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The Impact of Mediation on Divorce and Parenting

The following is a summary of Dr. Robert Emery’s research study documenting the dramatic impact of mediation on divorce twelve years later.

This information is also available in Microsoft PowerPoint presentation format here.

truth_about_children_and_divorce More information can be found in Robert E. Emery, The Truth about Children and Divorce (Viking, 2004).

The Study

Used a high conflict group – families who had filed for contested custody hearing

Used random assignment (the magic of science) — a flip of a coin determined whether families went to mediation or adversary settlement

Sample was young and low income

Mediation was short-term (5 hr average) and problem-focused but sensitive to emotions, especially grief

Was a longitudinal study — families were followed for 12 years

Mediation Kept Most Families Out of Court

If the coin came up tails and they stayed in the adversary system, 75% of families appeared before a judge

But if the coin came up heads, less than 20% appeared before a judge

Even when mediation failed, parents tended to settle out of court with the help of their lawyers
Case Settlement Following Random Assignment


What Happens to Angry Families after They Leave a Mediator’s Office — and Years Later?

Mediator’s hope we’ve planted a seed. Have we?

Yes. If the coin came up heads, 5 hours of mediation caused nonresidential parents to see their children much more often 12 years later

Compare these rates to the dramatic drop off in contact after the typical divorce in America

For example, 28% of nonresident parents who mediated saw their children weekly 12 years later compared to 9% who litigated and 11% in the national averages


Changes in Telephone Contact Were Even More Dramatic

52% of nonresident parents who mediated talked with their children weekly 12 years later

This compares with 14% of nonresident parents who went to court and 18% in the national averages

Because of the random assignment, we know that 5 hours of mediation caused this difference


Residential Parents Who Mediated Gave Nonresidential Parents Better “Grades” in Every Area of Parenting

Including discipline, grooming, religious and moral training, running errands, celebrating holidays, taking part in significant events, school and church activities, recreation, vacations, and discussing problems with them

Nonresidential Parent Child Involvement


Why Did So Little Mean So Much?

Timing is everything. This is the time to do the right thing.

The right path. Not so much that mediation is “good” as the alternative is…disruptive.

Not the decisions reached (they were the same) but the process.

Having a voice

Taking the long view

Working together

Learning about children’s needs and co-parenting

Recognizing your own grief and how it causes anger

Mediation: Do Something Different With Your Emotions

The usual way to end a relationship is to say, “I never want to see you again!”

Anger serves many functions following a loss including covering up hurt, grief, and pain

Mediation (and other forms of cooperative divorce) ask parents to do something different — for their kids sake

This can make breaking up emotionally harder for parents who may feel more ambivalence and acute pain

But working together for your children is the right thing and it does work!

Primary Reference

Emery, R.E., Laumann-Billings, L., Waldron, M., Sbarra, D.A., and Dillon, P. (2001). Child custody mediation and litigation: Custody, contact, and co-parenting 12 years after initial dispute resolution. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 69, 323-332.

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