If you’re going through a divorce, consider mediation as a means of making that divorce final. It’s a civil way to help divide the assets, properties, and belongings of either party, and offers a third, neutral party to assist in decision-making. Best of all, it’s less expensive than multiple court hearings, and you and your spouse are in full control of the decisions made.
What is Divorce Mediation?
Divorce mediation is a strategy used by divorcing couples to negotiate a divorce settlement. You and your spouse (or sometimes you and your respective attorneys) will hire a third, neutral party called a mediator. This mediator will meet with you both to discuss and create solutions to issues that arise from your divorce. The mediator helps you and your spouse figure out what works best. They facilitate ideas and thoughts that lead you to the solutions you seek.
No matter your situation, mediators are helpful for nearly everybody undergoing a divorce. Their benefits are extensive:
- Mediation is confidential. No public records of the sessions are kept.
- Mediation lets you decide what is fair. You don’t have to listen to a solution forced upon you from strict, impersonal legalities.
- Your attorney is still free to give you legal advice if you need it.
- Mediations usually end in settlement of all divorce issues.
- Mediation is much cheaper than having a bunch of hearings or court trial.
- Everything is controlled by you and your spouse.
- The process may help build communications between yourself and your soon-to-be former spouse.
Of course, there are some situations in which mediation shouldn’t be used. For example, if domestic violence is involved in your relationship, it’s generally advised that you do not mediate.
Mediation certainly provides a level field for both parties to meet, but keep in mind that a mediator cannot order either party to do anything. Therefore, if your soon-to-be ex-spouse is the type who may abuse the mediation process by stalling, you may wish to reconsider.
How Do I Find a Divorce Mediator?
Finding a mediator is easy. Your attorney will know where to find some local mediators. You can also ask a therapist or leader at your church for one. If you’re representing yourself, you can perform a search to find divorce mediators in your local area. You’ll then make a phone call to the mediator and they’ll speak with you about your marriage and your family, gathering background information. The amount of information they gather is dependent upon your mediator. Some will collect a lot over the phone, while others will get it all in the first meeting.
What Will I Discuss During Mediation?
The first meeting you have will be held on neutral ground. You might meet in a conference room, for example. The mediator will then speak with you about what to expect from the process so all parties understand what will happen. For that part, all parties may meet in the same room. There may be some parts of the process where parties are seated in the same room to discuss general processes of the mediation, or to talk about the divorce. Other times, mediators may have different parties leave the room to get perspectives and viewpoints from different sides. This keeps things fair and balanced and establishes a rapport among both parties.
After you’ve done the basics, the mediator will begin by asking each side to make a statement about the situation at hand. You and your spouse will take turns doing this. The mediator may repeat back what has been said to ensure he or she is on the same page and reiterate the points to be sure your spouse understands, too.
You’ll then talk about the issues upon which you agree, and the ones you need some additional help on. After you gain a good understanding of what needs to be accomplished, you’ll form the plan. The mediator helps you and your spouse design a roadmap of sorts that’ll get your issues all sorted out. It will then be upon both of you to get all the information you need together. This will include child custody information, documents dealing with property issues, and more. The mediator will help you make a list of what to bring to the next meeting.
Once the next meeting begins, so do the negotiations. You’ll likely start small and build your way up. By doing small tasks first, confidence and a sense of trust emerge. You learn how to make compromises, which will make the bigger issues a bit easier to sort.
Making a negotiation about a big issue will not be easy. The process is certainly not cut and dry. You might have to work backward, figuring out the solution you both hope to achieve, and then thinking about how that can be accomplished.
As you and your spouse discuss, the mediator will act as a moderator of sorts, helping you to stay on task and offering ideas and options for the hard parts. He or she will encourage you both to be open and honest, express opinions and ideas, and outline wants and needs. This will help you all reach a resolution more quickly.
In order to be as successful as possible, be open to compromise. Make an effort to understand what the other party wants and needs. Your spouse may just pick up on it and do the same. When your spouse offers a solution or idea, do not immediately reject it. Be sure to think it through and try to see things from their perspective. Is the idea valid and you just don’t like it, or is it really a bad idea?
After you have reached a plan, the mediator and your attorneys will write up an agreement. They may also create a parenting plan and schedule that will be integrated with your other paperwork. Be advised the court could very well enforce them if they’re not followed.
