1. Understand the Purpose of Divorce Mediation.
It’s a common mistake for divorcing spouses to confuse mediation with couple’s therapy. Mediation should be thought of as a conversation about the future, with the goal of reaching an amicable divorce settlement that puts both spouses on the best path forward. Unlike couple’s therapy where the goal is to resolve conflict within a romantic relationship, during mediation it is understood that the romantic aspect of your relationship is over. As such, you should not use mediation time to harp on issues of the past. Savvy mediators will redirect talking points about the past to a conversation about the future.
Many spouses use mediation as a strong alternative to divorce litigation because the cost of mediation is cheaper than litigation, takes less time to complete, and allows the spouses to control the outcome of their divorce instead of leaving that outcome in the hands of a judge. Remember to put your best foot forward during mediation because if the mediation fails, you will end up spending your time and money on divorce litigation which is exactly what you are trying to avoid.
2. Understand the Mediator’s Role.
Divorce Mediators are neutral third parties who assist divorcing spouses with expressing their point of view and perceiving the other spouse’s point of view during divorce settlement negotiations. The mediator is present to ensure a cordial discourse and keep the conversation on track. As mentioned above, the mediator is not present to help you work out past problems with your spouse. The mediator is not on your side or your spouse’s side, the mediator is on the side of the negotiation procedures. Take solace in knowing that the mediator is acting in the everyone’s best interest by keeping the procedures on target and understand that the mediator is not attacking you when they ask for clarification or redirect your talking points.
3. Listen Carefully Before You Speak.
This one seems obvious but is easily forgotten during emotionally charged situations like divorce mediation. Understand that good mediators make sure that both spouses have an opportunity to speak. Therefore, when you interrupt your spouse you can almost always be assured that the mediator will tell you not to interrupt and put the interrupted spouse back on track to finishing their thought. As such, interruptions simply amount to a waste of time. Additionally, interruptions are often perceived as attacks and risk putting your spouse on the defensive which makes it harder to collaboratively reach an agreement in the best interest of yourselves and children.
Also pay attention to what the mediator is asking. For example, if the mediator asks you to suggest a parenting plan, give the mediator what they are asking for. Do not go on a tangent about how your spouse never spent time with the kids. Paying attention to what the mediator is asking for will save you and your soon to be ex a tremendous amount of time and aggravation.
4. Do Not Attack the Other Spouse During Mediation.
Mediation is not a fight, otherwise you would be litigating your divorce. Mediation is a time to collaboratively find the best way forward. Taking jabs, mocking, or full on verbally assaulting the other spouse will only delay the mediation. When you attack your spouse, they will go on the defensive or launch a counterattack which just perpetuates a nasty cycle. Worst case the attacks get so severe that the mediation cannot continue, and you will end up litigating your divorce. In the event that the other spouse says something nasty, do your best to ignore the nasty comment. Leave it to the mediator to correct the other spouse and move the mediation process forward.
5. Use the Word “Because”.
Express yourself by using the word “because”, because this word forces you to explain your point of view. In order to have a collaborative negotiation, the other spouse needs to understand where you are coming from. Your position is probably obvious to you, but it is not necessarily obvious to your spouse or the mediator.
For example, if you do not want to sell the house, do not say, “I do not want to sell house, I’m not doing it right now.” This phrase states what you want but doesn’t give the other spouse much to work with. Instead say something like, “I do not want to sell the house right now because the property value will significantly increase if the city approves construction on that new shopping mall.” Now your spouse will realize that you are not trying to keep the house, but rather increase the value of the house prior to sale. With this new information, it will be easier to collaboratively pick a date to list the home.
6. Share ALL of the Relevant Information.
Sharing information helps the mediator and other spouse better understand your position. It is critical that both spouses disclose all of their assets and debts so the mediator can set an agenda for what to discuss. Moreover, there is a significant risk that withholding relevant information during the mediation could amount to fraud, which would allow the other spouse to effectively set aside (cancel) a divorce judgment.
7. It’s Okay to Take a Break.
If you feel your emotions running hot or need to give your brain a rest, it’s okay to ask for a short break. In fact, mediators sometimes mandate a break on their own accord because the divorcing spouses or mediator needs a minute to reset. Similar to taking a nap during a workday, a short break during mediation can make the rest of the mediation feel less burdensome.
8. Understand that You May Have a Future Relationship With Your Ex-Spouse.
When mediating, take into account that you may still have to work with your future ex-spouse on some level. For example, you might have to work together to sell the house, raise a child, or in a professional setting. Think of mediation as the first step in reforming your relationship with your ex-spouse. With this attitude, you will have an easier time seeing the bigger picture of your divorce and less likely to act out during the mediation.