If you are planning to use the mediation process for your divorce, there are some basic preparation steps you should take to ready yourself for your mediation session. This upfront foot work can give you the knowledge and resources you need to effectively work toward a settlement with your spouse. It can also save you time and money.
The most important thing you can do to prepare for mediation is to choose a divorce mediator who is a good fit for you and your spouse. You will be relying on this individual to help guide you through unfamiliar terrain, and having someone you feel comfortable with will make the process much smoother. You may want to come up with a basic list of questions to learn more about a mediator’s background, knowledge about key issues involved in the divorce process, and how they view their role in mediation. Asking a few questions will give you information about their expertise in divorce mediation, as well as letting you get a sense of their personality and communication style.
At Divorce Helpline, we encourage clients to meet with our attorney mediators before scheduling a mediation session to make sure that there is a level of comfort and confidence necessary to support the best outcome. These meet and greets can be done in person or over the telephone.
Once the mediation session has been scheduled, you’ll want to gather as much information as possible related to your assets, debts and personal finances. This can include a list of any real property you own, your monthly mortgage or rent, your earnings, retirement plans, life insurance, loans, investments, etc. In general, you will want to know as much as possible about what you own, what you owe, your sources of income and the “cost of living” needs for you and your dependent children. You don’t need to spend money on professional appraisals at this point, but if you know what you paid for any major assets and what you still owe, include that on your list. We provide our clients with pre-mediation checklists to help with this information gathering.
The divorce mediation process relies on both spouses having complete and accurate facts about their assets and debts. If it turns out that there are undisclosed assets that are discovered once a divorce is finalized, you have the right to petition the court to modify your final judgment to properly divide the assets.
The next step is to create a list of all of the things that you and your spouse already agree upon. Occasionally, a couple will approach the mediation process without any mutual agreements, and every single item is up for discussion. However, in most cases there are usually some “givens” between divorcing couples such as who will keep a particular vehicle or who will maintain the primary residence for the children. The more items you can take off the table, the more you can focus your mediation on identifying and isolating the areas of uncertainty and disagreement.
If you feel like you need some help understanding the potential legal and financial issues concerning property, assets, debts or child custody, it may be useful to schedule a meeting with a consulting attorney and/or financial professional prior to your mediation. Getting a professional opinion about your potential range of options can help you prioritize your concerns and make informed decisions.
Finally, once you have organized your documents, it can be helpful to organize your thoughts about what your goals are for your mediation. I usually tell people to think about what the best case scenario would be for them in terms of results, and also what their bottom line is. Understanding this range of expectations –from the ideal to the acceptable to the non-negotiable—can offer a mental framework to help guide the decision-making process. Entering into divorce mediation with wildly unrealistic expectations can lead to great disappointment and may derail the process entirely.
The goal of mediation is to help resolve any unresolved issues related to your divorce and help you and your spouse move forward with your respective lives. Advance preparation can help reduce the time spent in a mediation session and allow you to take the greatest advantage of the process.
We encourage you to give us a call to learn more about divorce mediation and how it can provide a peaceful and practical way to help you move on with your life.