Your divorce case has been referred to mediation. Or maybe you and your spouse are hoping to avoid lengthy litigation by mediating first and then filing for a Mutual Consent Divorce. If you want to make the most of your time and energy, here are some divorce mediation tips from someone who has participated in countless mediations as attorney and as mediator.
Many of the keys to a successful divorce mediation happen long before you and your lawyer (if you have one) arrive at the mediator’s office. Decide what parts of the divorce are most important to you and where you are willing to be flexible. By prioritizing your top concerns, you and your lawyer will be better able to weigh the settlement options you see during mediation. It can also be helpful to consider your spouse’s priorities, because this can be helpful in evaluating the value of concessions that you may be willing to consider.
The divorce mediation process works to divide up the marital estate you and your spouse have collected over time. To know whether a property division is reasonable, you need to know what your marital property is worth and also have an understanding of associated liabilities, if any. Create an itemized list of the big assets, along with their values, as well as household debts. Be sure to include:
If your divorce will likely include child support or alimony, you will need to know how much is enough to support yourself and your children after the divorce. Create a realistic and conservative spending plan that includes household expenses, food, clothing, medical copays, and vehicle costs. This will help you understand what you will need, and make it easier to explain to your former spouse where the money will go. In Maryland, the Court requires a financial statement form in alimony and child support cases where the combined household income exceeds $15,000 per month. Even if you plan to keep your case out-of-court, this financial statement form can be a useful budgeting tool.
No two families are the same. While divorce mediation includes many common topics, there may be some issues that are particularly important to your family, such as:
Make a divorce mediation checklist of anything you definitely want to cover and bring it with you on the day of mediation. This will alert your mediator to any special situations they need to address, and help you ensure all your concerns are covered.
Litigation, trials, and the legal process are generally all about winning. Mediation is different. If you come to mediation with the goal of winning or getting out ahead, your mediation will fail. Instead, you need to be prepared to find compromise. Remember the alternative to mediation is an expensive, time consuming, public trial with a decision made by a judge who doesn’t know you or your circumstances. Weigh those costs against the “losses” presented at mediation to decide if it is worth it to stand your ground.
If you have minor children in your household, their needs must be at the center of your negotiations. Custody, visitation, child support, and who gets the house all depend on what’s best for the kids. Child-related divorce issues must be focused on what is practical, not just what is “right.” Your goal should be making the transition as easy as possible for your children and (except in rare cases) helping them maintain a strong relationship with both parents.
Divorce is a highly emotional process. There is grief involved in a marriage lost, and with grief comes anger, sadness, regret, and frustration. These are all healthy, but when they come up during mediation that can interfere with an otherwise beneficial settlement. It is important to separate yourself from your emotions while negotiating with your spouse. Treat your spouse like a business partner or a contractor. There will be time to mourn your relationship later, after the divorce is final. Mediation is not therapy or counseling and a settlement reached in mediation, will rarely address your emotional needs.
Often post-judgment motions bring couples back to court because their original judgments weren’t clear about who was supposed to do what, when. You can avoid this added frustration by being specific in the terms of your divorce or separation agreement. Even if you and your spouse plan on being flexible with one another, having deadlines for things like mortgage refinancing and concrete visitation schedules give you something to fall back on when disagreements arise. You and your spouse can always agree to do something other than your mediation agreement requires if you both agree, but your agreement should serve as the guidelines for the worst of circumstances when communication or agreement is impossible.
The more issues there are in your divorce, the longer it may take to mediate. Often, the stress and emotions around separating your affairs can be overwhelming and you may need to take a break. That’s okay. Mediation sessions are typically scheduled for two or three hours. Mediations that exceed three hours tend to produce diminishing returns. Mediation can take multiple sessions over time. Sometimes people identify issues in mediation that they need to further investigate. When there are both custody and property issues to address, it is uncommon to be able to resolve all issues in one session. Having multiple mediation sessions or taking a break in between sessions can give you a chance to firm up any financial information you didn’t have going in, process your emotions, and brainstorm new ideas to solve those tough sticking points.
Once you and your spouse have worked out all the details of your divorce settlement, your mediator will likely do one of two things:
An agreement created in mediation can be binding and it is important to have the terms of an agreement reviewed by an attorney to make sure you understand the terms and your legal rights. A written Separation and Property Agreement also makes it easier to have guidance in the future and a document that can be presented to the Court when you ask for divorce. If an agreement is reached in mediation, don’t leave without a plan to have your agreements recorded.
When you take the time to prepare for mediation and come prepared with an open mind, divorce mediation can be very successful and build positive momentum for separation and future coparenting. A trained mediator can guide you through custody, property, and financial issues in a manner that is calculated to help each side protect his or her priorities and find common ground. All of the attorneys at the Law Office of Shelly M. Ingram, LLC are also trained mediators. Shelly has been a family law mediator since 2005, and has worked with numerous couples in Howard County and across Maryland to explore their options and communicate their needs in an honest and respectful manner. To schedule a mediation or to speak with one of our attorney’s about how to prepare for mediation, contact us today.