Mediation – What’s it really like?

Over the years, I’ve mediated dozens of cases. One thing I try to be cognizant of is that, for most people, this is their first mediation (and hopefully their last). So while this might be routine to me, it can be a trip to the unknown for divorcing couples who are already in a highly stressed state. Often, I find that people who come to my 30-minute consultation prior to the start of a case really want to know “how does it work?”

Here’s an outline of what will happen over the course of a “typical” mediation. Granted, no two mediations are the same and there are circumstances that can alter the course. For the most part, this is what you can expect:

Initial, 30-minute consultation:

  • Introduction – a brief chance for you to get to know me so that you can gauge whether or not we can effectively work together.
  • Discussion of the mediation process and how it compares with other ways to get divorced.
  • You will receive a short information gathering worksheet; a check list of issues that can or must be addressed in every divorce and a list of items needed for the first mediation session. This can and should include: financials (e.g. tax returns for the previous three years, bank statements, retirement statements and credit card bills); and a list of pressing issues that need to immediately addressed (e.g. parenting concerns; payment of household bills, etc.).

Session 1: Understanding the situation and financials. Although my mediation clients decide the order that we will review and discuss critical issues, a common place to start is to review the following:

  • Signing the mediation and confidentiality agreement and payment of the retainer
  • What’s current living situation? Are you sharing the same home or has one of you moved out? Are there pressing parenting issues?
  • Review of assets and liabilities. Do any of the assets need to be appraised? Are the minimum payments on liabilities being made?
  • Review family income and expenditures. What are the monthly bills and how are they being paid at present? Is this a viable payment schedule for the future?
  • Have the parties already resolved some issues between themselves before beginning mediation? Creating a list of unresolved issues.
  • Provide names of attorneys so each party can have their own counsel for consultation and review of Divorce Agreement.

Sessions 2 through 3 or 4: Unresolved Issues

  • Preparing a financial statement.
  • If applicable, a parenting plan.
  • Child support/extracurriculars/alimony.
  • College expenses if children are older.
  • Insurances – health, life, etc.
  • Division of Assets and liabilities– can include appraisal of marital home, pensions and other assets.
  • Review feedback on Divorce Agreement from each party’s attorney.

Session 4 or 5: Signing final Divorce Agreement;  

  • Prepare for court when both parties present mediation agreement.

In a perfect world, you and your spouse will be able to reach agreements on all unresolved issues in three mediation sessions. The world is not perfect and it is not unusual for my clients to need more mediation sessions. Either way, it’s critical to work with a mediator with whom you both have a solid rapport and chemistry. If you or your spouse have apprehensions during an initial consultation about the mediator, perhaps that’s not the person you should be working with. Believe me, the mediator will not take offense if you want to meet with other mediators prior to making a decision.

The most important thing to take from this outline is that while it’s new to you, you will be working with a seasoned professional—your mediator–who will help you get through it. If you are uncomfortable with anything or unclear, ask questions. You, your spouse and your mediator share a common goal—a fair dissolution of your marriage. By following the lead of your mediator and putting in the effort to provide the necessary information and materials, you can have a significant role in keeping the mediation to three or four sessions.