This is a very unusual time for couples who are getting divorced. Divorce is already one of the most emotionally taxing processes that anyone ever has to go through, but when you add a global pandemic to the equation, it can push a lot of people to the breaking point. Many couples choose divorce mediation because it is far less stressful than a long and expensive court battle, but the stress that everyone is under has made mediation sessions more challenging as well.
As we have progressed through the pandemic, we have made some adjustments and learned some methods that we have helped couples deal with the stress of the situation. One method that has worked particularly well during COVID-19 is caucusing. We have been using caucusing a lot more lately, and it has proven to be a very successful method for helping divorcing spouses reach a settlement agreement through mediation.
What is Caucusing?
In mediation, a caucus is a private meeting between the mediator and one of the participants. The mediator meets with participants separately and goes back and forth between them until the point when/if they are ready to meet together to complete the process. Caucusing is used fairly often during commercial mediations, but it is not as common with divorces and other types of family law mediation.
Either participant can request a caucus at any point during mediation. The mediator might also suggest a caucus if it seems like an appropriate time to do so. There are no set time limits on the length of a caucus, and there are no limits on how many caucuses can be held during a particular mediation session.
A caucus might be a one-time occurrence, or there could be multiple caucuses during the same session. Sometimes, the couple will come back and meet together again to finish out the process, while in other cases, the entire process is completed with separate meetings. The bottom line is there is no right or wrong way to do it, the key is to understand the parties and work in whatever way will help them the most.
What are Some of the Benefits of Caucusing?
There are several reasons why caucusing might be beneficial during divorce mediation:
- Break Down Communication Barriers: Sometimes, the spouses might reach an impasse where they seem unable to maintain constructive dialogue. When this happens, it can be helpful for the participants to take a break from meeting together so they can collect their thoughts and start to work through some of the more challenging issues.
- Open Up Creativity: One of the major benefits of mediation is that the process allows couples to get creative and come up with solutions that are customized to their specific needs. That said, there are times when creativity gets stifled by their presence together and they are better able to brainstorm ideas when they are separated.
- Express Private Concerns: Caucusing allows either of the spouses to express concerns. When this happens, the mediator must remain neutral and not use anything that is said privately to favor one spouse over the other.
- Relieve Stress: As we talked about earlier, divorce is stressful and even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic. And of course, we all know that individuals who are going through a divorce can have many of their stress points triggered just by the presence of their spouse. Caucusing has proved to be a very useful tool in relieving much of the stress that everyone finds themselves under.
It should be noted that caucusing can also be beneficial in virtual mediation sessions. Many couples have been using virtual mediation during the quarantine, although there is less of that happening now that things are reopening again. Videoconferencing platforms like Zoom allow participants to use separate “virtual rooms”, which are ideal for caucusing. Or, if it is just an old-fashioned three-way teleconference, the mediator can just talk on the phone privately with each participant and resume the group conference later if appropriate.