You are separating and nothing will be the same. How you manage this process can make a big difference to how well you get through your separation and to how your relationship looks going forward.
It’s important to separate the relationship issues from the parenting issues. Easier said than done. I find most parents really can find a way to communicate with the other parent and focus on the best interests of their children. This really is the key to building trust and understanding in your new roles. It also helps the children as they don’t see you fighting over them and provides them consistent answers.
So, you’re thinking mediation might be an option? Good thinking. It may not be easy but it will be easier than the alternatives. As a professional mediator and someone who went through both the court system and mediation during my divorce, I’m writing from experience.
You will have to sit down across from your soon to be ex-partner and talk about some very tough issues. Yes, I know you would prefer to stick your head in the sand and hope it all just goes away but that probably won’t work out so well for you. Isn’t it worth a try? You can always use the legal process as a fall back. Even if the mediation is unsuccessful, you will gain an understanding of how the other person feels and what they want. If it’s successful (very high success rate, upwards of 80 percent in family issues), you have just saved yourselves a great deal of money that you can now use to build your new lives.
Now that you agree that it’s worth a try, how can you make it the best mediation possible?
• Choose the right mediator. Make sure that you feel comfortable opening up to them and don’t feel as though you are being judged or bullied.
• Pick a day of the week or time of day for meetings when you can focus your attention on the mediation and not be staring at the clock because you have to run off somewhere.
• Don’t agree to anything right away. It is ok to say, “I agree in principal. However, I need time to think about it”
• Ask questions, and lots of them. To the mediator and to your ex. It’s important that you clearly understand the decisions that you are making.
• Be fair – to your ex, to kids and to yourself. You really won’t get through mediation if you have an axe to grind or if you aren’t focusing on the things that really matter.
• Take your time, mediation doesn’t need to be completed in a day. Mediation can take as much or as little time as it takes for your family to develop a plan.
• I know mediation is marketed as a win-win approach. But the process often leads to a 'but'. Yes, I know I should use a 'but," BUT... expect at least a little compromise.
• Wear comfy clothing – honestly. Be comfortable when you go to a mediation session, it may make you more relaxed.
• If you don’t know where to start, that’s ok, the mediator will help guide you. If you have notes bring them.
• If you’re discussing finances, be prepared. Bring statements, make yourself aware of your financial picture (including assets you can sell, like your ring!), and including those pieces that may be missing so that you can ask for the information from your ex.
• Think before you speak. We all struggle with this one sometimes. As much as I tell clients to use mediation as an opportunity to communicate about things that need to be said, try your best to be respectful about how you say it. People will keep hold of things that are said, both good and bad during this difficult time.
• Know your rights. Fear often leads people to make decisions that may not be in their best interests. At some point when you are in the mediation process (before or during), get a consult from a lawyer so that you understand your legal position. That’s how I prefer to word it versus what you are “entitled” to. Language is important to set the right tone in the mediation and to help keep your ex open to hearing what you have to say.
There you have it - some ways to make your mediation successful and save your family a great deal of money, time, and stress.