Preparing for divorce mediation.
April 2017. Everyone has a different level of organization, and a different sense of need to be prepared. Some people start mediation with little, or no, prior preparation, and learn what they need along the way. Other people would not dream of starting the process without being prepared.
Regardless of which category you may fall into, or if you are somewhere in between, this article provides some helpful suggestions for preparation.
1. Decision to mediate.
Part of your preparation for mediation is finalizing your decision to mediate. This includes choosing a mediator.
If you are still in the process of selecting a mediator, you may want to find out if the mediator' s office offers an introduction session. This is a session to find out more - before you commit to hiring the mediator. During this introduction, you should learn more about what mediation is, and what it is not. This is your opportunity to ask questions. With this information, you can make the decision if mediation is right for you, and if the mediator is the right mediator for you. When scheduling the appointment, ask if you will be meeting the mediator during this session, or if it will be held by a staff member.
Some mediators may handle this over the phone. Others may schedule you and your spouse, or partner, to come to their office in person. Some charge a fee, others may not.
The importance of this step is to help you finalize your decision to mediate, and to choose a mediator that you each feel comfortable with, before you start your first session
When choosing a mediator, you may want to consider the mediator's credentials, including: educational background, mediation specific training, how many mediations have they handled, how many years have they been mediating? Do they have any other credentials?
2. Consider why you are choosing mediation?
What are you hoping to achieve? What are your goals? This is a broad question. I like to ask clients this question when we first meet. In this way, they each have a chance to express what it is they are hoping to achieve. The parties also get to hear each other’s goals. They can see what goals they may have in common. As the mediator, this offers me an opportunity to begin to understand the parties, their needs, and what they hope to achieve in the mediation process.
Some answers I often receive include:
- Concerns that the children are going to be okay, with the least possible negative impacts by the divorce.
- To save money.
- While couples do not want to spend a lot of money on litigation, they realize they need professional help in listing and discussing their issues, exploring terms of the agreements, and putting the draft of their agreement in writing.
- Even though they will not stay married, many still care about each other' s wellbeing, and want to make sure they are both going to be okay.
- Faster process than litigation.
- Concerns for privacy of finances and issues.
- Mediation is a more dignified process than the traditional litigation process.
- Increased control over the resolution and direct participation in the process.
- To preserve their relationship with each other, for the benefit of children, or for their own peace of mind, and sometimes for extended family.
- Each family is different – and I am always interested in hearing what is important to the couple sitting in front of me.
3. Getting Organized.
Once you have chosen your mediator, if you have not already done so, you should start getting organized. Start putting together a file folder of important documents. Also, start writing down your thoughts - make notes and compile lists.
4. Your notes and lists may include the following:
A. List your issues of concern. With the broad goals in mind, consider what issues are important for you and your family.
This is different from your goals. While goals are for overall outcome. Issues are more focused.
Issues for families with children may include:
- Custody – legal and physical
- Parenting Plan
- Health Insurance
- Unreimbursed medical expenses
- Life insurance for the benefit of the children
- College expenses
- Special needs or concerns
- Other issues of concern
Even if you do not have children, or if your children are emancipated, you may still need to consider:
- Spousal support / alimony
- Insurance needs
- Tax issues
- Equitable Distribution of Assets and Debts
- Other issues of concern for your family
B. Research. Consider your issues. Consider your concerns and what you would hope to accomplish in settling your matter.
While the nature of many negotiations, or litigation, is to “win”, the focus in mediation is for a “win-win.” Litigation focuses on opposing sides and positions. Mediation can focus on the concerns behind why each person is taking a certain position. With mediation, there is a better chance that there will be a win-win, and each party will benefit in some way. After all, you cannot have an agreement - unless you both agree.
Do your research. Educate yourself on the issues that you are facing. Research the issues. Seek advice from professionals. This may include an attorney; tax advisor; financial advisor; realtor; business advisor, or other professionals. But, when you choose mediation, you are in control of how much advice you feel you need. Consider seeking such advice before mediation; between sessions and /or after mediation is concluded.
The issues you will be discussing are very important. A mediator is a professional who can facilitate your discussions, and help you work on arriving at an agreement. A mediator can provide you with information. However, a mediator cannot provide you with advice.
By being informed, you will get the most out of mediation.
C. Questions. Make a list of questions you have. This will be for your own use and reference during mediation. As you progress with mediation, you may want to make a to-do list of research or information gathering between your mediation sessions.
D. Prior agreements. If you and your spouse, or partner, have already discussed some of the above issues in your matter, make a list of your understanding of your agreements. These notes are for your personal use. This way, you can refer to your notes during the discussions on each topic.
5. Documents for Mediation
If you would like to start pulling together documents for the mediation process, the following is a list of the categories of documents that may be helpful:
- Income information – recent pay stubs, last tax return, last W-2s, 1099s, business tax returns (if self-employed), etc.
- Asset information - copies of most recent statements and a list of assets
- Debt information - copies of most recent statements and a list of debts
- Insurance information - you will need this when filing with the court. During mediation, questions often come up regarding - Life Insurance information, Health Insurance information (cost to cover children), auto insurance, etc. It is helpful to have this information on hand.
- Employment-based benefits - including any retirement plans, savings plans, or other benefits
- Expense / Budget information - monthly living expenses.
- Other documents you feel may be important to review.
Note: Please do not worry too much if you are unable to pull any or all of this information together prior to your introduction appointment. The introduction can proceed either way.
Going through a divorce or separation is a very difficult time in your life. Do the best you can. Mediation can progress at your pace.