You hired a family law mediator and set the first meeting date. Now what? Here are five ways to make sure mediation sessions fulfill their purpose of helping you and your spouse arrive at divorce settlement terms both of you consider fair and equitable. Trying to resolve your divorce with a minimum wrangling and discord? Here’s how to make the divorce mediation process work for you:
Leave Your Emotions at the Door: Due to the collaborative nature of divorce mediation, successful mediation sessions rely heavily on the ability of both parties to communicate civilly with one another. Divorce brings with it an incredible number of emotions, many of them painful. If you are committed to mediation, then it is also important to commit to preventing rage and bitterness from entering the mediation equation. This doesn’t mean you can’t still feel sad or angry about your divorce. But it does mean that you are willing to temporarily set aside these feelings to focus on the matters at hand. Many people find it helpful to talk to a divorce therapist prior to beginning mediation. Let the counselor know about your goal of mediating your divorce. In addition to helping you cope with divorce in general, he or she may be able to teach you breathing techniques and other useful methods for keeping you cool during sessions.
Be Prepared to Work: Depending on the issues involved in your divorce, a mediation session may have you working with the mediator to calculate child support or alimony payments, or require you to look through years of bank records and other financial documents. You want to be at your sharpest during these discussions, so make sure you are doing what it takes to walk into the mediation room feeling rested and alert. At minimum, take time to:
– Eat beforehand, and bring a snack and water with you,
– Get plenty of rest the night before,
– Wear comfortable clothes,
– Organize all personal and financial documents that will be in play, and
– Read about the issues that will be discussed. For example, if you know child custody will the focus of the ssion, take time to read about and familiarize yourself with New Jersey’s family law guidelines on the topic.
Establish Mediation Session Goals: What is the desired outcome of the mediation session? By the end of the session, do you want to have in place… A firm outline of your parenting time plan? A decision made about who gets the house? Agreement over what will happen to outstanding joint credit card bills? Some mediators may plan out at the first session the issues that will be negotiated at each subsequent session. It’s always a good idea to remind yourselves of what’s on the table and what you want to accomplish. If your mediation room has a whiteboard, jot down your session goals and cross them off as they are accomplished. This can be an important way to keep both of you focused and on-task. If no whiteboard is available, bring a large piece of poster board and a marker.
Brush Up on Negotiation Skills: How adept are you at give and take? Because so many issues at stake in divorce are subjective, it’s often up to you to assert what you want and then negotiate with your spouse to see if an agreement over the issue can be reached. Some items that you want in a divorce may not get much argument from your spouse; other issues may lead to intense disagreement. The mediation process is designed to deal with both ends of this spectrum, with the mediator there to suggest ways middle ground can be reached and stalemates avoided.
One way to get started with negotiations is for each of you to write down what you want, from what you want for child custody to physical objects — TVs, furniture, etc. — you want from the family home (and maybe that you want the family home itself). These lists can form the basis of negotiation. For example, for some couples, it really does come down to “I will trade you the dining room set for the flatscreen TV.” Other couples decide to flip coins over some items. Other potential issues of disagreement, including child custody, may need to negotiated with the help of outside experts (i.e., a child custody evaluator).
Set a Good Example: One of the easiest tips for making your mediation session a success? Be a positive mirror for your spouse by setting a good example. If you walk into the room in a cordial, courteous mood, ready to get down to business and willing to negotiate, there’s a good chance your demeanor might very well rub off. Also, when you know you are putting your best foot forward, the resulting confidence boost can help you overcome any rough spots or road blocks to getting what you want. To put it simply, rising to the occasion is its own reward.
Have questions about mediation? Please contact us to schedule your free consultation.