Over the years I have helped resolve numerous family law matters as the mediator. In doing so, I’ve made a mental list of what works and what does not work in assisting two people (usually parents) resolve their differences without the need for a trial. I have also observed how people (lawyers included) conduct themselves during mediation and what is helpful and was is not.
Do be prepared. Having updated financial information and parenting plans readily available is very important to discussing the terms of any settlement. Too many meditations break down because of the lack of information. Remember, one cannot agree upon something if they have no way to verify exactly what he/she is agree to. Failure to provide information can also be a signal to one’s commitment to the mediation process.
Do listen. Many, including lawyers, come into mediation so focused on their end game that they fail to really hear the other side and consider options. Put aside the emotions and the legal strategies and listen to what the other side has to proffer. You may be surprised.
Do consider options. Just because the other side or your soon to be ex-spouse proposes an idea doesn’t mean that it should be automatically dismissed. A productive discussion of ideas is the best path to a resolution, especially where children are concerned.
Do submit a proposal ahead of time. Having an understanding of the other party’s position prior to the mediation can lead to a much more productive session. This also helps the mediator structure the negotiations. Having a point of discussion ahead of time also signals who is invested in the process and who is not.
Don’t litigate. This don’t is primarily for the lawyers. Mediation is not just a cog in the litigation machine. Rather mediation is like the off ramp from the hectic speeding highway of law. It is a place to slow down and put fault and blame aside so the parties can really focus on solutions. Lawyers, most often, have a hard time with this. But, allowing the client to use this space to truly talk through the issues, without the distractions of legal strategies or what they may “win” in court, will promote a better discussion and ultimately a better outcome.
Parties who are able to resolve their issues are often in a better position to mend the hurt and pain caused by divorce, especially with regard to their children.
Denise D. VanLanduyt, Esq. is a certified mediator and arbitrator in the State of Georgia. She is also registered with the Georgia Office of Dispute Resolution.