Divorce mediation is a way to divorce in a more amicable and peaceful way versus litigating with attorneys and a judge making decisions for you. But how to prepare for divorce mediation is a question my partner Brian James and I are often asked. We will help you prepare for divorce mediation, and get you through the process in a methodical, easy to follow way, and one that it is not overwhelming. Let us break it down in a way that makes sense while you consider whether mediation is a viable option for you and your spouse.
How to prepare for divorce mediation, emotionally and physically:
Emotional preparation is more difficult than practical preparation when getting ready to start the divorce mediation process. Here are a few reasons why:
1. First, you should try to be at the same place emotionally when you begin the process. We have seen many times where one spouse is ready to go full steam ahead with mediation and has been contemplating divorce for some time. Perhaps he or she has also planned how this this might work in terms of separating, financial ramifications and what a parenting plan might actually be.
Where, opposite of that, the other spouse may be thinking they can still save their marriage, work things out and may not really be ready to end their marriage. As mediators, it is our job to help them to the best of our abilities get on the same page emotionally. Sometimes, this means referring one or both spouses to therapy and even holding off on starting the mediation process until the spouse who still believes the marriage is fixable comes to terms that it is not.
2. Second, have you exhausted other options and are both ready to mediate your divorce? Is there a way the two of you might stay together? Individual therapy and couples counseling are a few of the ways to work on your marriage if you are not 100% sure it is over. Discernment counseling is an effective way to determine if you really want to get divorced.
To prepare for divorce mediation, you need to be prepared to get divorced first. We do not help you work on your marriage nor are we here to tell you to get divorced. Though we are able to mediate parenting plans and financial agreements while you decide whether you stay together or get divorced, it is more likely than not that our clients are coming to us to help them get divorced.
3. Another way in preparing for divorce mediation is understanding and coming to terms with the fact that mediation is like a business decision, where emotions are checked at the door. Our role as mediators is to help you get to the finish line of the divorce process, and our role is not to help you with the emotions you are feeling. We understand there are very intense emotions involved in divorce. We cannot take those emotions away and we are sympathetic to what you are navigating through.
We help you focus on the practical aspects of the process, without dwelling on the emotions. We help you with the business side of the divorce. If at any time during the mediation process, you or we believe a therapist would be beneficial, we can put the process on hold, refer you to someone who is able to help you process your emotions, and start mediation again when you are emotionally ready to handle the process.
Practical preparation for mediation is more straightforward, black and white, and is the business of getting divorced.
Here I discuss the following business aspects of the divorce mediation process:
1. Preparing for divorce mediation starts with gathering documents. Many of our clients start gathering financial documents long before informing their spouse they want a divorce. Start collecting bank statements, retirement accounts and investment accounts. Perhaps figure out what your house may be worth and whether there is any equity. Consult a mortgage broker if you are considering refinancing the house into your own name either during or after the divorce process. The more homework you do, the calmer you will be as you go through the process. By gathering documents as they come to you, either via snail mail or online statements, makes the “discovery” process of a divorce go more smoothly.
2. It’s important to understand your finances once you have collected the documents. Do you have a Financial Advisor you want to meet with before beginning the process in order to help you understand what some of the documents you are gathering actually mean? Maybe consult with someone who can advise you about your financial situation and help you look at your finances from an independent and outside perspective. The more prepared you are when starting to discuss your finances, the easier it will be to advocate for yourself as you go through mediation process.
3. Consulting with an attorney. Though we do not require you to have attorneys when you mediate with the two of us, nor do we give you legal advice during the process, meeting with an attorney may help you see the process from a different point of view. A meeting with someone who is looking at the divorce from your perspective only may give you some piece of mind and help you feel more informed as to what may happen if you are unable to come to an agreement on something in mediation.
They will explain how you will be required to take this issue to court, where a judge must make a legal decision on a particular parenting or financial issue. What might Child Support be? Would there be Maintenance in your particular situation? Knowing these things ahead of time may make it easier for you to advocate for yourself during mediation. You do not have to hire an attorney before you begin but paying for a consult or two might give you valuable information to get you through more prudently.
4. Think about your children’s daily schedules and their individual personalities. What might it be like for them to go back and forth between houses during the week? Might they be better at one house for school nights? Would that be less stressful or disruptive for them? This depends on your children and whether they can handle the back and forth.
We will discuss different ways to structure a parenting plan but want you to be able to describe your children, and their needs to us, so that we can be most effective and successful as we help you through the parenting piece of the mediation process. Who makes decisions for your children? Are you good at doing that together? Does it cause the two of you to have arguments or does one of you typically make decisions and consult the other before finalizing plans? These are all important considerations to minimize conflict for the future.
When considering how to prepare for divorce mediation, I’ll leave you with this. The better prepared you can be before beginning the mediation process, the smoother it will be for you and your spouse. We want to help you focus on the best interests of your children and care about the least disruptive way to get you through the divorce process. Thinking about the emotional and practical preparation steps necessary to begin mediation can only help you focus on the important decisions you will be making as you navigate your future. Don’t you deserve to give yourself every possible advantage?
Ellen Feldman has been working as a mediator since 2007. A graduate of Smith College and Indiana University School of Law, Feldman previously worked as an attorney for 15 years practicing commercial litigation. Since 2006, Ellen has been a volunteer for The Lilac Tree, an Evanston based nonprofit organization assisting women through the process of divorce. Additionally, Feldman completed Family and Divorce Mediation Training through DePaul University Center for Conflict Resolution and Advanced Family Mediation. She is a court-approved mediator for the 19th Judicial Circuit Family Court of Lake County. Learn more by visiting the C.E.L. & Associates website.