Technology in Mediation
Mediation is a process for parties to resolve issues and solve problems so they can reach agreements. The mediator is a neutral facilitator who uses techniques and skills to assist the parties to reach agreements. Sherry is a trained and experienced mediator with excellent interpersonal skills. She has pioneered the use of technological tools to make the mediation process more efficient and productive. A more important benefit is that it makes things easier to understand so the parties can better focus on the realities of their situation and reach agreements that will work.
Sherry uses mapping software called MindManger to capture and organize information during the mediation process. This program uses visual thinking instead of the usual linear thinking, promoting the kind of brainstorming and creativity that mediation is all about. This program helps to keep the parties actively engaged in the mediation process, while keeping them focused.
When families are moving into separate households, creating realistic budgets is often a necessity. Many people have never created a budget and dread the idea. Sherry makes this as easy as possible by providing a budget form on Excel. If a party does not use Excel, s/he can work from a hard copy and Sherry will transfer it to Excel. By going through the budgets together it becomes clear if there is a monthly deficit or if certain expenses need to be trimmed. Each party gets a better handle on what the other party is facing in real expenses. The budget review process is often very helpful to negotiating support.
A key job of the mediator is to inventory the parties’ assets and debts. Once all the information is available, the parties can begin the process of allocating their assets and debts. Sherry uses an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of this information. The parties need to be able to see the big picture without being overwhelmed by the details. Sherry has designed a unique format for presenting a comprehensive statement of the parties’ assets and debts that is easy to understood and easy to manipulate. Sherry often runs several settlement scenarios for the parties so they can consider different options.
Parenting Time Calendars
In some cases, reaching agreement on a parenting schedule is the most challenging issue. Sherry uses a parenting time calendar program that visually displays schedules. This makes it easier for parents to conceptualize and compare different options and focus on what is practical. Sherry can print a calendar for a whole year or more, which makes planning much easier for parents.
Full disclosure of financial information is a basic principle of mediation. An important function of the mediator is to collect, organize, and distribute documents to the parties and their attorneys. This may include tax returns, paystubs, retirement statements, credit card statements, real estate descriptions, and so forth. Since Sherry has a paperless office she scans all documents to convert them into digital files. This reduces her ecological footprint, and she can easily distribute copies to the participants through email. Everyone receives the documents immediately and at the same time.
Mediation is much easier when everything is available for all to see. Sherry uses a large monitor to show all her work on a screen: notes, budgets, property spreadsheets, parenting calendars, and support calculations. This is an ideal way to run support guidelines. The parties can participate in inputting information into the guideline and immediately see the effect of changing the inputs.
Sometimes a party is unable to attend mediation sessions in person. For example, a party may live far away and the cost of travel may not be in the budget. While Sherry favors face-to-face meetings, when that is not possible Sherry uses toll free audio conferencing in conjunction with web conferencing. This allows her to conduct a meeting over the Internet. The non-present party can sit at his/her computer and connect to the meeting via the Internet. Since Sherry does all of her work on the computer the non-present party can view Sherry’s computer screen and participate in real time. Sherry believes that by utilizing these technological tools she is better able to help parties through the challenging decision making process of separation and divorce.