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What Do We Do After an Impasse in Mediation

Next Page Mediation April 2, 2024

In the sensitive territory of divorce, reaching an impasse during mediation can feel like hitting a brick wall. It's a period fraught with frustration and disappointment for all parties involved.  

An impasse is bigger than a disagreement; it's when the gap between the parties seems unbridgeable. Neither side is willing to make a move. Emotions are running high, and both sides are ready to walk away.  

However, it's crucial to recognize that an impasse doesn't signify the end of the road but rather a challenging bend in the path toward resolution. Here, I explore strategies and steps to consider when mediation seems to stall, guiding couples to move beyond the deadlock. 

Getting Past the Impasse

An impasse arises when the parties involved in mediation reach a point where they seem unable to agree on a critical issue or a set of issues. It can make upcoming discussions seem worthless.  

But, getting caught in disagreement quicksand shouldn't spell the end of your divorce resolution process.

The way I see it, an impasse is a challenge that, with the right approach, can be conquered. These obstacles are common occurrences that, ironically, can catalyze deeper understanding and more creative problem-solving. Here are the strategies I employ when my mediation clients encounter a "point of no return": 

Never Give Up

Persistence is crucial when working through an impasse. As a mediator, I am trained to help parties move past these roadblocks and find common ground. We can work together as a team to examine what's causing the disconnect, identify any underlying issues, and reframe the conversation in a way that allows both sides to communicate more effectively. 

Take a Break

Sometimes, simply stepping away from the mediation table for a short period can significantly defuse tensions. A break allows all parties to reflect, cool down, and perhaps reconsider their positions with a calmer mindset. This pause can be a few minutes, a few hours, or even a few days, as needed. 

Revisit the Goals

An impasse may indicate that the parties have lost sight of their overarching goals in the heat of negotiation. Revisiting these goals with the mediator can help realign and focus the discussions. What are the ultimate outcomes each party desires? Can these desired outcomes provide a new perspective on the contested issues? 

When to Move On

If, despite all efforts, the parties cannot move past an impasse, it may be time to consider alternative dispute resolution methods. Arbitration or, ultimately, litigation might be necessary to resolve the matters at hand.

However, these avenues often involve higher emotional and financial costs, emphasizing the value of returning to the divorce mediation process

Consider Alternatives: Temporary Agreement or Informal Settlement

After mediation reaches an impasse, you and the other party may still reach an agreement. This is called an informal settlement because it isn't a contract (there's no mediated settlement agreement). Even after an impasse, you can reach out to the opposing party to negotiate. 

And in cases where an impasse persists, the parties may benefit from drafting a temporary agreement. This agreement can address critical immediate concerns while leaving the door open for future negotiations on more contentious issues. Such an arrangement provides a temporary framework for interaction, often crucial in divorce cases involving children or shared businesses. 

How Next Page Mediation Prevents Impasses

Preventing impasses during mediation requires both foresight and a proactive approach. From the outset, setting clear communication ground rules can lay a foundation for effective dialogue. Both parties need to agree to listen actively, speak in turn without interruptions, and show respect for each other's perspectives. 

Creating a Collaborative Atmosphere: The environment and manner in which mediation sessions are conducted can significantly influence the likelihood of reaching an impasse. By cultivating a collaborative rather than adversarial atmosphere, I encourage parties to view each other as partners in problem-solving rather than opponents, which can increase the potential for impasse swerving and overall conflict resolving. 

Identify Non-Negotiables Early On: Understanding and acknowledging each party's non-negotiable points at the beginning of the mediation process can also help in avoiding deadlocks. This clarity allows the mediator to steer the discussion towards areas where compromise and agreement are possible, effectively navigating around potential impasses. 

Open-Ended Questioning: I also ask open-ended questions that encourage deeper reflection and discussion. These questions should be designed to help the parties explore their needs and interests rather than focus solely on their positions. By understanding the underlying reasons behind a party's stance, it becomes easier to identify areas of potential compromise. 

Incremental Agreements: Focusing on small, incremental agreements can also maintain momentum and prevent the sense of stagnation that often precedes an impasse. Celebrating these minor victories can build a sense of progress and cooperation, making larger compromises seem more achievable and less overwhelming. Less stress = fewer impasses. 

Here to Bring a Sense of Calm

An impasse in mediation is just another page in your story; at Next Page Mediation, we're here to help you turn it.

My mission is to guide couples in northeastern Ohio and Washington State through the mediation process, from smooth paths to rocky terrains, always with the aim of achieving a resolution that respects the needs and wishes of all parties. 

Contact Next Page Mediation today to learn more about how my distinguished services can support you in moving toward a resolution that paves the way for a new beginning.