Chances are good that at some point during your family law or custody case you will be asked to submit to mediation. Some courts require parties to attempt to resolve their custody or divorce-related disputes to a mediator and attempt to reach a resolution; other jurisdictions merely recommend or suggest that the parties attempt mediation before litigating their disputes in court. If the parties are able to reach a mediated agreement, they may find that their costs are reduced and the agreement reached more palatable than an order entered by the court.
Preparing for Mediation
Of course, though, mediation is only as beneficial as the parties wish to make it. If one party or the other does not arrive for the mediation session in the correct frame of mind and ready to participate, the mediation session will not be very productive. Here is how you can prepare yourself for your mediations session – whether the session is mandatory or agreed-upon – and get the most out of your time with the mediator:
- Review why you are going to mediation: What areas of disagreement are you submitting to mediation? Is it just child custody or is it child custody, spousal support, and a host of other issues? During your limited mediation time you will want to focus your attention and discussion only on those areas that are being submitted for mediation. If there is additional time you may venture off and discuss other topics, but first address the issue or issues that brought you to mediation.
- Know what your “bottom line” is: A mediator may suggest potential resolutions to you and the other party’s disagreement, but the mediator cannot require you to accept any mediated agreement. Before going into mediation, it might be helpful to think about or jot down a list of the potential resolutions to your disagreement and note which resolutions you can – and cannot – accept. For example, if the mediation session is to resolve a custody dispute and you cannot accept not being the primary residential parent, make note of this and stick to your position.
- Come prepared to negotiate: Mediation does not work if one party is not willing to truly negotiate in some way. The idea behind mediation is that each party will willingly give up something he or she may have wanted in order to obtain concessions from the other party and obtain what he or she truly desires most. For example, your “bottom line” may be that you wish to be the primary residential parent. Are you willing to allow the other parent additional parenting time during the summer or around holidays in order to get what you want? Or suppose you want spousal support to help you go back to college and restart your career – would you be willing to accept a lower amount of spousal support for a longer period? Or would you be willing instead to accept a lump sum payment towards your college expenses in lieu of spousal support?
- Arrive early and well-rested: As much as possible, try to get a good night’s sleep the night before your mediation session as this will help you be in a better frame of mind. Although it may not appear to be such, mediation sessions can be quite intense and taxing. Being physically and mentally prepared to participate can help you participate meaningfully in mediation and not compromise on your “bottom line.”
These are just a few of the ways you can make the most of your mediation session. You should never feel as if you must accept a mediated agreement with which you fundamentally disagree; however, if you and the other party give mediation a chance, you may find that the benefits of such an agreement outweigh the drawbacks.