By Joe Dillon
As a divorce mediator, I speak with many couples who wonder if mediation can really work for them. Concerns range from “what if we don’t get along?” to “do we have to have everything figured out before we come see you?” and everything in between.
The good news is mediation can help most any couple who is willing to voluntarily work together in good faith come to an agreement they both find fair and equitable.
If you’re on the fence about mediation and wondering if it can work for you, there are a number of things you can do to prepare yourself to mediate. Below in my experience are the three best things you can do to make mediation work for you.
Be “Future Focused”
Divorce brings a host of emotional baggage that can really drag you down if you let it. Old arguments and thoughts of what went wrong can lead you to believe that you need to get a lawyer and fight it out in court. Mediation would never work for you and your spouse. Right?
There are a number of things that may have brought you to the decision to divorce but the time to be concerned with those old arguments is over. The past is the past and whatever brought you to the decision to divorce should now be replaced with thoughts of “how do I move forward in the most peaceful and cost effective manner possible?”
You think those old arguments about material possessions or how many times so-and-so didn’t do “x” are upsetting? Wait until you spend two to three years of your life and $200,000 to argue them with lawyers in court. Talk about upsetting!
Because mediation is future focused, it can help you and your spouse focus less on discussing “what went wrong” and more on “where do we go from here?” Answering the questions and gathering the information that will help you craft and agreement you both find fair in your future lives. De-emphasizing where you were and discussing where you want to be is what mediation is all about.
Have Realistic Expectations
You don’t know how many times I’m approached at a barbecue by someone who finds out I’m a divorce mediator and wants to tell me a story about the $6,000 a month in alimony they got from their ex who was a cashier in the supermarket making $25,000 a year. This is usually when I excuse myself to go and get another plate of salad and a soda. It’s just not possible.
Divorce only creates expense – it does not create income. Going from one household to two households sharing that exact same income is only going to make matters more challenging. The additional housing payment in the form of rent or a mortgage, another utility bill, and the loss of household discounts on things like car insurance all increases your post-divorce expenses. You need to understand that your life post-divorce is probably going to take some getting used to. This is where mediation can really work for you.
Because mediators are neutral third parties whose goals are to educate you and help you both come to an agreement you find fair and equitable, we have no vested interest in whipping either of you into a frenzy. Or making false promises about how much child support you can” take your ex for” or how little alimony you’ll have to pay.
In mediation we share the facts as difficult as they might be for both of you to hear. Because we work for both of you, we go through a thorough budgeting exercise together so you both see what your expenses while living together were as well as what they might look like once separated. We help you each understand that especially if you have children together, it does neither of you any good if one of you lives in a seven bedroom and four bath mansion and the other in a room over a convenience store.
Helping couples have realistic expectations of their lives moving forward allows them to understand the financial realities of their situation so they can come to mutually acceptable agreements on critical issues like child support and alimony.
Not doing so and using lawyers to argue only your side of the equation only results in a fantasy world where proposed settlements by opposing counsel don’t take into account you and your spouse are already living beyond your means and $6,000 a month in alimony on a $25,000 a year salary just isn’t going to cut it.
Negotiate in Good Faith
If you want mediation to work for you it can if you follow one simple rule – be honest with your spouse, your mediator and yourself.
In order for mediation to work you need to be willing to fully disclose all assets and liabilities and enter them into discussions. Some people intentionally hide things as they don’t want to have to share in them (inheritances are a good example of this) but guess what? Sometimes those things you were so busy trying to hide and be dishonest about aren’t even subject to distribution in a divorce!
So now not only did you break the trust, but you could have kept the darn thing if you were honest! That’s what we call a “lose-lose.” When in doubt – disclose. And even if it’s an asset subject to discussion and possible distribution, it doesn’t mean that you’ll have to give it up. That’s where mediation can really work for you.
In mediation you both get to decide what your settlement looks like. Not a lawyer, not a judge and not the courts. You! So if you each fully disclose everything you’ve got and put it all out on the table, mediation can help you each give some to get some and come to an agreement you both find fair. You’d be surprised but no matter how angry or upset with couples might be, most mediation clients I’ve worked with come to an agreement that hovers right around 50-50. No matter how far apart they may have been at the outset. It all comes down to two people’s willingness to work together to negotiate in good faith.
Can Mediation Work For You? Absolutely!
In the states where we practice, you have a 99.5% chance of settling before you get to litigation. 99.5%! So if you knew there was an extremely high likelihood of settling before you ever needed to go to court, why would you hire a lawyer to fight it out when instead you could use the peaceful and cost-effective process of mediation to resolve all the issues surrounding your divorce in a matter of weeks instead of years?
Of course mediation is a voluntary process and if your spouse isn’t willing to mediate then sorry to say you’re getting lawyers and will have to go the more traditional (i.e. expensive and stressful) route. But if you can follow the three tips I present above, love your children and really want to move forward with your lives, then in this mediator’s humble opinion, mediation can definitely work for you.
Equitable Mediation Founder & Managing Partner Joe Dillon oversees the firm’s practice areas of mediation and divorce financial analysis and works personally with clients in Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. To learn more about Equitable Mediation and the services we offer please visit http://www.equitablemediation.com/ or call (877) 732 6682 today.