Going through a divorce is never easy. Dissolving a marriage takes a major emotional and financial toll on spouses and their families. Divorce mediation can alleviate much of the stress by helping you avoid costly and protracted litigation. By choosing mediation, you are choosing to resolve your differences privately and amicably, so you can preserve important family relationships.
Divorce mediation can be an effective alternative to traditional litigation, but in my experience, I have seen that the chances of success are vastly increased if you are well-prepared going into the process. Here are some of the best ways to prepare ahead of time, so you can get the most out of your mediation sessions:
Enter the Process in Good Faith
In New Jersey (and in most other states), divorce mediation is non-binding. In other words, no agreement reached during the mediation sessions is enforceable unless it is signed by both parties. This means the only way this process will work is if both parties agree ahead of time to enter in good faith and with the intention of reaching a settlement. This does not mean you and your spouse have to be best friends. It also does not mean you have to agree on everything ahead of time; in fact, it is sometimes better if you have some important issues yet to resolve, because the mediator can often come up with solutions you may not have considered on your own.
Organize your Financial Information
Bring as much financial information as you are aware of to the mediation session. Mediators typically give you a comprehensive form to fill out where you can list items in various categories. The information you need may include:
- Bank Statements
- Pay Stubs
- Real Estate
- Credit Card Accounts
- Other Debts
- Retirement Accounts
- Stocks and Similar Investments
- Family-Owned Business Information
- Other Assets
If you do not know 100% of your financial picture, that is perfectly fine. Find out as much as you can, and bring along any questions you have about areas of your finances your spouse may have the answer to.
Consider your “Interests” rather than your “Positions”
Divorce mediation is meant to be a collaborative process where both parties, with the skilled guidance of the mediator, move toward a win-win settlement. In order to make the process collaborative rather than adversarial, you need to approach it from the standpoint of what is in your interests, rather than what your positions are. A position is something you argue about in court. An interest is a want and/or need you work to fulfill or protect. During mediation, you often find that your interests really are not as far apart as you originally thought.
Put your Children First
Though children are resilient, divorce can be very hard on them. Seeing Mom and Dad separate is something that will take some time to get used to. You can help minimize the negative effects of the divorce by considering the health and well-being of your children above all else. As parents, be willing to work together to do what is best for the kids, and commit to getting along after the divorce is finalized (for their sake). Not that you will always succeed – nobody’s perfect – but be willing to approach your future interactions with your ex from the standpoint of how this will affect your children.
Find the Right Mediator
During the mediation process, you will be dealing with your most private and sensitive information. For this reason, you need to work with a mediator that has proven experience, as well as someone you trust and feel comfortable with. You should also consider whether this person is a part-time mediator, or if this is their full-time profession. A full-time mediator that does this day in and day out is likely to have more in-depth knowledge of the process and what it takes to bring it to a successful conclusion.