Emery's Divorce Mediation Study

The following is a summary of Dr. Emery's 12-year study on the effects of divorce mediation. This divorce mediation study is also available in Microsoft PowerPoint presentation format here.

The Study

  • Used a high conflict group - families who had filed for contested custody hearing
  • Used random assignment (the magic of science) — a flip of a coin determined whether families went to mediation or adversary settlement
  • Sample was young and low income
  • Mediation was short-term (5 hr average) and problem-focused but sensitive to emotions, especially grief
  • Was a longitudinal study — families were followed for 12 years

Mediation Kept Most Families Out of Court

  • If the coin came up tails and they stayed in the adversary system, 75% of families appeared before a judge
  • But if the coin came up heads, less than 20% appeared before a judge
  • Even when mediation failed, parents tended to settle out of court with the help of their lawyers

Case Settlement Following Random Assignment

What happens to angry families after they leave a mediator's office — and years later?

  • Mediator's hope we've planted a seed. Have we?
  • Yes. If the coin came up heads, 5 hours of mediation caused nonresidential parents to see their children much more often 12 years later
  • Compare these rates to the dramatic drop off in contact after the typical divorce in America
  • For example, 28% of nonresident parents who mediated saw their children weekly 12 years later compared to 9% who litigated and 11% in the national averages

12 Year Follow-Up: Outcomes of Mediation and Litigation

Changes in Telephone Contact Were Even More Dramatic

  • 52% of nonresident parents who mediated talked with their children weekly 12 years later
  • This compares with 14% of nonresident parents who went to court and 18% in the national averages
  • Because of the random assignment, we know that 5 hours of mediation caused this difference

12 Year Follow-Up: Outcomes of Mediation and Litigation

Residential Parents Who Mediated Gave Nonresidential Parents Better "Grades" in Every Area of Parenting

  • Including discipline, grooming, religious and moral training, running errands, celebrating holidays, taking part in significant events, school and church activities, recreation, vacations, and discussing problems with them

Nonresidential Parent Child Involvement

Why Did So Little Mean So Much?

  • Timing is everything. This is the time to do the right thing.
  • The right path. Not so much that mediation is "good" as the alternative is...disruptive.
  • Not the decisions reached (they were the same) but the process.
    • Having a voice
    • Taking the long view
    • Working together
    • Learning about children's needs and co-parenting
    • Recognizing your own grief and how it causes anger

Mediation: Do Something Different With Your Emotions

  • The usual way to end a relationship is to say, "I never want to see you again!"
  • Anger serves many functions following a loss including covering up hurt, grief, and pain
  • Mediation (and other forms of cooperative divorce) ask parents to do something different — for their kids sake
  • This can make breaking up emotionally harder for parents who may feel more ambivalence and acute pain
  • But working together for your children is the right thing and it does work!

Primary Reference

Emery, R.E., Laumann-Billings, L., Waldron, M., Sbarra, D.A., and Dillon, P. (2001). Child custody mediation and litigation: Custody, contact, and co-parenting 12 years after initial dispute resolution. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 69, 323-332.