6 Steps to Take Before You Begin Divorce Mediation
Thinking about divorce mediation? This is an excellent idea if you and your spouse want to divorce amicably yet need some help coming to a full agreement.
Working with a good mediator has its perks. Most notably, you can cut down on attorney fees and costs, move at your own pace, protect your privacy, stay out of court, and work toward an agreement that meets both of your needs.
"Divorce is not the end of a family; it's a reorganization." – Belgian relationship therapist and author Esther Perel
Spending a little time preparing for mediation can put you in a much better position to get a fair outcome. Consider taking these six steps prior to starting mediation:
1. Consider legal coaching
The best legal coach understands the mediation process and may even be a mediator, but doesn’t encourage a lawyered-up approach to divorce. A legal coach is an expert in divorce law who can give advice and tell you what to expect. Your coach will explain the mediation process, listen to your goals and concerns, help strategize your position for mediation, and help you prepare your response to different scenarios.
We usually recommend meeting one to three times with a legal coach before starting mediation. Your legal coach should also review the written settlement agreement before its finalized.
Remember, your mediator cannot take sides. You need to ensure that the agreement clearly articulates your wants and needs. For example, failure to specify an end date for spousal support payments could have unintended financial consequences down the road. Make sure the date specifying when support will end is clearly stated in the agreement. Or, if you and your ex are not ready to decide that now, you both should at least agree in writing that you will revisit spousal support terms at a later date (and if possible, estimate when).
2. Choose your mediator wisely
A facilitative mediator helps foster productive conversations and is ideal if you and your spouse tend to argue. Evaluative mediators help explain the legal merit of each of your requests (such as your desire for primary child custody, or your spouse wanting to sell your marital home). Transformative mediators are more like counselors, in that they allow you to discuss your conflicts in a safe space with the intention of ending up with solutions.
Questions to ask when interviewing a potential mediator
Here are some questions that will help you choose the best mediator for your situation:
- What is your style of mediation?
- Will you meet with my spouse and me in the same room, or will you travel between two rooms? Do you ever hold sessions by phone, Zoom, or Skype?
- What does your availability look like? How far out are you scheduling meetings?
- Will you be preparing, filing, and processing our divorce paperwork or will we have to do that on our own?
- Do you take a retainer upfront and bill against that, or do you charge a flat fee? If so, how much? And what is your hourly rate?
- What type of mediation training or certification program have you completed?
3. Keep an open mind and listen carefully
We want people to have a successful outcome in mediation. While this tip technically refers to what to do during mediation, it's a good idea to start thinking about it before.
Your spouse may say things that are hurtful, untrue, or counterproductive. Trust that your mediator will be able to see through unreasonable requests. Take a deep breath when communication heats up. Listen closely and carefully. Do your best to stay calm, and refrain from interrupting or attacking your spouse.
When each party practices good listening skills during mediation, settlement discussions stay on track. It can benefit you to empathize with your ex, even if you don't agree. You may find they become more cooperative when they feel "heard" by you. Practice these communication skills ahead of time so they're second nature during mediation.
4. Don’t rush the process
It can be daunting to negotiate a complex financial contract or to fight for what you think is best for your kids while ending one of the most important relationships you've ever had. That's what meditation is. The process requires a steep learning curve, especially if you have complicated financial issues, and all sorts of emotions may surface: anger, sorrow, relief, fear, and disappointment. Good or bad, emotions are exhausting.
Give yourself a serious break. That may sound difficult considering all of life's obligations, but it is possible. Meditate for a few minutes. Watch a comedy and laugh your butt off. Don't be so hard on yourself. Maybe you forgot who you are, and now you're rebuilding yourself. If so, welcome back.
5. Gather your financial information now
Assuming you have access to your financial documents, start gathering them now. You really can't go into mediation prepared unless you have a good understanding of what you have and when it was acquired.
For example, if you purchased a home together but your grandmother provided the down payment, you'll likely want to get that money back. You will want to "prove" that with some sort of documentation or another financial statement. It's not uncommon for people's memories to become foggy when it comes to facts that could financially hurt them.
In the best-case scenario, you and your spouse will work together to compile documents. The following is an abbreviated list of some of the documents you may want to gather.
- Federal and state tax returns
- Pay stubs
- W-2s and/or 1099s
- Partnerships and other business interest valuations
- Real estate property valuation (it's okay if you don't have this yet)
- Kelley Blue Book value on cars and trucks
- Savings, checking, money market, and CD account records
- Non-retirement investment statements for stocks, bonds, secured notes, and mutual funds
- Executive compensation records, including stock options, restricted stock units, or other executive comps
- Retirement account and pension statements
- Annuities, IRAs, and deferred compensation records
- Life insurance policies
- Accounts receivable records and unsecured notes
- Real estate loans
- Credit card and line of credit records
- Evidence of separate property contributions to assets
- Health insurance information
- Evidence of cost of extracurriculars, such as camp and other kid-related expenses
6. Determine your non-negotiables
What can you not live without? What are you willing to give up in order to keep that? Maybe it's your house. For example, your house may be your biggest appreciating asset, and you might not want your kids to have to change schools. Think about what you would be willing to give up in exchange for that.
Other possible non-negotiables are retirement benefits and financial support. Think about what truly matters to you so you don't prolong the divorce or incur more fees. Will the [insert item] really matter to you in 90 days? One year? Five years?
How Hello Divorce can help
Whether you have one or two pesky issues that you and your ex can't resolve or you would prefer to tackle everything at the same time (with help), mediation may be a great option if you and your spouse are splitting up. Mediation allows you to have a voice in the important decisions rather than leaving them up to the court system. But, whatever route you choose, I want you to have a happily ever after ... just separately.
Hello Divorce offers flat-rate mediation when and if you need it. Learn how our experienced mediators can help you here.