If you and your partner have made the decision to use the divorce mediation process to conclude your marriage, here are some tips that can help you prepare and make the most of the process.
Know what you have.
You cannot begin to think about your future until you understand what you have, so do your homework. Create a list of all known assets, both joint and separate. This includes bank accounts, retirement accounts, investment accounts, life insurance, annuities, real property (primary residence, vacation home, rental property, etc.) and vehicles.
Then create a list of all your liabilities. This includes credit cards, mortgages, lines of credit, personal loans and car loans. Start to look at your income and expenses. Gather your current paystubs and/ or other income records (Form W-2s, 1099s, Schedule K-1s, etc.) and your tax returns.
By doing this homework, you will be better informed and ready for financial discussions.
Know what you want.
Once you have looked at the things you have, then you can think about what you would want. This is about more than just the money. Take some time and think about what you want your life to look like. Be future focused! Consider everything from relationships to finances: How do you envision the relationship with your ex-spouse, their family or mutual friends? Do you want to stay in the marital home or own a similar home? Pursue a career that you enjoy? Get out of debt? Plan for retirement? Have more free time? During the mediation process, you will discuss (“negotiate”) with your partner. Identifying your goals, then identifying the “must haves” and those things that are not as important to you will make your discussions more productive.
Prioritize your children.
If you have children, putting their best interests, health and well-being as your #1 goal will help keep all other issues in perspective. You will need to consider what you envision in terms of parenting time/ scheduling, childcare arrangements, how you and your ex-spouse will communicate regarding the children, what you want for their education and extra-curricular activities and how you will share their expenses.
See where you and your spouse are aligned.
Chances are, if you and your spouse have chosen to use mediation to negotiate the terms of your divorce, you are willing and able to communicate with each other. If you can, take some time to talk with your spouse about your goals. See where you and your spouse are aligned and where you are not. You can then use your time in mediation to discuss those issues where you are not yet on the same page.
Prepare for the emotionally charged topics.
You and your spouse are parting for a reason. During divorce, emotions can run high, so identify the topics that usually upset you. Plan how you will respond to these triggers. This will help keep the mediation process flowing more smoothly and keep the discussions productive. This does not mean to hold back your feelings during mediation, but rather to find effective ways to express them so that your sessions remain productive. An experienced mediator will help you channel the emotions into meaningful solutions. During the mediation session, if you become overwhelmed or angry, ask the mediator to take a break so you can collect your thoughts.
Throughout the mediation process, the mediator will ask for various financial records and information. It is important to respond to these requests in a timely manner. Doing so will help to keep your mediation moving forward and eliminate unnecessary fees associated with multiple requests for the same information.
Hire a mediation-friendly attorney.
A mediator must remain neutral and cannot give legal advice. Hiring a mediation-friendly attorney – either before or during the mediation process – will enable you to get an attorney’s opinion as you work through your issues.
Once you have completed your mediation, the mediator will put the terms that you and your spouse have agreed on into a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”). One of you will need to have an attorney to put the terms of the MOU into a format that is acceptable to the Court. The financial terms reached will be summarized in a Marital Settlement Agreement (“MSA”). If you have children, the terms of your Parenting Plan will be summarized in an Allocation Judgment (“AJ”).
Hiring a mediation-friendly attorney(s) to draft these documents increases the likelihood the terms you have agreed to will be honored.
Time is money.
The tips above provide guidance for you and your spouse to enter the mediation process prepared. Most mediators charge on an hourly basis. So, if you use your time with the mediator as efficiently as possible, you will likely spend less on mediation fees. Doing your homework, preparing to discuss issues respectfully, and providing all requested information and documents to your mediator in a timely fashion will help keep your mediation focused and moving forward.
The process of divorce, no matter how amicable, can be stressful and mentally draining. Be sure to schedule some “me” time after each mediation session to help you integrate and unwind. Do something you enjoy like taking a leisurely walk, getting a massage, or simply meeting a friend for coffee.
Learn more about divorce mediation.
Divorce mediation can be either “evaluative” or “facilitative”. In evaluative mediation, the mediator (often a retired judge) gives their opinion on what an outcome might be. Facilitative mediation is an approach that focuses on having structured, interest-based conversations so that the parties can create their own solutions. At Trinity Family Law, we practice facilitative mediation.