What to Expect from Your First Divorce Mediation Session
Many sources will tell you to prepare heavily for your first mediation session and to come armed with various financial documents so you can provide detailed support for your position on numerous issues. That does not reflect reality, and it’s also not constructive. Here’s what we at Solutions Divorce Mediation, Inc. want you to bring to your first mediation session.
You may want to assemble your financials at home. This will refresh your memory about certain issues you need to discuss. But please, don’t bring them to the session.
Your first session is for laying the groundwork, for discussing big issues, and for prioritizing your concerns. Nothing inhibits an open discussion like diving into a pile of documents and shuffling papers as you search for line items. If we ask a mediation client how much they think their house is worth and they start fumbling through papers for comparative analysis, we lose control of the mediation. Talks bog down, and the mediation cannot do what it is designed to do: move forward.
Mediation often centers on concerns over money. But most parties have been close enough to their finances to have a working memory of pertinent facts that is sufficient for the first stage of discussions, where a simple ballpark figure will suffice. That’s why we ask:
- How much you think your house is worth
- How much you think you owe the bank
- How much you think you earn each year
- How much you think you have in your retirement accounts…and so on
We do not need exact numbers for this phase of the mediation, because we are looking at general concepts. Even if the numbers are off by tens of thousands of dollars, we’ve still got a starting point for bargaining for the sale, transfer or holding of any asset, and we have plenty of time to supply exact values before preparing the divorce settlement agreement.
A good mediator knows how to deal with financial disagreements. Do the parties have divergent opinions on how much the house is worth? Have a neutral appraiser conduct a simple comparative analysis. They don’t know exactly what their retirement account contains, or exactly how much debt they’re in? Our mediators can begin with an estimate and later generate a list of the pertinent documents we need in the next session to move forward. Because nothing breaks the continuity of a good mediated session like clients sifting through piles of paperwork to produce “evidence,” we try to minimize your reliance on documents; we only use such sources where there is uncertainty or where we need an actual document to prove the exact amount of an asset or a debt.
Mediation also breaks down when clients go into their phones for text messages, emails and other “proof” when such proof is not often necessary to validate what they are proposing. Imagine a parenting plan dispute, where the matter to resolve is who will pick up the kids after school. If, after the husband says he cannot do this, the wife says he emailed her last week, promising to pick up the children every day, we don’t need to see the email, because it is not relevant. If the husband denies sending the email, that’s not relevant either. The question is not whether he is a liar, but whether he is now, at this moment, willing or able to pick up the children every day after school. The email conflict, at most, raises an issue of his truthfulness and reliability, which our mediators can deal with by placing safeguards in the parenting plan. That way, if he does not live up to expectations, a suitable relative can pick up the children or they can go to an afterschool program.
There are always certain clients who feel they must impress the mediator or diminish the other party by proving a point. For example, some clients bring copious proof of adultery in text messages and emails that take up more than an hour of the mediation session. But evidence of infidelity is irrelevant, because you’ve already decided to get a divorce. What might be relevant are credit card receipts indicating how much the wayward spouse spent on the person he or she was involved with, which are funds the faithful spouse could hope to recover. Unfortunately, these kinds of emotional points are backward looking, and they do not move the mediation forward to a successful conclusion.
Your settlement agreement is about your future. To ensure your divorce mediation is forward looking, you should minimize distractions and avoid the temptation to rehash the past.