A question I often ask clients when they come to me for a consultation for divorce mediation, “Are you each emotionally ready to mediate your divorce”? Many times, I get a look of confusion, they must be thinking, “well yes, why else am I here”.
In reality, the question means so much more. Different clients have different reasons for agreeing to mediate their divorces. The overwhelming majority of our clients feel that it is a much better way to divorce because it gives them the power to control the outcome.
They decide that no matter what led them down this road, that really doesn’t matter, what matters is how they wish to proceed. They are trying their hardest to protect their children and themselves from an adversarial process which would stir up contention and emotional strife. They want to resolve their divorce in a civil manner, so they can preserve delicate family relationships.
Some people decide that they want to save money and that becomes the focus and the main goal of divorce mediation. Totally understandable, most people look for the most cost-effective way to proceed in most things.
Some individuals may choose mediation for one reason and then use the mediation process as a way of “getting back” at their soon to be ex-spouse for years of what they believe were injustices or even the reason for the divorce.
When it comes to divorce mediation, those couples who are truly successful are the ones who have decided and are emotionally ready to move forward, even if they still have certain conflicting emotions about their divorce. They choose to temper their emotions and truly focus on the future and the best way of moving forward, understanding that it is a negotiation and that there are issues on which they are willing to compromise.
What if One of the Spouses Needs More Time?
You might be thinking, “being emotionally ready to mediate my divorce makes sense, but how do I get to that place?”
This is a valid question, and there is no “one-size-fits-all” answer.
We know that in many divorce cases, the spouses are at much different places in their journey. One spouse may have decided quite a while ago to end the marriage, while the other feels as if they have been blindsided. One spouse may already be in a relationship with someone else and ready to start a new life, while the other is still in the shock and denial stage.
When these types of circumstances exist, it may be necessary to slow down a little bit and give the spouse who is going through the initial shock a chance to get a hold of themselves and prepare for the road ahead. In some cases, it may be very helpful for the spouse who is still grieving the loss of the marriage to seek additional help from a therapist and/or from local support groups.
If one of the spouses needs extra time before they will be emotionally ready to begin divorce mediation, that is perfectly okay. Even if you wait an extra month or two, you will still be able to complete your divorce through mediation more quickly and for far less money than if you choose the traditional litigation route.
The point is that if it takes a little longer for both spouses to be emotionally prepared for mediation, it will be worth the wait, because you will have a far better chance of reaching a successful, thoughtful resolution.
Preparing Emotionally for Divorce MediationEmotional preparation is often a matter of adopting the right mindset to succeed in whatever situation you are in. Think of an athlete who just lost one of his parents but decides to put on the uniform anyway and leads his team to victory. It’s not that the grief of his loss wasn’t still there, it’s just that he chose not to focus on it and instead chose to focus on the task at hand.
There have been many instances of athletes who have done this very thing, but there are others who were not emotionally ready to play yet after losing a parent. This goes back to what we previously discussed about the need for time to grieve, work things through, and in some cases, seek counseling.
If you are at the stage where you are working things through and you think you are getting emotionally ready for divorce mediation, here are some tips to help you prepare:
- Agree to Mediate: Sometimes, just the very commitment to mediate the divorce causes a person to focus on a successful outcome rather than the conflicting emotions they may be dealing with. Mediation is a voluntary process. Once both spouses have committed to it, it becomes everyone’s focus to see it through and reach a fair settlement.
- Set Goals for the Mediation Process: Take some time figuring out everything you have financially (assets and possessions) and how you view the parental relationship for both you and your spouse to your children. Then set some goals for how you want these issues to be resolved. As we talked about earlier, you must be willing to compromise, so think about those things that are in the category of “must haves” versus the things that are in the category of “it would be nice to have”. If you are unable to have these discussions without causing conflict, wait until mediation to have the discussion. An experience divorce mediator will help you through this process in a productive way.
- Consider your Children: We cannot emphasize enough the importance of a peaceable and workable settlement for the sake of your children. Divorce is always hard on kids, but you can minimize the negative impact by agreeing to be civil around them and not to badmouth the other parent. Consider also that, although divorce is never an ideal outcome, millions of children have gone through it and gone on to live successful, well-adjusted lives. How the children handle divorce, depends a great deal on the parents, the less conflict and unrest, the better the children will be equipped to handle this change in the family dynamics.
- Decide on In-Person or Virtual Mediation: With COVID-19 still on everybody’s mind, more couples are choosing virtual mediation, which can be done remotely with a phone or internet connection. But even before the pandemic hit, some clients still preferred this method because they either have a busy travel schedule or they are more comfortable not being in the same room with their spouse.
- Take Your Time: It is important to understand that the issues you are working on during mediation do not all have to be resolved in one session. If you and your spouse are at an impasse about something, that’s okay. Sometimes, it is good to sleep on it, reflect, and come back and discuss it another day. Do not rush things, and do not feel pressured to agree to something you don’t want to agree to just because a session is about to end.