How to Make Divorce Mediation Work for You

Getting divorced is emotionally trying time for everyone involved. Once it starts to sink in that this is really happening, there can be a lot of fear and anxiety as you face an uncertain future. You may go back and forth between sadness, anger, depression, and other emotions as you try to make sense of everything. But in the midst of all of this, you also realize that it will be much better for you and everyone else in the long run if you try to end your marriage with you and your spouse on good terms.

For divorcing spouses who understand that it is better to remain civil throughout the process, divorce mediation is often the right way to go. Through mediation, couples work out the terms and conditions of their divorce together with the guidance of a neutral, third-party mediator. Mediation is a cooperative process that gives participants the opportunity to come up with a settlement that is better suited to their needs than what is likely to come out of the courts. 

Although the mediator facilitates the process, no divorce settlement can become legally binding unless both spouses agree to it. This gives the spouses ultimate control over their own settlement rather than leaving it in the hands of the court. 

With mediation, spouses can delve deeper into the issues that are most important to them, giving them the ability to develop more creative solutions around often difficult issues such as dividing the marital estate and parenting time. This kind of flexibility is nearly impossible to attain in a court setting.

Here are some of the other benefits couples receive when they use divorce mediation:

  • Cost-Effective: Divorces can often be worked out through the mediation process at a fraction of the cost of traditional divorce litigation.
  • Timing: Mediation is conducted on your own time, so you do not have to follow the court calendar and sessions can usually be completed much more quickly. This is especially true in recent times as the courts still have not cleared the backlog that was created by the Covid-19 shutdown.
  • Privacy: Mediation sessions are kept private and unlike litigation, what is said during these sessions does not become part of the public court record.

Making Divorce Mediation Work for You

Mediation is a great solution for many divorcing couples. However, since no settlement can become legally binding without the approval of both spouses, they must be willing to work together to come up with an agreement. Here are some important tips to help you get the most out of divorce mediation:

Choose an Experienced and Reputable Divorce Mediator

Not all divorce mediators are the same. Some do mediation part-time as an add-on to another profession, while others are trained and focused mostly or exclusively on mediation. 

It is important to understand that the mediation process is different from other dispute-resolution processes like litigation. The mediator is an equal participant who is there to facilitate a discussion that guides the participants toward a workable resolution. This is a skill that is learned and developed over time, and for this reason, it is generally best to look for a mediator who is an expert in this field and solely dedicated to this profession.

Here are some other qualities and characteristics to look for in a good mediator:

  • A neutral third-party facilitator who will ensure that the rights of both spouses are protected.
  • Validates the feelings and opinions of both participants and makes them feel that they are “heard”.
  • Is flexible and willing to work around busy schedules, including offering virtual/remote mediation sessions.
  • Is a natural troubleshooter and problem solver.
  • Has an in-depth understanding of challenging issues such as finances and parenting issues.
  • Works closely with other specialists who can assist with complex matters such as dividing large marital estates that contained more complicated and unique assets.
  • Compassionate and genuinely cares about ensuring that participants emerge from the process healthy and whole.

Focus on the Future

With any divorce, there is a certain amount of emotional baggage from past wounds that have brought the spouses to the place where they are dissolving their marriage. While these old wounds may be valid, it is not productive to focus too much of your attention on them during mediation. 

Prior disputes will only distract from the issues at hand and move you further away from a peaceable and workable resolution. When you enter divorce mediation, your focus should be less on “what went wrong” and more on “where do we go from here”. 

Enter the Process with Realistic Expectations

When you start divorce mediation, you need to go in with the understanding that you are not going to get everything you want. Every negotiation involves a give-and-take, and you need to be willing to give up something in order to get something that is more important to you. This is how negotiation works, and everyone needs to have a willingness to compromise in some areas.

Be Open to New Ideas

During mediation, you might discuss some solutions that you may not have heard about from others who have gone through traditional divorce litigation. For example, the mediator may know of some ways to resolve challenging parenting schedules or complicated financial matters. Be open to new and innovative ideas that might be suggested to help resolve some of your unique challenges.

Look Out for the Well-Being of Your Children

Although you surely have differences with your spouse, try not to minimize the impact your spouse has on your children. For the sake of the kids, it is best to treat the other parent respectfully and maintain a civil tone. Doing this costs you nothing, but it can mean everything for your kids to see that their parents are at least making an effort to get along.

Stay Committed to the Process

You might not resolve everything in your first mediation session, and this is completely normal. Most couples will need at least a few sessions to work out everything, so do not get discouraged if you feel like you did not make adequate progress in your first session. Oftentimes, participants just need to get all of their issues and grievances out in the open during the initial session, then they can move forward and work on a resolution. 

Be mindful that this might happen and keep focused on the big picture. Even if mediation takes one or two more sessions than you initially expected, it is still far better than going through a long, drawn out and costly court battle.