Preparing for Success in Divorce Mediation
Posted in Divorce on May 5, 2017
When your divorce trial is looming, you and your attorney put a lot of effort into preparations. Your attorney has been gathering, sorting, and analyzing evidence for months, making witness lists and preparing to question you and other witnesses on the stand. In fact, you wouldn’t dream of heading to trial without these extensive preparations.
However, the great majority of divorce matters don’t end in trial, but in some form of a negotiated settlement. Often, these settlements are reached through mediation. Though the type of preparation required for divorce mediation is somewhat different, it is no less important than preparing for trial. And as with any important endeavor, the outcome you achieve is often directly linked to the effort you put into the process. Here are some tips to help your mediation be both cordial and productive.
Identify the Issues
This might sound obvious, but there are some things that will be hotly contested in your divorce, and some that will not. For instance, you might agree with your spouse on how certain property will be divided, but be completely at odds about child custody and parenting time. Of course, your mediator will help you identify issues that need resolution, but if you spend some time thinking about them first, on your own and with your attorney, the process will go more smoothly.
Focus on Interests, not Positions
What’s the difference? A position is black-and-white, such as “I want sole custody of the kids.” Either you’ll get the desired outcome, or you won’t. If your spouse opposes your position, one of you will win and one of you will lose. Or maybe you’ll both lose, but you can’t both win.
However, every position has an interest behind it. Dig deep to identify your interests, because while it’s not possible to satisfy two opposite positions, it is often possible to meet both parties’ interests. For instance, both parties may want sole custody of the children, which is impossible to achieve. If the interest you’re looking to meet is, “being deeply involved in my children’s lives, not just a visitor,” you can agree to do certain things that support that interest for both parents. The result? Both parents win, and more importantly, so do the kids.
Crunch Some Numbers
Two can live as cheaply as one, goes the old saying, but the flip side of that is that when one household becomes two, there are suddenly more expenses without a corresponding increase in income. Do some research into what your living expenses will be after divorce prior to your mediation. This will have a double benefit: it will keep you from agreeing to accept less property or support than you need just to resolve the issue, and it will keep you from arguing unnecessarily because you’re afraid you won’t have enough.
You should also have exchanged financial information with your spouse so that you know exactly how much there is to divide. If you’re not able to trust that your spouse has been honest in disclosing their assets, discuss with your attorney whether mediation is really right for your situation.
Understand Your Deal-Breakers
You should be prepared to be flexible in your mediation, but there may be some potential outcomes to which you just can’t agree. Know in advance what those are, so you won’t have to decide in the moment whether you should stand your ground, or risk blowing up the mediation because of an emotional reaction to an unacceptable suggestion. Be prepared to propose acceptable alternatives to any of the deal-breakers you’ve identified.
Do Some Emotional Self-Care
Mediation has a lot of benefits, not least of which is that it allows for creative solutions and flexibility, resulting in a mediated outcome that you can really live with. Mediation allows you to be more involved in the decisions that affect your life than, say, litigation. The downside is that mediation also requires you to be more involved in those decisions. That’s work you have to do, and, while it’s worthwhile, it can be emotionally exhausting.
Do what you need to in order to keep yourself balanced: try to get enough sleep, exercise, and healthy food (easier said than done, even in the best of times, but important to strive for). Consider seeing a therapist or divorce coach for some experienced, objective support. And while your attorney shouldn’t be your primary source of emotional support, she can help you know what to expect from mediation, so that you feel prepared and your anxiety and stress levels are lower.