Mediation works when done right. It can be a helpful way to reduce animosity, finalize a divorce quickly, keep your personal life private, save money, and resolve conflict.
But mediation is not right for everyone. It only works when there is no power imbalance, both parties agree to financial transparency, each spouse seriously desires a settlement, and neither party has denied access to the children. Benefits of mediation include greater post-divorce stability and shielding your kids from conflict. So, what can you do to increase your chances of successfully mediating a family law dispute?
Keep these tips in mind as you embark on the mediation process.
Tip 1: Commit to being a good listener
When spouses in mediation utilize good listening skills (and refrain from interrupting and attacking one another), settlement discussions stay on track. Bonus points go to you for empathizing with your spouse, as you may find they're more cooperative when they feel like they've been heard.
Tip 2: Choose your consulting lawyer wisely
A lawyer who is unskilled at mediation or unsupportive of the mediation process can kill your chances of reaching a settlement through mediation. Many divorce lawyers try to take over and control the entire case. This just sends you into litigation mode.
Why would you need a consulting lawyer, then? An experienced consulting lawyer can review agreements, give answers tailored specifically to your case, and act as a law coach. They may be able to predict legal outcomes if you were to go to court and estimate the cost of litigation. Between sessions, they can clarify your questions and prepare you for negotiations by evaluating best-case and worst-case scenarios, helping you identify legal claims you may not have known you are entitled to (e.g., reimbursements for joint expenses), and coaching you in negotiation techniques.
Tip 3: Don't panic if your mediator listens or empathizes with your spouse
Your mediator has to understand your spouse in order to assist you with a resolution. If you see your mediator nodding or listening intently to them, don't panic. It doesn't mean they're taking sides or believing one side more than the other.
The best mediators listen to what is important to both of you and facilitate communication to help you reach a settlement.
Tip 4: Prepare, prepare, prepare
Do your homework. This can't be stressed enough. List all of your assets, property, and debts. Have financial statements ready for review (present-day, date of separation, and date of marriage – especially if you are claiming a separate property interest). Provide at least three years of tax returns, three months of pay stubs, and evidence of profit or loss if you are self-employed.
Make a list of all of your expenses. Talk to your mediator about whether an appraisal of key assets should be performed. You may want to consider meeting with a divorce financial planner to determine what you need to meet your financial goals.
Tip 6: Identify your priorities
What are your top priorities as you enter mediation with your soon-to-be-ex? For example, do you want to keep the family home? Do you want more time with the kids? Identify your top priorities as you approach mediation. List them in order of importance, too. Perhaps keeping the marital home, while it would be awesome, plays second fiddle to getting more time with your kids.
Tip 7: Separate needs from wants
The ideal outcome in mediation is this: You will get all of your needs and some of your wants.
Remember that this is the same ideal outcome for your spouse. So, what are your needs? For many people, these include health insurance, a decent home, transportation, and enough money to eat and pay the bills. Approach mediation the same way you would approach the creation of a household budget, making sure basic needs are met before resources are spent on non-essentials. Adopting this mindset can help prepare you for the "give and take" of mediation.
Tip 8: Give to get
Think about the goals you created. You aren't going to get everything you want ... but what might you be willing to give up in exchange for something else that's more important to you? For example, would you agree to a little less child support if you had more custodial time?
A wise client once said, "This car won't matter to me in five years, but being able to attend my son's soccer games will." Ask yourself, "Will this matter to me in a few years?" If the answer is no, move on.
Tip 9: Keep your emotions (and your expectations) in check
Your spouse may end up getting an asset you wanted. In fact, this is very likely to happen. Try to look past it. For example, if your spouse gets to keep the marital home you wanted, think about the benefits that could arise from it. Perhaps you no longer have to pay the mortgage. Perhaps your kids will get to stay in the same school district because your ex is keeping the address.
Tip 10: Be open to creative solutions
You're so close to the situation right now, you might not actually see all the potential creative solutions that exist. That's one reason why a mediator can be so helpful: They can think "out of the box" and help you find solutions you may not have thought of. For example, a mediator might suggest "nesting" as an alternative to the traditional child custody schedule. (It's not for everyone, but it might be right for you.) What's more, they can help you peacefully broach this type of conversation with your spouse.
Tip 11: Download our free divorce mediation checklist
At Hello Divorce, we offer lots of free resources for divorcing couples, including this downloadable divorce mediation checklist that guides you through the mediation preparation process. Check it out!
Learn more about Hello Divorce's mediation options for your divorce here.
A silver lining
The above tips should assist you in achieving a great outcome after a failed relationship. Hey, there's got to be a silver lining, right? Just remember: Do what it takes to walk into mediation prepared. Keep your goals in mind and your emotions in check. And know that we are here for you. At Hello Divorce, not only do we strive to provide helpful resources like this, but we also provide affordable divorce services and online divorce plans with flat rates so you know exactly what you're paying for. Want to talk to a real person about it? You can sign up for a free 15-minute phone consultation here.