Getting the most out of mediation with advice from expert facilitator

When an expert mediator wants to share tips on how to get the most out of your mediation or family dispute resolution, it’s time to start taking notes! Rachael Scharrer, divorcee, single parent, founder of and past participant in the mediation process, had the opportunity to speak with experienced mediator, Jeremy Bluhm of Relationships Australia. He shared his tips on approaching mediation from the perspective of a facilitator and how to get the most out of each session.

Rachael Scharrer went through mediation (or Family Dispute Resolution, FDR) three times and reached small milestones through the process. Even though she wasn’t able to settle her parenting matter through FDR, it doesn’t mean that others can’t make the process work for them. She approached FDR not knowing what to really expect or how it was structured. Since then, she has learned that it is a confidential, “without prejudice” opportunity to discuss what you believe are the appropriate terms of agreement for parenting, financial, property and other relevant matters.

“Mediation is an opportunity to have a conversation that maybe you weren’t able to have at all with the other parent,” said expert facilitator Jeremy Bluhm, “but how far you get with that conversation depends on how each of you approaches the meeting. The mediator doesn’t make decisions for you, so ultimately you need to reach out to the other person somehow to get a good outcome. That can be hard when there are bitter feelings, but practically speaking, it’s necessary.”

According to Jeremy, too many people go into mediation with misconceptions, therefore missing the opportunity to create an agreement. Common mistakes clients make include:

  1. Thinking “we’ll just go to mediation and that will solve it:” Just being at mediation is unlikely to resolve the issues and deliver what you think is right. There has to be some give-and-take in terms of listening and trying to understand the other person.
  2. Assuming that if you don’t reach an agreement, you can “just go to court:” If you don’t achieve what you want in mediation, court could be the answer, but consider the potential downsides: a lot of time and money, a worse relationship with the other parent, tension for your children, and an uncertain outcome. It is not likely to be an easy alternative to finding a solution at mediation.
  3. Assuming the worst about the other parent: When you’ve reached this point in your relationship, it’s somewhat understandable that you may perceive that bad intentions or carelessness are behind the other person’s actions, but you may be incorrect. Do articulate how their actions impact on you but avoid assigning a bad motive if you can.
  4. Refusing a request the other person makes because they refused you something in the past: Yes, it might not make sense to keep giving the other person what they want without some reciprocity, but on the other hand, the cycle of punishing each other for past hurts won’t stop unless at least one parent decides to show some generosity. Especially if the request is a small one and doesn’t really hurt you, don’t refuse just to get back at the other person.

Jeremy stresses that the facilitator will assist you but will not tell the other person what to do or convince on your behalf. “It is up to you to get the other person on the same page as you” says Jeremy and he shares three tips on how to be heard and make the most out of the mediation:

  1. Actively listen. Show interest in what your ex-partner is saying and to what they are conveying without interruption. Jeremy’s recommendation: “When it is your turn to talk, spend time acknowledging what the other parent said. Let them feel heard and understood and show you understand what they want. You don’t have to agree with it but show you are thinking about it. If you don’t do this, the other parent will keep repeating what they are saying until they feel heard by you”
  2. Keep the situation calm and collected. Avoid name calling and loaded words like liar. Speak the facts and let the facts speak for themselves; don’t add adjectives to make your point. Jeremy’s recommendation: “Test your choice of words on yourself. Consider ‘would these words trigger a defensive reaction in my body?’ before you speak them”
  3. Push for a better atmosphere: Most likely, you wouldn’t be at mediation if things weren’t strained, but in most cases the atmosphere could improve. Jeremy’s recommendation: Do what you can to show the other parent that you’d like to get along better. Tell them that’s your goal. Maybe it won’t happen right away, but this can contribute to a thaw. (Note: This is not meant to downplay safety considerations for you or the children. Discuss the impact of these with your mediator if they are a factor).

In high conflict relationships, mediation can occur with each parent in a separate room. Such a mediation – with the mediator “shuttling” between the two parents – can take more time and doesn’t give the parents the chance to hear each other directly. But it’s available as an option. If you’re uneasy about being in the same room as the other parent, bring it up with the mediator, but consider whether you could start out in the same room and see how it goes.

By implementing the above tactics, remaining respectful, acknowledging the other party and keeping the bigger picture in mind, you will be more likely to come to an agreement during the mediation session. If you need another session with your ex-partner and provided that you are both open to it, then schedule another session to finish the process. It is far cheaper to resolve the agreements and settlements in mediation than participating in a protracted court case in an already overloaded court system.

Jeremy mediates at the Macquarie Park Family Relationship Centre (FRC), operated by Relationships Australia NSW (RANSW). For information about RANSW’s Family Relationship Centres, please click HERE.

Jeremy is also available privately for mediations or conflict coaching and can be contacted at

For another article about FDR, its structure and Section 60I Certificate, click HERE


This is general advice only and is not provided as legal advice. If you have a legal issue, you should contact a lawyer and/or accountant before making a decision about what to do or applying to the Court. cannot provide legal advice. If you have an emergency situation, please contact Emergency '000'. © Divorce Pty Ltd