The road leading up to divorce is long and difficult, but once you’ve made that decision, it helps to have a detailed plan to help you move into the next chapter of your life as smoothly as possible. One way to make the transition easier is to utilize mediation. The goal of this practice is to reach an agreement that works best for your life, your ex’s life and allows your to save valuable time and money for the sake of your children.
Here are five tips to help you and your ex prepare for mediation:
- Agree to mediate
This doesn’t mean that you and your ex need to be best friends, but it does mean that you should have a meaningful conversation about the divorce and its implications in a calm manner.
Go over the pros and cons of mediation, as opposed to other methods. Whether it’s in person at a coffee shop, over the phone, via text messages, or through email, the first step is to agree to participate wholeheartedly. Strong-arming your spouse might get him or her to the table, but the mediation won’t be effective and you’ll end up wasting time and money.
In those initial conversations, you’ll also want to talk about logistics. Will you split the fees? If your mediator won’t help you with the necessary court filings, who will handle them? What dates and times can you commit to the sessions? Deciding at the start will help later.
- Do your homework
Once you’ve decided to mediate, you have to get organized. The mediator can’t help you figure out what to do with what you have if you don’t know what you have.
To ensure you cover everything, create a master list of all your assets and possessions—regardless of whether an item is thought to be yours or your spouse’s. The master list should include all real property (house, rental properties, vacation homes), personal property (books, DVDs, furniture, artwork, jewelry), vehicles (including boats, motorcycles, ATVs), bank accounts (joint and separate, checking, savings), credit cards, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, annuities, stocks and other financial products. Account for everything you own.
You’ll also want to gather records for all income sources: paystubs, self-employment profit and loss statements, pension disbursements, social security, alimony and child support payments received. As for expenses, you’ll want to list your recurring expenses as well as ongoing liabilities, so that all mortgage payments, car loans, health insurance costs, food, utilities, student loans, credit card payments, etc. are known.
- Set goals
After you’ve detailed all your assets, the next step is to figure out what you want to do with it.
Just like in traditional negotiations, you’ll need to figure out your range of acceptable terms—from everything you hope to get and the things you absolutely will not walk away without. In between those two extremes are variables that can shift during the negotiations. Decide on your bottom-line goals.
If you have children, make sure you keep the parental access decisions separate from the financial decisions, and do not use one to influence your position on the other. People sometimes try to use custody or visitation wants in exchange for financial wants, whether or not it’s in the child’s best interest.
Also, draft your budget as it is now, and also a projection of what your budget will look like post-divorce. This will help you get a sense of your current financial picture and what you’ll need going forward.
- Think about your kids
Children are resilient, but divorce is hard on them. You can help your children cope by minimizing the negative impact.
Regardless of your children’s ages, you need to communicate about what’s happening, since it affects their lives too. Agree to talk to your kids together. Agree on how it will be done, where it will be done, and what you will say. Present a united front and try to answer their questions as well as possible, without divulging unnecessary adult information. Kids are smart, and they probably already know something’s up. They deserve to hear that their parents will continue to love and support them and that everything will be ok.
Remember that although your marriage is dissolving, your role as parents will continue. Be patient with your children throughout the process, as their emotional reactions will vary. Do your best to provide a stable, positive and loving environment, and together explain whenever a change in routine or living arrangement is to occur.
Remember that even though your children may be small today, as they grow up your roles as parents will change. You may have to consult with each other on important life decisions such as medical needs, or see each other at milestones like graduations, weddings, and the birth of your grandchildren. Learning to effectively co-parent early on will help you years down the road.
Trained family mediators can help you build communication and conflict resolution skills during their sessions so that post-mediation, you can co-parent effectively in the future.
- Research mediators before you hire
Did you know not every person who holds him/herself out to be a mediator has been trained in mediation? Virtually anyone can hang out their shingle, take your money, and hear about the intimate and confidential details of your life—without any mediation training whatsoever. Many states have no laws, mandates, or regulations in place to monitor mediators or hold them accountable.
How can this be? Maybe it’s because mediation has only recently gained real traction.
Mediation as an alternative to litigation or other forms of dispute resolution has gained tremendous popularity over the last decade, but until then it was sort of taboo.
You see, the legal arena was inherently adversarial in nature. The view was that if one party proposed mediation or another form of dispute resolution, they were admitting that their position was weaker and were afraid they might lose in court. So people avoided bringing it up as an option unless a judge suggested the two sides talk.
We’ve come a long way since then. Over time people have recognized the many benefits of mediation, and it’s common to consider alternative forms of dispute before filing of a lawsuit.
Mediation offers a perfectly balanced alternative: it’s affordable, confidential, and achieves results.
Ask questions such as:
- Have you completed a basic mediation course? Advanced courses in family mediation? How many hours of training were required?
- Are you certified in basic mediation, family mediation, and/or any other areas?
- What firm, agency, or organization is your certification from? Ask to see a copy of the mediation certificate(s).
- Did your training include an apprenticeship or co-mediation period?
- How many cases have you mediated, and in what kind?
Divorce is never easy, even with mediation. But the more prepared you are, the more productive your mediation will be. Remember to stay flexible during the process. You’ll be surprised by how often what you thought you wanted early on changes over time.
Read more at Rocket Lawyer.