The divorce process can be an extremely stressful experience for you and your family. Even under the best of circumstances, it can leave you feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.
Choosing mediation is a great first step towards making your no-fault divorce go as smoothly as possible.
But here are a few additional divorce mediation tips and, towards the bottom of the post, a divorce mediation checklist, to ensure your case stays on track and out of court.
9 Divorce Mediation Tips:
Tip #1: Hire a competent divorce mediator.
Not only do you need to make the decision to mediate, but you also have to decide which mediator or divorce mediation team you’re going to entrust to guide you through the process.
Maybe you think all divorce mediators are the same and it doesn’t matter who you work with, so you’ll just pick whoever is listed first in the directory or has the lowest hourly fee.
But mediation is an unregulated profession in the United States, so you'll need to be careful not to trust your divorce to just any mediators. The complex issues you will need to resolve requires expertise that only comes with training, certifications, continuing education and years of experience in the field.
Divorce mediation is an alternative dispute resolution process whereby the divorce mediator will help you identify, understand, discuss, negotiate and resolve all of the issues that need to be resolved in your case (parenting plan and timesharing, child support, alimony / spousal support / spousal maintenance, division of marital property and debts and more).
The mediator's goal is to help you reach a settlement agreement you both find fair. But divorce mediators won’t give you legal advice or tell you what to do.
All decisions made in a divorce mediation session will be made by you and will be fully within your control.
So the second of my mediation tips is for a divorcing couple to enter into each mediation session with an awareness of the mediator's role as well as their own.
Tip #3: Actively participate in the divorce mediation process.
Since mediation is a voluntary process, it will not be successful if you or your spouse refuses to cooperate or actively participate.
If your spouse wants to divorce you and you only agreed to mediate on the condition that they do all the work, divorce mediation just won't be successful in your case.
In order for the process to be a viable option for your divorce, you must both be active participants.
Tip #4: Be willing to compromise.
Some couples going through a divorce dig their heels in and have a “my way or the highway” mentality.
But in order for any mediation session to go smoothly, you must both be willing to compromise to find the middle ground. Let me give you an example of how that would work so that both sides feel like they got something out of the deal.
Let's say you're at the part of your negotiations where you're discussing the holiday timesharing plan, and your spouse says: "I want the kids for Thanksgiving every year."
Your first reaction might be: "Are you kidding me?! There's no way I'm saying yes to that!" Do that and you look rigid and inflexible.
While another reaction might be: "OK. Whatever you want, I guess." Do that and you'll feel like a sucker for giving in.
Neither is an ideal approach.
Instead when your spouse asks to have the kids every Thanksgiving, counter their ask with an ask of your own.
Your spouse says: "I want the kids for Thanksgiving every year."
You say: "OK, but in exchange, I want the kids every Christmas."
One of two things will happen. Either you'll have a deal (what we in mediation call a win-win) or your spouse will say "no" to your ask.
If they say no, then counter with: "OK, then what can you offer me in exchange for you having the kids every Thanksgiving?" Doing so will show you're willing to consider their offer, but not simply give in.
And that's what we in mediation call compromise.
You have to give to get so one of the best divorce mediation tips I have is to come into mediation being ready and willing to compromise during your negotiations.
Tip #5: Take care of yourself emotionally, physically and mentally during divorce.
Divorce is one of the most traumatic events that you will likely ever experience in your life. And it can be downright impossible to fully deal with the physical, emotional and mental toll it can take on you.
Operating under such an extreme level of stress often means not eating, not sleeping and living with constant worry, anxiety and negative mind chatter. This can ultimately lead to poor decision-making resulting in an unfair divorce settlement because instead of negotiating from a position of calm and strength, you’re making decisions out of anger or fear.
You can’t make life-altering decisions on topics such as your time sharing plan (child custody), support, or division of marital property and debts if you aren’t sleeping or eating.
And you certainly can’t be there for your kids if you haven’t first taken care of yourself.
So don't let yourself get too drained and exhausted to be able to think clearly and make sound decisions that are critical to your future (and that of your children).
Another of my tips for mediation is to enlist the help of a therapist or a divorce coach during this significant life event.
Doing so will help you be better equipped to get through this painful time in your life with confidence and give you the clarity you need to negotiate effectively and make good choices during (and after) your separation and divorce.
Tip #6: Stay off the Internet as every state does things differently.
The Internet is not a reliable source of information when it comes to calculating alimony or child support. And while it might be tempting to search the Internet for information on how much alimony or child support you can expect to pay or receive in your settlement, resist the urge to do so.
For two reasons:
First, because the issues and the way they're approached vary from state-to-state.
It's a BIG mistake to go online, find a guideline, and try and apply it to your case, especially if you don't live in that state.
I can't tell you how many clients we get coming into our office with a paper in their hand saying, "But I like the California Child Support Guideline, can't we use it?" even though they live in Pennsylvania.
Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.
Every state has it's own set of rules and you've got to follow those, not just the ones you like better.
And second, when it comes to determining support, there is a very good chance those calculators you found on the Internet may not be correct.
For example, when it comes to child support, in all 50 states, child support calculators aren’t formulas, but rather, guidelines that suggest a minimum of amount of child support to be paid. And there are a number of things that aren’t even included.
Then there's the alimony calculators you see out there. There are websites that list them for all 50 states. But guess what? As of this writing, only a handful of states I know of have guidelines for alimony.
So basically, the other guidelines could be guesses, opinions, or outright lies.
And even the states that have some sort of guidelines, they may not be applicable in all situations. Not only that, but they also can be open to interpretation and negotiation (just as with child support).
