When Should we Start Mediation, Before or After Separating?

Mediation can be used for a wide range of relational situations beyond just a divorce. For example, we have been able to use mediation successfully for separations, post-divorce matters, and other family-related issues. 

In the case of a separation, this could be a temporary or trial arrangement to decide whether or not the couple should divorce, a permanent arrangement between a cohabitating couple that has children and joint assets, or a permanent arrangement for a married couple that does not want to divorce for various reasons.

When a couple that intends to separate wants to go to mediation, they often wonder whether it is best to start the mediation process before or after separating. This is a very important question, because doing things in the right order can make the separation go far more smoothly and prevent a lot of potential problems down the road.

I always tell my clients that it is best to start mediation before you separate, because in my experience, I have found that many couples have not thought about all the issues they will need to address during the separation. 

Unless you have not been together for very long, separating usually involves more than just a change in sleeping arrangements. There are many other things that typically need to be dealt with, which may include:

  • Living Arrangements: Who will live in the current home and who has to move out? Who will get what from the home? This would include the pets, furniture, and other personal property. If both parties are moving out, will the home be put up for sale?
  • Co-mingled Finances: The longer you have been together, the more entangled your finances have most likely become. You may have jointly owned assets, such as the home, vehicles, and personal property. And you may also have credit cards, personal loans, and other types of debts that are in both names. Some couples have even more complicated financial situations, particularly those with significant and unique assets such as family-owned businesses, extensive real estate holdings, stock options, and international investments. We have the capability to handle separations and divorces involving all levels of financial complexity. 
  • Children: If you have children together, this will of course be the most important issue you need to address. You will need to develop a workable custody and parenting plan, so the kids have a predictable schedule and they will know what to expect. You will also need to discuss where your kids will go to school, birthday and holiday schedules, grandparent visitations, the best way to approach the subject of the separation with the children, and many other issues.
  • Support Needed: If there is a major imbalance between the incomes of the two parties, there may also need to be a discussion about what level of support (if any) will be provided. These and other financial issues need to be worked out very carefully, especially if the separation is a prelude to a divorce. If this is the case, whatever is agreed upon at the time you separate will most likely be seen as the default arrangement when/if divorce proceedings begin. 

Just reading through this list, some issues may have come to your mind that you may not have previously considered. And if you decide to move out right away without dealing with them, it could lead to serious conflicts later on. 

I help couples approach separation mediation in a very thoughtful way, so they do not miss anything important that could come back to haunt them down the road. Couples emerge from the process with a formal separation agreement that addresses all the important issues, allowing them to be fully prepared for the next chapter in their lives.