If you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse, both want to have an amicable split but have more than basic needs, a mediator may be the best way to go. It cuts down on costs and attorney fees, you get to go as slow or as fast as you want to, end with an agreement meeting both parties’ needs, and ultimately the private and intimate aspects of your lives will stay private. If you share children, you have the potential of reaching a much better arrangement for them. This isn’t to say that mediation is the perfect answer. You may not have a judge in front of your, but you still have to be prepared. Take time to get ready for mediation, as you would court. This could mean the difference between a good agreement and one where you come out ahead. You can take care of yourself and not screw your spouse over at the same time.If you want to go with a mediator, think about these six steps first to get the most out of it.
Meet with a lawyer who is amenable to the process
Mediation is guided by state law, but not bound by it. It gives both parties the chance to create a dissolution agreement for your specific situation, unlike the court, which is kind of a cookie cutter process. A mediator will not represent either you or your ex-spouse. Their investment is in individual and joint goals. For this reason, it is a wise investment on your part to have an attorney at your side, a legal coach if you will.
A legal coach is not there for litigation purposes. In fact, choosing a litigator may lead to mediation failing and starting over. A good legal coach will be someone who wants to advise you throughout the mediation process. Their goal will explain the process, listen to your goals, priorities, and concerns and come up with a strategy for your position. Because many legal coaches have been mediators themselves, don’t be surprised by some divergent thinking.
Often times, these coaches require a “deposit” or retainer to go towards your legal fees. You determine how much you can afford to spend on legal coaching. This allows you to have them present when you will need them the most. Having as much information as possible will maximize your time spent. It is a good idea to have a few meetings prior to starting mediation. This allows you to think about anything you would like to add.
No matter how much time you can afford, your legal coach should check your final, written agreement prior to your signing it. Your understanding of what the agreement should be in it, as well as anything new being explained. You want both start and end dates for alimony and such outlined. If you don’t, it could have unintended consequences costing you a lot of money.
Don’t rush your decision in a mediator
Mediators are not one size fits all. Have a meeting with more than one mediator to get a feel for how they handle cases. You may find that one mediator relies only on state law as guidance. If you are the breadwinner of the family and don’t have a prenup or postnuptial agreement, you will want to choose a mediator who works more with facts than law. The legal calculation for determining support may not be in either party’s best interest. A mediator can look at the facts and help to negotiate for your situation. Less support over a greater length of time or cohabitating for a period of time post-divorce to save up money may be the best for you.
Here are some questions that may help you in finding the right mediator:
- What is your mediation style?
- Will my spouse be in the room during our meetings, or will we be in separate rooms that you go between? Would you consider using a Skype call?
- How soon can you be available?
- Who will be responsible for the preparation and filing process for the divorce paperwork?
- Do charge a flat rate or bill against a retainer? What are your rates?
- What certifications do you have for mediation?
Go in open-minded, but listen and respect your limits
This tip is geared more to what happens during mediation. Preparing for the inevitable unkind word from your ex is a logical step to take before walking into mediation. Some things said will be hurtful, even untrue, but in the end, it is counterproductive. An unreasonable request will be transparent to the mediator. Take long, deep breaths when things get a little heated. It’s an emotional time and that makes negotiations more difficult, so listen carefully. Do not interrupt or attack back at your spouse.
The ability to listen, hear, and understand is vital to a successful mediation settlement. Whether you agree or not, empathy will benefit you. If your spouse feels like you are hearing them, they may become more cooperative. The more you practice beforehand, the better you will be when the time comes.
Take care of yourself
If you’ve never negotiated a high-stakes deal involving the welfare of minors and a family’s assets, you aren’t alone. That’s what your mediator is for because that’s what is about to happen. They are your minors and finances so emotions will be running high. Everything from anger, sorrow, and maybe relief will be going through you, so give yourself a break.
This is tough because you have all of your non-mediation things to do, but a five minute Youtube video featuring baby goats can be magic. Having a laugh out loud marathon or even a good cry will release some of your physical tension. Don’t be worried if one turns into the other, just get it out. Journaling is a good idea because you are about to go on a journey of self-discovery, and you will need to remember it. There is also no harm in seeing a therapist if things get really bad.
Get all of your financial information in one place
If you have access to your documents, gather them now. If your spouse has them, ask them for copies. There should be no desire to hide assets if the goal is mediation. Not knowing about your assets, their worth, and when they were purchased is no way to start mediation.
If you or a family member made a sizeable investment in one of your joint assets, get a record of that. You will need to “prove” some facts and having all of your financial ducks in a row is where to start. This is a mere sampling of the things that you and your spouse will want to have. If things are really amiable, a shared drive folder makes for less paperwork.
- Tax returns: Federal and state
- Pay stubs
- 1099s and/or W-2s
- Valuations for joint business ventures
- Property valuation for real estate
- Kelley Blue Book’s valuation of your vehicles
- Bank account records
- Statements for non-retirement investments (i.e. bonds, stocks, mutual funds, and secured notes
- Retirement and pension statements
- Credit statements
- Health and life insurance information
- Estimated costs for living
Determine what you will not budge on
What do you absolutely have to have? What sacrifice are you willing to make to keep it? Is it your house that you can’t let go of? If it makes financial sense to purchase your ex’s portion of the home, this may be your thing.
That said, if it is such a source of conflict that it stalls or even ends negotiations, let it go. You can acquire new wealth and property. You may even be able to keep your kids in the same school if you move. You cannot undo the damage to family bonds at a time when they are so tangled.
Farbod Majd Esq.
Divorce Attorney w/ offices in Beverly Hills/Los Angeles
Services in English, Turkish, and Farsi/Persian (Iranian/American Lawyer)
8383 Wilshire Blvd Suite 646, Beverly Hills, CA 90211
310.956.4600 | Fax: 310.878.8989 | [email protected]