There is a lot of incorrect information on the Internet, no two divorces are the same and these issues are way too complex to try to figure out yourself.
A helpful tip for a successful divorce mediation is for you and your spouse to wait for your family mediator to guide you through these topics.
This way, you and your spouse will be aware of how the issues apply to your case in your state and you can then make informed decisions for your mediation agreement that are right for your particular situation.
Tip #7: Don’t involve friends/family in your divorce proceedings.
When it comes to divorce and financial matters such as support, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. And if it doesn't come from the Internet, it comes from friends and family.
And while they may have your best interests in mind, it’s unlikely the advice they’ll give you will be based in fact or reality.
Then there’s the issue of bias. Naturally, they care about you and will want to make you feel better, so they’re going to take your side and tell you whatever you want to hear.
But are you really sure you want to base your future on opinions or judgment?
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is coming into mediation firmly entrenched in your position because of something you read on the Internet or heard from family or friends. Because you’ll be convinced that your information is the right information and so you’ll go forth negotiating as if you have the truth on your side.
But the problem is that this “information” came to you unverified or from an un-reputable source.
So unwittingly, you will have handed over your financial future to an unqualified friend, family member or worse yet, a total stranger like a divorce attorney or court judge.
One of the important tips for mediation is to resist the urge to discuss the details of your divorce proceedings with friends and family.
Instead, lean on them for emotional support instead. And wait for the divorce mediation process to get the information necessary to make educated decisions on these important issues.
Tip #8: Don’t make financial commitments before your divorce agreement is worked out.
Sometimes, when couples are able to speak with each other outside of session, it can lead to better decision making and quicker progress.
But as much as communicating outside of mediation sessions can sometimes be positive, there are also times when talking (and more specifically making decisions) outside of session can do more harm than good.
In all of the states we practice in, both equitable distribution states and community property states, the parties are encouraged to actively participate in, and come to agreement on, the fair division of their marital assets and liabilities. But unless you and your spouse are experts in the financial matters pertaining to divorce, this can be a dangerous path to walk.
Divorce is a difficult process so it’s normal to want to get through it as quickly as you can. And you might think that you can help speed the process if you and your soon-to-be ex try to make as many decisions as possible before you start mediation.
But given the financial complexities of divorce, you can’t decide what a fair and equitable settlement looks like until you first have all the facts.
Then there are the parties who fall into the trap of thinking the best way to divide up assets and liabilities is by splitting each item down the middle. That can lead to thousands of dollars in additional fees that wouldn’t have been necessary if they had waited for an expert mediator skilled in the finances of divorce to offer alternative more efficient options.
Finally, there are the tax consequences of divorce.
Assets and liabilities can each have different tax consequences and if not properly accounted for, a divorce settlement that might look fair on paper may turn out to be favorable to only one party and not the other.
This can happen if one party trades a checking account for a 401k, confusing pre-tax with post-tax dollars, or when there are stocks involved and neither party is aware of the cost basis of a given portfolio.
Tip #9: Engage in a "good faith" divorce negotiation.
Because mediation is a transparent process, you and your spouse will both need to be prepared to engage in a good faith negotiation.
That means you’ll need to reveal and openly disclose all relevant information, whether financial or otherwise, to the mediator and to your divorcing spouse. And ensure that the information is accurate, complete and truthful to the best of your knowledge.
If you and/or your spouse is hiding a marital asset, defrauding the other or not being honest, not only will you not have a successful mediation, but you won't be able to complete your negotiations using mediation at all.
So if you want to avoid being embroiled in expensive, time-consuming and stressful court battle with your spouse and your respective family law attorney, choose to follow this divorce mediation tip.
Divorce Mediation Checklist:
A mediator's ability to effectively help you during mediation relies greatly on how promptly, thoroughly and accurately you’ve prepared in advance.
To get a head start preparing for divorce mediation, here's a divorce mediation checklist of documents to begin gathering:
Tax Returns (Federal & State)
W-2’s and/or 1099’s
Partnerships & Other Business Interests Valuation
Real Estate Property Valuation
Vehicles, Boats, Trailers Valuation
Savings, Checking, Money Market and CD Accounts
Non-Retirement Investments such as Stocks, Bonds, Secured Notes, Mutual Funds
Executive Compensation – Stock Options, RSUs or Other Executive Comp
Retirement Accounts and Pensions
Annuities, IRAs, Deferred Compensation
Life Insurance (Whole Life Policies)
Jewelry, Antiques, Art, Coin Collections, or Other Property with significant value
Accounts Receivable & Unsecured Notes
Real Estate Loans
Credit Cards and Revolving Credit
Other Loans and Debts
Depending on the state you live in, homeowner insurance policy information, auto insurance information, health insurance information, and other information may also be needed
Don't Let Your Divorce Become a Disaster!
Mediate with us instead.
Hopefully you've learned some useful tips for divorce mediation and important steps to take to ensure your family mediation will be successful in resolving all of the required issues without involving a divorce lawyer, litigation or court.
And if you really want a high quality mediation service that is peaceful and results in a fair agreement that puts your children first, choose Equitable Mediation.
When you are ready to start mediation, take the next step and book an initial meeting for you and your spouse!
Joe Dillon, MBA is a professional divorce mediator and founder of Equitable Mediation Services. Joe is passionate about helping couples avoid the destruction of attorney-driven litigation and specializes in helping couples resolve the issues required for divorce -peacefully, fairly and cost-effectively. When he’s not mediating, you can find him exercising, cooking, and watching Cubs baseball.