News of megastars Brad Pitt's and Angelina Jolie's divorce is a timely reminder of how people in the public eye have to deal with intense media interest when they face marriage difficulties.
Jolie's lawyer Laura Wasser reportedly has a reputation for her negotiation skills and ability to protect clients from the media spotlight. The couple will now have to negotiate and agree the arrangements for their six children and the division of their alleged $400m fortune in the most public of arenas.
Here in the UK one of the best ways to ensure that the terms of any divorce, whether high profile or not, are kept out of the press is to conduct proceedings in an entirely private forum such as mediation, using a private judge or arbitration. This is also often less expensive and can be a quicker way of achieving a resolution.
As a practising mediator, I regularly advise on the following benefits of mediation:
• Clients set the agenda - clients choose what they want to cover in mediation and we revisit this at the start of each session. This means that couples are not forced to stick to an agenda laid out by their lawyers or the court and they can immediately cover what is important to each of them.
• It is child focused - children are invariably at the centre of the discussions between my mediation clients. We talk about what they think will be best for their children, what their children might be feeling and what they would think about the proposals being put forward. Some mediators are trained to meet with children, which means they can attend a mediation session too if appropriate. Even when children do not attend, it is the mediator's job to make sure they have a voice and a presence by asking questions about them and how they might be feeling.
• Aimed at problem solving - mediation is about problem solving and sharing ideas together. I encourage clients to come up with a range of solutions, even if some do not reflect the outcome they want to achieve, so that we can test the reality of them together and each will hear one another's views on why something will or won't work. This helps move clients away from a purely tactical approach or positioning, which often happens when negotiations take place through solicitors or at court. When couples reach solutions together, they are more likely to accept and stick to it going forward.
• Flexible and tailor made solutions - solutions reached in mediation can be tailored to suit the family. This might be particularly important for high profile couples, who may travel or work away frequently, or for families living in less traditional circumstances. Control and flexibility is something that can be lost in the court arena when Judges have to impose decisions based on the limited information available.
• Keeping it private - mediation is an entirely private process and clients are assured that details of the discussions had, information disclosed or decisions made will not be reported. This helps protect clients and their families from details of their separation being analysed in the media. Judgments from the proceedings involving Madonna and Guy Ritchie in December and March have both been reported despite applications being made to achieve press reporting restrictions. Had they been able to resolve their dispute with a mediator, it is possible that the details which were reported of the proceedings in London and New York (which only concluded earlier this month) would have been limited.
• Facilitating a dialogue - privilege is a fundamental principle of mediation, which means that discussions which take place with the mediator (save for the disclosure of open financial information) cannot be referred to by clients and their lawyers in any court proceedings. This means that clients can accept or concede points without fear of being held to it later if an overall resolution has not been possible.
• Easing the communication - a carefully managed mediation gives couples the chance to express their feelings and to get important points off their chest. It can be a powerful way of helping people feel heard and moving on. Often, some of the smaller issues about which they have not had the chance to talk can be resolved relatively easily, which opens the line of communication for the more important and longer term arrangements. Ultimately, if parents are able to resolve matters together, they often have a better relationship after mediation has concluded, which helps with their ability to co-parent from separate houses (or possibly cities or countries) later on and this also benefits their children.