For any couple wishing to avoid litigation in court, mediation is a widely used alternative. In mediation, the two parties meet with a neutral mediator, with attorneys sometimes in attendance, to resolve any issues and determine compromises necessary for the future.
For many divorcing couples, mediation has advantages:
- It’s less expensive and takes less time than going to court.
- The entire process is confidential.
- The mediator remains neutral throughout the process.
- The divorcing couple decides the agreement, rather than a judge.
If you and your former spouse think you would benefit from a facilitator guiding you towards resolutions, expect to take these steps while going through mediation.
1. Selecting a Mediator
Like any job, individuals perform their work differently. There are different styles of mediation and varying approaches to helping you resolve disagreements. Of course, the mediator will not force an agreement upon you, but you will still find yourself more comfortable with someone who fits your specific wants and needs.
The first step in the process, then, is determining who that person is. Most mediators will take the time to fully explain to you how they work and what you can expect. Take advantage of these opportunities, as you want to enter the process with the confidence to make yourself heard.
2. Gathering and Relaying Information
Prior to the initial meeting, both parties will need to provide numerous documents. The mediator will be facilitating agreements on all joint assets and finances, child custody and support, potential alimony, and insurance. Time spent with a mediator will be focused on making the actual decisions and compromises. Therefore, pay stubs, bank and credit card statements, insurance information, tax returns, and all other information related to your case should be ready to go for the first meeting.
3. The Initial Meeting
The first meeting will focus on setting up expectations. The mediator will review the overall format of the process, request both parties sign the confidentiality agreement, and get to know each person, along with their views and priorities.
Following that initial interaction, the mediator will assess where the parties already agree, and where the negotiations will need to focus. Knowing what the issues are that need to be resolved, the divorcing couple and the mediator will form a plan.
4. The Negotiation Process
The plan decided on in the initial meeting will guide each discussion. Meetings will likely focus on:
- Child custody
- Child support
- Financial planning
- Division of assets, debt, and property
The mediator will facilitate the discussions, helping the parties consider their options and work through concerns until an agreement is reached. Along the way, the mediator will assist each party in expressing their needs and opinions, and listening attentively to the other person’s reasoning.
Each party should expect to make some concessions throughout the process in order to reach the final agreement.
5. The Final Step
After all decisions have been made, the tentative agreement referencing everything agreed upon will be put into writing. The drafted agreement will review all further plans for child support and custody, financial planning, division of assets and debt, and potential support for the former spouse.
Agreeing to work together through mediation as part of the divorce process can seem like a daunting task at the time. However, with a mediator, you can expect to be listened to, your viewpoints to be considered, and your needs taken into account. For you and your spouse, mediation might be the perfect fit.