What To Expect During Your First Divorce Mediation Session
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By Jack Carney-Debord, J.D., Guest Author - June 08, 2016

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What is Divorce Mediation?

Although Family Law mediation is defined differently in each state, there are many basic processes that are the same. During a mediation, a neutral third party facilitates negotiation between two parties to help them resolve issues for themselves--and their children if they have any--instead of having the courts decide for them.

All issues in a divorce including child and spousal support, property division, parenting responsibilities and responsibilities and any other financial issues can be resolved using mediation. When couples come up with their own solutions to problems, they are more likely to be satisfied and follow throw with the arrangement.

The mediator is not there to make decisions for you and your spouse but to help you both figure out the best course of action for your situation. While some mediators are attorneys, they are not allowed to give the couple legal advice or decisions. Attorneys are not replaced by mediators or the mediation process.

Benefits of Mediation

Although there is a fee for mediation, it is usually less expensive than going through a contested divorce. Most importantly, mediation reduces the emotions that can accompany a court proceeding as well as avoiding an experience that can negatively affect any children involved. While your mediator is not there to provide therapy, a good mediator will make sure that both parties use the process to discuss how the decisions they make will impact their lives.  

What to Expect During Mediation

Mediation will usually take from one to five sessions of a few hours each, depending on the circumstances. Most mediations take a minimum of two sessions lasting about three hours.

Your attorney or support person is allowed to attend any and all mediation sessions if you want them to do so. If you don’t want your attorney present during your mediation, it is important to make sure that you consult your attorney both before and after the session to answer any questions you may have and to determine if terms are in your best interest. Your lawyer wants you to find a resolution that works--not one that means you will be in court six months later fighting over an issue. Clients who know their rights and understand what can happen if the case would go to trial are at a much better place to negotiate.

Getting documents and paperwork together before mediation will save you time, money and stress. Even if your mediator may not require these documents at your first session, they will be needed for any additional sessions. You will want to make sure that you have a list of assets, debts, income, retirement funds, and other important financial documents. You may also want to draft a budget based on concrete expenses such a mortgage and car payments, childcare, health insurance, etc. Your attorney should be able to help you with this.

Your first meeting often takes place in a conference room or a private office. The mediator will explain what you can expect from the process. You may be asked to sign a confidentiality agreement. You may be expected to fill out additional paperwork as well. The first meeting with a divorce mediator is often spent collecting background information and facts. Once the mediator has covered the basics, each person will get to present his or her view of the issues. The mediator may ask questions to clarify the situation or to get more information.

The next step is to see where you and your spouse agree as well as disagree. This means that you should identify ahead of time which issues are subject to negotiation and which are not. If this has already been established in your mind ahead of time, you will be in a better position to use that information.  

What information needs to be gathered and shared during the proceedings will then be determined. The couple and the mediator work together to identify which issues will be discussed and in what order. Negotiations will begin after all important details have been gathered, or may even be done in a separate session.

After establishing your specific concerns--verbally or through writing--the mediator will work with the both of you to accomplish your individual goals. Your mediator may suggest you deal with the simplest issues of your divorce first because doing this builds trust and encourages compromise when more difficult issues come up. After all the information is reviewed, the mediator helps the couple explore the available settlement options. The couple can then continue with the mediation process for as long as they feel is needed.

What if it Doesn't Work?

If a few issues remain unresolved, an agreement can still be prepared relating to the issues that have been settled, called a partial mediation agreement. The couple can then take time to think over unresolved issues and return to mediation again, or choose to have the remaining issues resolved during litigation.

Unfortunately, not all mediation agreements result in a couple able to resolve their issues. While mediation is always worth a try--and actually required in some states--not every couple will find it beneficial. A successful mediation requires that both parties are able to put their differences aside and be willing to compromise. If this doesn't happen any unresolved issues will have to be decided by the courts.

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