (to be part of a peaceful process that resolves all the issues in as positive a manner as possible).
The second part of the definition, to be partial, is a harder idea to overcome. The thought of “favoring” one party over the other is troublesome, to say the least. However, the third definition of being partial, “relating to or being a part rather than the whole” provides an interesting take on the meaning of ‘being partial’. When a mediator is working with a couple, there are times in the process when the mediator will meet one-on-one with each client. To say it another way, they are meeting with a ‘part’ of the whole couple. It is important during these meetings, that the mediator relates to that individual in that moment. The mediator must block out any other information they may have of the couple as a ‘whole’ and focus on what the individual is saying, to truly understand that individual’s perspective. This is one of my favorite parts of my job. To hear and understand each person’s vision of their relationship or marriage. The reason it is so fascinating to me is that it is ALWAYS different.
How Mediation Can Help
After spending my entire adult career in California divorce mediation, I can confidentially say that our families walk away still connected as a family and not splintered the way litigation impacts a family. Our hope for you, our community, is that you give mediation a shot before heading into court. We ask that you share this information with loved ones, so they can also understand the benefits that our process provides. Schedule a free consultation today!
by: Jennifer Segura