Traditional courtroom divorces can leave both parties feeling like they have no control over the terms of their divorce. You can strengthen your divorce agreement with a mediator that works to help both parties get a say in the outcome of their case. Your mediator has one goal, to help you both reach an amicable divorce settlement that promotes the best interest of any children involved.
Unlike a judge or an arbitrator, the mediator won’t decide the outcome of the case. The mediator’s job is to help the disputants resolve the problem through a process that encourages each side to:
- air disputes
- identify the strengths and weaknesses of their case
- understand that accepting less than expected is the hallmark of a fair settlement, and
- agree on a satisfactory solution.
The primary goal is for all parties to work out a solution they can live with and trust. Because the mediator has no authority to impose a decision, nothing will be decided unless both parties agree to it. The process focuses on solving problems in an economical manner—for instance, taking into account the cost of litigation rather than uncovering the truth or imposing legal rules.
That’s not to say that the merits of the case aren’t factored into the analysis—they are. The mediator will assess the case and highlight the weaknesses of each side, the point being to hit home the risks of faring far worse in front of a judge or jury, and that the penalty or award imposed will be out of the control of the litigants.
Stages of Mediation
Many people think that mediation is an informal process in which a friendly mediator chats with the disputants until they suddenly drop their hostilities and work together for the common good. It doesn’t work this way. Mediation is a multi-stage process designed to get results. It is less formal than a trial or arbitration, but there are distinct stages to the mediation process that account for the system’s high rate of success.
Most mediations proceed as follows:
- Stage 1: Mediator’s opening statement. After the disputants are seated at a table, the mediator introduces everyone, explains the goals and rules of the mediation, and encourages each side to work cooperatively toward a settlement.
- Stage 2: Disputants’ opening statements. Each party is invited to describe the dispute and its consequences, financial and otherwise. The mediator might entertain general ideas about resolution, as well. While one person is speaking, the other is not allowed to interrupt.
- Stage 3: Joint discussion. The mediator might encourage the parties to respond directly to the opening statements, depending on the participants’ receptivity, in an attempt to further define the issues.
- Stage 4: Private caucuses. The private caucus is a chance for each party to meet privately with the mediator. Each side will be placed in a separate room. The mediator will go between the two rooms to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each position and to exchange offers. The mediator continues the exchange as needed during the time allowed. These private meetings comprise the guts of mediation.
- Stage 5: Joint negotiation. After caucuses, the mediator might bring the parties back together to negotiate directly, but this is unusual. The mediator usually doesn’t bring the parties back together until a settlement is reached or the time allotted for the mediation ends.
- Stage 6: Closure. If the parties reach an agreement, the mediator will likely put its main provisions in writing and ask each side to sign the written summary of the agreement. If the parties didn’t reach an agreement, the mediator will help the parties determine whether it would be fruitful to meet again later or continue negotiations by phone.
You save time and money. If successful, mediation means sidestepping the formal process of divorce court. This shortens the process for the parties and helps minimize the caseload of the Family Court System.
Mediation is fair to all concerned. The mediator is a third-party who has no interest in the outcome. They stand to gain nothing. Because of their objectivity, they may be able to see solutions that the parties can’t because they are not emotionally invested in the outcome.
Mediation is a confidential process. There is no court reporter taking down every word said. Any notes taken by the mediator are thrown away afterward. You don’t have to worry about your dirty laundry being aired in public. There is no public court process.
The divorcing couple is in control and not at the mercy of a divorce court judge.
How to Prepare for Divorce Mediation
Do your homework. Work with your attorney to make sure that all issues to be covered will have a fair and equal outcome for you. You will be mediating on child support, spousal support, retirement accounts, division of marital property, and debt. Be sure to have all your ducks in a row!
Beware of your future needs after a divorce. Do a post-divorce budget and go into mediation determined to negotiate for what you need to survive financially after divorce.
If you have children, make them your main concern. Parents can’t go into mediation with the hope of destroying the other if there are children involved. Keep in mind that children need two parents who walk away from divorce financially and emotionally whole.
Attorney Dawn Renken is a practicing family law attorney in Texas, who specializes in divorce cases in Houston, TX. Attorney Renken received her mediation license through ADR Services International Inc. in 2014. Since this time, she has worked with a wide range of divorcing couples looking for alternatives to traditional courtroom divorces.
Contact our law office today to strengthen your divorce agreement with a mediator.
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