What Questions Should I Ask During Mediation?
You’ll want to make sure that you get the most for your time and money during your mediation session. Therefore, it’s important to ask your spouse some questions before as well as during the mediation session. For example, if you both agree to mediate, how will you take care of the cost? Will it be split, or will one spouse pick up the bill? Can you commit to the sessions, or are you unwilling?
Second, ask yourself what you have. Ask yourself what you must have, and what you can probably live without. Start by creating a master list of your assets and belongings. Even if you do not know what belongs to whom, write it all down. This means everything: real property (homes, rental properties, or any vacation properties) and personal items (jewelry, art, furniture, and other collectibles). Make sure to list any and all vehicles (cars, boats, RVs, motorcycles, or other watercraft like jet-skis).
You’ll also want to make a list of all the finances, including savings accounts, joint checking accounts, credit cards, life insurance policies, or stocks and bonds. Make a list of everything that involves your money, and be ready to discuss it with the mediator and your attorney. Keep in mind this list should not only include the assets, either. List income like social security payments, pay stubs from your place of employment, pension disbursements, and any self-employment records of loss and gain.
Also, list any and all expenses you incur. Think of mortgage and car payments, health insurance bills, credit card and student loan payments, and cost of food and utilities. Be sure to save bills and receipts as you go along. Having the best documentation will help you in the long run. Once you have it all together, you can begin asking the big questions about money:
- How will assets be divided?
- How will debts be divided?
- How will we handle the division of property?
- What can I absolutely NOT live without? What can I let go of without too much stress or regret?
- What are my spouse’s goals, and how can I see things from their perspective?
Bear in mind that your wants and needs may change during the process. If something doesn’t go your way, don’t jump to conclusions. Give it some time or speak up about it so all parties can help you come to a solution. And, as with any negotiations, there has to be give and take. It’s not likely you’ll get everything you asked for.
Dos and Don’ts of Divorce Mediation
As with any process, there are some dos and don’ts that you should follow for a smoother process. We will discuss them here.
Do be prepared. Bring all the items previously discussed, such as bills, child care expenses, tax forms, and other items of that nature. Be sure to bring other parenting-related items, like school calendars and extracurricular activities so costs for those items can be accounted for. By being prepared, you can figure out just how much you will get or owe in terms of child or spousal support.
Do also consider bringing along a trusted friend to provide you with support during mediation. Despite mediation being a matter of business, emotions certainly run high. It can help to have a shoulder to lean on.
Mediators are neutral, so they cannot say if what you’re getting is good or bad. They also cannot provide legal advice. Therefore, bring along your attorney and perhaps have a supportive friend go too (or at least have them on the phone). You can bounce ideas off them and get a fresh pair of eyes to look at things for you.
Do remind yourself it’s okay to take things slowly and ask plenty of questions. If tensions begin to run high, don’t feel like you have to be tough and answer under duress. Ask for a break, have some water or a snack, and come back with a new perspective. There’s a finish line in your divorce, but it’s certainly not a race to get there. It’s best to take things slow to be sure all sides are getting a good deal.
Now, we’ll have a look at what to avoid in mediation.
Don’t mediate if domestic abuse has taken place. There’s a risk of your spouse hurting you as a result of the mediation, and it’s not worth it. If the other party is violent, they may try to accost you outside the office or while you’re walking in. If you still want mediation, ask for a shuttle mediation. This process will allow the professional to relay messages back and forth while the parties remain in separate rooms.
Don’t blow off or disregard mediation. Remember, this is your chance to sort things out on your terms instead of the court deciding for you. Plus, it’s a lot less expensive. Take it seriously and get it done.
Don’t attempt to save money by leaving your attorney behind. These meetings are absolutely full of legal consequences, and you’ll need legal advice. Make sure you have someone on your side who can answer questions and make the soundest possible decisions for you.
All in all, divorce mediation is ultimately a good thing. You have the chance to talk things over with your spouse, his or her attorney, and a trained professional who can and will guide you along. It’s all done in a very quiet and civil manner, and you can schedule the sessions on your time instead of court hearings that’ll require juggling a schedule to attend. Arrive well-prepared with your documentation, legal counsel, and an open mind, and things should go smoothly.