No one wants their divorce to go on longer than it has to. Even when you know it’s the right thing for you, it’s not a fun process.
Couples that are ready to move on often choose to use a mediator. Mediation can be an excellent way to reduce the costs and the emotional drain of a divorce.
But working with a mediator isn’t a guarantee of success. Couples come to stalemates in mediations and move on to divorce litigation all the time.
If you’re committed to mediation and want a final agreement that both you and your spouse can accept, read on. These tips will help you get the most out of mediation and avoid the courtroom.
Tip #1: Be prepared
Mediation is an opportunity to make agreements and find solutions for every issue that you need to resolve in your divorce. Before you walk in the door (or onto the zoom call), you want to thoroughly understand each issue and how it impacts you.
Specifically, know the numbers you’ll be dealing with.
If you’re not clear on your finances, now is the time to create a spreadsheet with your and your spouse’s income and all your expenses. If you’ll be selling your home or one of you will buy the other’s interest, get an appraisal of the house. Find out how much money is in your retirement and investment accounts.
If you’ll be moving, do a little research to find out what house or apartment prices are where you want to live.
Tip #2: Know what you want, but be prepared to compromise
This tip may sound pretty basic, but it’s not. It’s easy to start your mediation without clear priorities. You may feel overwhelmed or confused. You may be avoiding thinking about the details of ending your marriage.
Unfortunately, if you wait until the mediation to figure it out, you may allow your emotions to lead instead of being clear about what you truly want or need.
You might end up saying yes to things that you haven’t fully considered just because of the pressure of the moment. Or you might do the opposite: you might say no to everything your spouse requests because you’re feeling angry or defensive.
To put yourself in a better position, look at the big picture in advance. Identify your top priorities so you can focus on those at mediation. Take note of things you think your spouse will want. This exercise will help you get clear about your priorities and go into the mediation with a bit of a strategy. For instance, is there something that’s not important to you but is important to your spouse? Great — offer that in exchange for something you want.
While it’s important to know what you want, you should have few (if any) non-negotiables. Part of the mediation process is coming up with creative solutions. The mediator, your attorney, or even the other party may propose a solution you haven’t thought of. Keeping an open mind increases your chances of settling at mediation. Ultimately, you should feel your final agreement is reasonably fair — that you both gave some and got some.
Tip #3: Take a break if you need it
No one makes their best decisions when they’re running high on emotion. And unfortunately, divorce is a pretty emotional time.
Hopefully you enter the mediation with a plan to be your calmest, most reasonable self. But discussing the separation of your assets or child custody can trigger emotional responses. Before you say something that will incite your spouse’s defensiveness and change the tenor of the negotiations, ask for a break.
Go to the bathroom, splash water on your face, take a few deep breaths, step outside for a moment.
When you come back, you’ll be ready to start again from a calmer place.
Tip #4: Be honest about your finances
Money issues often seem like they’re about much more than the money. Finances can become a vessel for all the fear and anger spouses are holding. They can be a tangible way to make someone else pay for the harm they caused.
You may be tempted to hide assets or lie about your income.
Not only does it undermine the spirit of the good-faith negotiations that occur during a mediation. If your deception is discovered at a later date, it could negate any mediation agreement you reach.
Tip #5: Avoid verbal attacks
Remember that thing about none of us being our best when our emotions are running high?
Don’t put your spouse on the defensive by making verbal attacks during the mediation. They’ll be less likely to compromise on things that are important to you.
If you start feeling your own defenses rise, ask for a break. Try to calm your emotions so that you can make decisions based on what you want for your future, not what’s happening in the room right at that moment.
Remember your goal — to avoid litigation, to save money, to protect the kids, to have more control over the process, to start fresh as soon as possible. Whatever it is, let it bolster you when you want to point fingers or make accusations.
Tip #6: Explain your reasons when you can
One of the benefits of mediation is the opportunity to find solutions that neither you nor your spouse has considered. You each may be looking at a problem through a “They Win or I Win” lens, which gives little room for compromise.
If you share the reason for your position, the mediator may be able to help you find an outside-the-box solution.
For instance, say your spouse wants to sell your home and you’d like to continue living in it. You might say, “I refuse to move out.” Your spouse could refuse any agreement that doesn’t involve selling the house, and now you’re heading to litigation.
Or you could say, “I don’t want to move out right now because I don’t want to upset the kids’ living arrangements any more than necessary.” Now your spouse and the mediator understand your reasoning. If your spouse follows the same principle, you may learn more. Perhaps they want to sell the house so they can afford a place with three bedrooms for when the kids are with them.
With all that information on the table, you may be able to resolve both issues with an alternative solution.
Tip #7: Listen
Listening is one of the easiest and one of the hardest things to do — especially during a divorce.
On the one hand, it doesn’t take any particular skill. You simply close your mouth and hear the other person’s words. On the other hand, our brains are pretty adept at shutting out someone else’s viewpoint when we don’t want to hear it.
The thing is, all people want to feel heard. And when they’ve had an opportunity to share their thoughts and have been truly listened to, they’re more likely to compromise.
You’ll get more out of your mediation if you take a step back and really listen to your spouse.
If you’re in the process of getting divorced, contact our office. Max Ruthenberg-Marshall is a registered mediator, and we frequently work with other mediators. Our goal is to help your divorce go as quickly and painlessly as possible so you can move on to the next chapter of your life.