Should I Bring Someone With Me To Sessions With the Family Mediator?

Family disputes can generate strong emotions. One of the reasons to work with a family mediator instead of going to court is to manage the way people respond to these emotions, which can help to avoid the added trauma and frustration of litigation.

Most Massachusetts family mediators recommend that people in the process speak with lawyers during the course of the mediation and especially at the end. However, people typically do not bring lawyers to family mediation sessions (this is different from commercial mediation, when lawyers are almost always present). Both parties have to agree to other people’s presence in the room. If one party brings a lawyer, the other party generally feels that he or she must as well, which adds to the cost. Another reason is the difficulty of navigating turbulent emotional waters with people in the room, like lawyers, who are often trained to take an approach that is more confrontational than problem-solving. Also, sometimes in these sessions the family mediator brings the discussion to underlying concerns before turning back to the specifics of a separation agreement, and lawyers do not often contribute well to that part of the conversation.

Bringing other people is fraught with peril, too. Although it might feel comforting to have another family member or friend present, it can derail the neutral, private atmosphere that mediation provides. Since both people have to agree who will be in the room, the presence or absence of a third party in a mediation session can turn into another major issue that has to be mediated. Instead, consider how you could use the support of your friends and family outside of the mediation sessions so that you and the other party can focus on what is most important in the private sessions.

It sometimes does make sense, though. I once mediated a matter with a person who had lost the ability to speak clearly after suffering a stroke. Her brother had to be there as a translator, to make sure her wishes could be heard. But that was OK with everyone.

Most mediation agreements contain strict confidentiality language. You should be aware that anyone other than the parties who comes into the room will be required to sign an observer agreement that also requires them to keep the session confidential. The agreement may even limit the observer’s ability to speak directly to the other party, which can become awkward.

If you think it would be helpful to bring someone else into the room, then by all means discuss it with your Massachusetts family mediator. It may advance the process. However, remember that mediation relies on confidentiality and a shield of privacy that encourages both parties to work together with one another. This can evaporate quickly if you try to wedge another person into the proceedings.