Because divorce can be filled with too much conflict, spouses have become much more open to mediation.
Indeed, some counties in Missouri and Illinois require mediation as a way to shorten the divorce process and allow the parties reach an outcome rather than have a court impose an outcome on the parties.
Generally, spouses agree on a mediator and will meet with the mediator together and separately. The goal of the mediator will be to “take the temperature” of the parties and see how close or far apart they are on the issues at hand (property, custody and support). Sessions proceed in ways that the mediator thinks will best lead to a resolution – maybe more joint sessions, maybe less – or maybe parallel sessions where the parties sit in different rooms and the mediator moves back and forth with ideas and suggested points of compromise.
How can you maximize your mediation experience?
First, prepare yourself for the experience in advance. You will not have an attorney present with you during the mediation (though you have the ability to consult with an attorney prior to and outside of the mediation). You will have to be near your spouse and engage in discussions with that person – a possibly challenging task if emotions are still raw over the end of the marriage. Role play with a friend posing as your spouse and see how you respond when your spouse falls into behavior patterns that cause you difficulty. The better prepared you are, the less likely you will become overwrought and react with emotion rather than logic.
Second, prepare your game plan in advance. In addition to feeling comfortable emotionally with your spouse in negotiation, you want to feel prepared to negotiate on substance. Think of the issues that need to be resolved. How do you want to divide the marital property? How much will you need in support or be able to afford in support? If you have children, what custody arrangement do you foresee as in the best interests of the children and workable for you and your spouse as parents and exes? Write out a list of your acceptable range of solutions in each category. The more of a game plan you have going into the negotiation, the more likely you will be able to negotiate successfully.
Third, prepare yourself financially. Review all of your bank statements, retirement accounts, stock portfolios, personal property. Prepare a budget for life as a single person and what you reasonably can afford and how much support you may need to get by. Determine if you have gaps in knowledge about assets or debts so that you can bring these matters up to the mediator.
Fourth, choose the mediator carefully. Every mediator has a different personality and approach. Before committing to one mediator, conduct a thorough interview and see if that person fits well with your goals and your personality. If you do not feel comfortable after the interview, you will want to find another mediator.
Fifth, think about how you appear to the mediator. We are all human, and how we dress, talk and engage in conversation will impact outcomes. If you want to have the greatest impact on your mediator, you need to show your “best” side. A combination of transparency and “show” that works will help you in negotiations, particularly when with your spouse who may try to push your buttons. Showing some concern or sensitivity for your spouse and the difficulties of the divorce can go far in taking the edge off of extreme positions. Above all, the one who appears most reasonable generally has the most impact.
Finally, have a plan in the event mediation fails. If you and your spouse do not reach a negotiated settlement, you will need to move forward in court. Much of what you learn in mediation should tell you how that path forward will unwind – will it be high conflict because you are so far apart on all key issues, or will you see a shorter path to success once a judge becomes involved? This will be a matter you will want to discuss with your attorney.
If you follow these guidelines, you will find yourself best able to take advantage of mediation.
If you have questions about mediation in divorce, contact us – we can help.