I think that most people have heard horror stories about divorce. One spouse may try to take everything from the other, they won’t sign the papers, or they are fighting over the rights to custody as if their children are objects to be won. Whatever the case may be one of the ways to successfully alleviate the fight is through mediation. A mediator’s main goal is to help both parties better understand each individual’s position on the basic issues in their divorce and help them to determine areas where they are willing to compromise. The mediator remains a neutral party who will help you and your spouse stay on track in reaching agreements while assisting you in keeping the emotions to a minimum. Issues such as distribution of property, child custody and parenting time, child support, retirement, and taxes can be more effectively and efficiently negotiated with the help of an experienced mediator. This way you can end your marriage amicably and leave the “horror stories” to someone else.
Like many other processes in life, one of the most important ways for mediation to be successful is an informed and prepared participant. When dealing with such personal matters you are far more likely to come out with fair and equitable benefits for both parties if you are aware of your rights, understand the impact of your positions, and have a clear understanding of what is at stake. This way, you can avoid being pressured or bullied into making agreements that you do not understand.
Before sitting down with your spouse and a mediator you want to have a clear picture in your mind of any issues that are most important to you or that you consider “non-negotiable.” Sometimes individuals identify an issue as non-negotiable (i.e. joint physical custody) without understanding the legal ramifications of that decision. Be sure to have a meeting with your attorney before your mediation to understand all of the legal principles involved in custody and parenting time designations, child support guidelines, spousal support and statutory presumptions regarding property divisions.
Next, it is best to come up with the issues that are negotiable. Any mediation session will be far more productive if you have negotiable issues identified and clarified so that you, your spouse, and the mediator can explore all options in the mediation. One strategy that may be helpful is to consider the possible needs/wants of your spouse as well. Being empathetic and acknowledging some of the things that may be important to the other party will result in smoother negotiations.
Remember that mediation is your chance to express your opinions and positions. Although each mediator has their own style, and some focus on interpersonal issues more than others, this is not like court where you are a passive actor in your divorce. While mediation is not to be confused with therapy, it is your chance to discuss how the points in question will affect both you and your spouse’s lives. If you don’t already know ask your attorney about the mediation style of your mediator to find out whether they will take a more facilitative approach versus an evaluative one, or remain active versus passive, etc.
One of the most important things to remember when preparing for mediation is the consequences of an unsettled dispute. Refusal to compromise and a lack of willingness to do what is best for your children can cause mediation and the entire divorce litigation to drag on and become a very lengthy process. Not only does this cause stress and turmoil for both you and your family, but it can also become much more expensive than you may have anticipated. By coming fully prepared with a clear understanding of the issues and the consequences of your decisions you will be much more likely to end a mediation feeling good about the settlement that was reached.
“To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace.”