12 Tips for Divorce Mediation
12 Tips for Divorce Mediation
I won't sugarcoat it, divorce can be devastating, debilitating, embarrassing, expensive, stressful, etc; even when it’s something you desperately want – as was my case. I compare it to when my wisdom teeth were coming in when I was 17 years old. The pain was excruciating. After the surgery to remove them I was ecstatic because the pain from surgery was a relief. That was my divorce. The pain of my marriage was becoming unbearable and divorce, although tough, was a relief.
Obviously that is not everyone’s story and sadly many people are taken by surprise when their spouse asks for a divorce. Either way, divorce is now your reality and the sooner you come to terms with that, the better off you will be. At this point in the process you will need emotional support and legal advice. I recommend recruiting a shoulder to cry on, i.e. parent, friend, therapist; and an attorney (this is not the shoulder you want to cry on).
Note: My tips can benefit people (men and women) with or without children.
Many people will want to give you advice and that's great, however, I recommend not taking advice from people who have not been through a divorce. I received a lot of bad advice from well-meaning married people. Advice like; “The judge will rule in your favor because you were at home raising the children while your husband was out growing his business and securing his future.” Or “Go on a shopping spree before the credit cards are shut down.”
I’m here to tell you that it DOES NOT work that way, at least not in my experience. You will pay at least 50% of the credit card debt you racked up, maybe more if the judge determines you did it for spite, and you cannot predict how a judge will rule. Your best bet is to act like an adult, be on your best behavior, and don’t presume to know how any of this will play out. Instead, get busy consuming as much information as possible. I recommend doing your own research because as much as your attorney is paid to help you, putting your trust in one person (who is busy with many other clients) may not be wise. The tips below will help as well.
One more thing to know, since my divorce, I’ve heard stories about women who “took him for all he’s worth”, and men who “stuck it to her.” There are varying stories like these but my theory is that many people exaggerate the truth. Even if these stories are plausible, I can assure you, they paid for it one way or another. Attorney’s fees, emotional health, physical health, hair loss… If it is your goal to get exactly what you want, when you want it, by any means necessary, carefully factor in how much you are willing to pay in order to achieve that goal.
Here is what I learned as a result of my divorce and my mediation experience.
1. Find the Right Mediator
This is critical. They are hard to come by so ask friends, ask your attorney for recommendations, and search online in your area. If it’s feasible, interview at least three mediators before deciding on one. Choose someone who will lead the negotiations with authority, guidance, and compassion. Decide if the proceedings will be conducted with you and your soon-to-be-ex in the same room, or separately. Separately may prolong the process and cost more in hourly fees but if that’s better for your mental health, by-all-means, choose that option. Used effectively, mediation can save money you would normally pay an attorney and the courts. See link below for FAQ’s on mediation.
2. Learn How to Negotiate
Mediation is a negotiation which means – a discussion aimed at reaching an agreement. In any negotiation, as in life, you will have to give a little in order to get a little. Understand your needs/wants and the other party’s needs/wants. A good resource is an article titled; Principles and Tactics of Negotiation. See link below.
3. Don’t Show Fear
Divorce is daunting and as a stay-at-home-mom with no income and no college degree, I was terrified. When at the negotiating table, come prepared, be confident, and remain calm. Knowledge is power so I recommend using Divorce for Dummies (see link below) as a guide. It explains the divorce process and what you can expect. This makes the entire process less intimidating.
4. Talk to Other Divorcees
Many people have been through it so use them as a guide for what to do and what not to do. This shouldn’t be used as a “bitch about my ex” session. With notepad in-hand, ask specific questions and get concrete answers. Talk to anyone who has been through it, even members of the opposite sex. However, keep in mind divorce laws are different in each state. And just because someone got the house and the car and maybe the boat in their divorce, doesn’t mean you will get the equivalent. It’s just good to understand the scope of what’s at stake. There are many horrifying stories of despicable things divorced people do to each other but try to keep it in perspective – sometimes they exaggerate. And yes sometimes they are not exaggerating, but don’t repeat the same vulgarity in your divorce.
5. Know What You Want
Don’t worry about what you think you can get. Find out your rights by checking online, reading books, and consulting your attorney. Determine a best case scenario (and maybe a bit more) and negotiate from there. Don’t be afraid to counter an offer. If you have children who are minors, decide what their needs are now – and in the future – and advocate on their behalf since they cannot advocate for themselves.
6. Poker Face
What I mean is talk less, listen more, and don’t get emotional. Yes, mediation is about negotiating a deal so check your emotions at the door, pay attention, and see how it unfolds before making a decision. Have in your mind those items that are negotiable and those that are not. As you move down your list of wants, consider opportunities where you may be able to make an exchange for something your ex wants. Create a “win-win” where it makes sense.
