By Lyn C. Conniff and Elizabeth A. Teague
Mediation is a good option for individuals contemplating divorce because it gives parties more control over their divorce outcome than either litigation or traditional negotiation through divorce attorneys.
In mediation, the parties meet with a mediator who is a neutral third-party. The mediator guides the conversation between the parties as they discuss options for settlement. Although a mediator can provide basic information and offer suggestions, he or she cannot provide legal advice. A mediator, however, can help to reframe concerns, provide guidance on issues to be discussed, and assist with de-escalating conflict during conversations.
A key ingredient for a successful mediation outcome is preparation: both parties should properly prepare before the mediation process begins.
Documentation of Assets and Liabilities
During mediation, the mediator will guide you and your spouse through a conversation on how to divide your assets (bank accounts, retirement, stocks, house, cars, etc.), and how to divide your liabilities (debts). However, the conversation will only be productive if both spouses know the values of assets and liabilities, how title is held to each asset, and which of them is liable for each debt. Therefore, in preparation for mediation, you must gather the most recent statements for all assets and liabilities, as well as title documents for any real property and vehicles.
Consider Potential Parenting Time
In mediation, the mediator can also help you and your spouse create a parenting plan. One element of the parenting plan is the parenting schedule which includes the regular parenting schedule (the schedule used on an every-day basis), the holiday parenting schedule, and the vacation parenting schedule. Therefore, in order to have a productive mediation session, you should begin thinking about what your schedule might look like. Consider the distance between each parent’s new residence, the age(s) of your child(ren), your ability to communicate, etc.
After you have gathered all of your financial information, and have thought about a parenting schedule, we strongly recommend that you consult with a divorce attorney and obtain legal advice before starting the mediation process. Also, as you go through the mediation process, it is helpful to have an attorney available to answer any questions. If a proposal has been made by your spouse, it will be helpful to discuss that proposal and other alternatives with your attorney. A divorce attorney can advise you about your rights under the law, what a judge might decide on the issue in court, and what should and should not be included in your final agreement. For example, if child support is an issue, an attorney can advise you on the statutory amount (what the law says should be paid), why deviations might occur, and what expenses for the children should be paid in addition to child support. If neither party gets legal advice, it is possible that the final agreement will be unconscionable and not be approved by a judge.
After the parties reach a mediated agreement, they should take it to a divorce lawyer to have it drafted into a settlement agreement that can be incorporated into a Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage, the document that is entered by a judge at the time of the parties’ divorce.
Mediation can be an effective process for reaching an amicable agreement while providing flexibility to mold the agreement to the uniqueness of each family. However, mediation is most successful at creating realistic, workable agreements when both parties are well-prepared with the help of qualified divorce attorneys.
The divorce attorneys at Conniff Law Offices are mediation-friendly and offer advice to our clients throughout the mediation process. We are also trained mediators and look forward to the opportunity to help you work towards an agreement. Contact the experienced family law attorneys and mediators at Conniff Law Offices to discuss the best options for your situation.