Divorce mediation is an alternative process to divorce litigation and is an important option to consider when a couple decides to divorce. Mediation is not for everyone. It is important to understand, many divorcing couples are not “good fits” for the mediation process. But, Mediation can save time, and money and alleviate some of the emotional and physical tolls of the divorce for you, your spouse, and your children.
Your divorce mediation will likely proceed through 5 stages. Each stage is designed to move you closer to a successful agreement between you and your spouse, on custody, child support, equitable distribution, spousal support, and counsel/professional fees.
Stage #1: Laying the Foundation
In Stage 1 of mediation, your mediator will discuss what mediation is, what makes it successful, how participants are expected to behave, and the approach that will be taken to reach a fruitful resolution. Properly laying the foundation is all about setting proper expectations.
Your mediator will discuss the importance of a constructive and clear line of communication and identify the roles that each participant (including the mediator) will play in the process.
Stage #2: Discovery
In the discovery stage, your mediator will work to understand the relevant facts and financials of your case. Think of this stage as you and your spouse playing catch-up with the mediator on key aspects of your life. Your mediator will ask detailed questions about your financials, children, assets, taxes, insurance, etc. You may not know the answer to some of these questions, and that’s ok. For example, your mediator may want very specific information such as your life insurance policy number. You will most likely leave these discovery sessions with homework or a to-do list.
The discovery stage is critical to the mediation process because these are the many variables that will be “in play” as you negotiate a resolution. To this end, you must share everything with your mediator. Leave no stone unturned.
Most importantly, the discovery stage is not about “litigating” your or your spouse’s wants. That is for later in the mediation process. The discovery stage is simply about verifiable facts.
Stage #3: Framing
The framing stage lays the groundwork for the negotiations that come in Stage 4. Framing allows you and your spouse to identify and express your vision for what a successful divorce looks like. For example, what is your vision for the custody of your children? How should your debt be divided? In expressing your vision and goals, your mediator will identify areas of friction that will need to be addressed through negotiation. Conversely, you will also find where your and your spouse’s interests overlap.
In this process, the focus is only on the expression of your goals and vision. Not those of your spouse. This is a safe space for you to express yourself. It is preferred to hold framing sessions jointly so that both spouses are on the same page and have proper expectations for negotiations. However, spouses may not always feel comfortable sharing their goals openly with each other. So, as a result, framing sessions can be held separately.
Remember, the art of mediation is “compromise” so as you frame your interests, understand that you will not get everything you want. Make sure you have a clear priority of what interests matter most to you and which ones you can compromise on.
Stage #4: Negotiation
It’s important to approach negotiation with the mindset that you and your spouse are going to work together to solve a problem. You are not two opposing parties working against each other. Otherwise, you’d be litigating your case in divorce court. To that end, understand that you will have to compromise. Everyone will not get everything they want.
Mediation fails at this stage if spouses do not approach it with the correct mentality. If the mentality changes to that of opposition, it’s the role of the mediator to quickly change the tone of the conversation. Expert mediators do this swiftly and with great tact.
At the end of the negotiation, you and your spouse will have reached a verbal agreement on the core interests that were discussed.
Stage #5: Settlement Agreement
Now, it’s time to put it in a binding agreement. This formalization of your mediation takes the form of a settlement agreement. If a mediation has been conducted successfully, most spouses sign the settlement agreement without undue delay.
Be sure to take your time to review your settlement agreement with your trusted advisers and your attorney. Once you’re ready, you can sign, knowing you’ve successfully mediated your divorce and saved your family time, money, and the emotional toll of litigation.
If you or someone you know is considering divorce or going through a divorce, we can help. Reach out to our offices today to schedule a consultation.
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Mia Poppe, Esq.