7. Stay on Topic
Mediators typically charge by the hour. They aren’t professional therapists and they don’t care about who cheated on whom or any other gory details about your marriage. Oh sure, they will listen but if you do the math, mediators win if you and your ex start airing your dirty laundry with the hope the mediator will take a side. Focus on the bigger issues of deciding how to divide assets and if you have children, how they will fare in the fallout.
8. Be Decisive
Understand the process, do your own research, consult your attorney, and make decisions in a timely manner. Burying your head in the sand will only prolong the agony and cost you money. It’s okay if you need a day or so to consult with your attorney, but state a deadline. If the other party is dragging their feet, force them to state a deadline as well. It doesn’t mean they will follow through but at least they committed to a time-frame and will be held accountable at some point. Obviously you can only control yourself during these proceedings but if you respect the process maybe the “other party” will learn to do that as well.
9. Treat Your Ex Like a Business Partner
Your divorce is now a business deal. As difficult as this will be, you need to remove your emotion and look at it in black and white terms. Yes - easier said than done because you’re hurt, you’re angry, and you can barely look at this person whom you once loved with every fiber of your being. Get to that Zen place, and find a way to flip the emotional switch to "OFF" during negotiations.
10. Look Into The Future
If you have children who are minors and are negotiating a parenting agreement, it’s good to think about how your children’s lives will change as they grow. Include those factors when drafting a parenting agreement. Be flexible and adjust your expectations as your children’s lives and interests evolve over time. Take into account the dramatic changes during adolescence and young adulthood. No one can predict the future so have the document reflect the need for flexibility, from both parents, when the time comes.
11. Get It In Writing
Even if you think “Oh, he/she will be agreeable to this or that, I don’t have to put it in the contract”- trust me, get it in writing. Anything you feel will affect you (and the children) in the future; get it in writing. Even if you don’t have children but say you have a dog that you will share custody, write in the contract explicit rules like; “Sally Doe will drop off Punkie at a determined half-way point between residences, every Saturday at 7pm.” Your ex will start dating, possibly remarry, maybe move out of state, etc. so make sure you have the rules in place to cover different scenarios that may come up in the future.
12. Future Disputes
If, in the future, the agreement needs to be modified by either party, include in the contract that in order to make changes, you must start with mediation first. This will cost less money in the long run and hopefully resolve disputes faster.
A few last things to consider as you move into this next chapter of your life:
1. Rediscover who you are – by yourself. You may not be ready to hear this now but there was something wrong in your marriage so now would be a good time to analyze your part in the breakup. Before you seek another relationship hoping he/she will fix all your problems, seek therapy if you are hurting and confused. This could reveal how you contributed to the demise of your marriage. It may give you an idea of areas you can improve on before you enter into another relationship only to repeat the same mistakes. Read books on starting over and forgiveness, (see below link to Mars and Venus Starting Over) Take time to be alone and maybe start that hobby you’ve been wanting to start for the last five years. Repair you, so you can be whole for someone new.
2. Parents; conduct yourself – before, during, and after the divorce – in a way that shows your kids you’ve got a handle on this even if you don’t. Fake it by giving your best academy award performance. ‘Keep it together’ whenever your children are around, and then if you need to, fall apart with your therapist, friends, and adult family members. Your children aren’t responsible for consoling you throughout the process because they have enough to contend with and will look to you for much needed support and guidance.
3. Parents; LOVE YOUR KIDS MORE THAN YOU HATE YOUR EX. Act like the adult. I’ve seen many divorced and soon-to-be-divorced people do very childish things in front of their children. You are their example for how to behave and your children mirror your behavior. If you become unglued and take a hammer to all of your ex’s Star Wars collectibles, don’t be perplexed when your son/daughter starts acting out at school or becomes violent. They need you to have your wits about you at all times.
4. Parents; your children didn’t ask for this so your job is to protect their hearts. Your opinions of your ex should remain just that –your opinions, and should never be shared with your child. Your child does not share the same opinion. Think of it this way, when you bash your child’s mother/father, because the child is biologically connected to that parent, they feel you are bashing them as well. This effects their self-esteem in ways you cannot comprehend. Maybe in the future, when your children are more mature (and you’re over it), you can sit down with them and talk about it; but only if they inquire.
5. Parents: even if she/he has done deplorable things to you, treat your ex-wife/husband as cordially as possible, especially around the children. How you behave during this transition is critical to their mental health today and beyond. Your children will see that even though mom and dad are splitting up, there is still some semblance of normalcy. This will decrease the children’s stress level when you and your ex have to be in the same room together.
Check out these helpful resources:
Specifics on how to negotiate
Mars and Venus Starting Over by John Gray Ph.D.