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Three Tips to An Effective Mediation

Rachel Alexander Sept. 12, 2012

One of the benefits of mediation is that clients save money – a lot of money – compared to the cost of paying for a traditional litigated divorce. However, in these precarious economic times, even mediating couples can find ways to keep costs down. These three tips can help couples save money in the mediation process, while increasing effectiveness and satisfaction.

1. Preparation

Educate yourself about mediation. There is a lot of information available online including on my divorce mediation blog. Begin to familiarize yourself with the topics covered and the benefits and goals of mediation.

The mediator will advise couples what to prepare for. There are some things that can be organized in advance. Start by taking a look at your financials, particularly your monthly bills. Even if you don’t have a budget, begin to collect bills/statements as they come in, and/or jot down expenses as you think of them. This can help inform you and your mediator, and provide a clearer picture of your current financial reality.

2. Identify your expectations/concerns and voice them

Before entering mediation, clearly determine your expectations of yourself, your mediator, and your spouse. The more specific you can be, and the more you can articulate these expectations early in mediation, the greater the chances are that your mediator will be able to help you. If some of your expectations fall outside the scope of the process, your mediator will explain this, which will help you to focus on agreed goals.

  • One client shared his concern that his spouse would not let him complete a sentence uninterrupted. This was a clear sign that the couple’s communication styles needed to be addressed and some parameters set before destructive communication undermined the mediation process.

  • Another client shared at an initial consultation that she was most concerned about telling her children about the divorce. That gave us the opportunity to address this issue early on, so that the couple could move on unencumbered to discuss other issues.

By entering mediation ready to articulate the obstacles that may threaten a successful experience (and outcome), you can greatly aid your mediator in effectively assisting you and your spouse in accomplishing your goals.

3. Mini Meetings

For couples who are able to communicate, even a little, and even about some issues, consider setting aside a block of 15 minutes to meet in a neutral location (at a coffee shop, on a park bench) to discuss one of those issues only. For large and/or complicated issues, consider tackling a portion of the issue for 15 minutes.

It is important that the couple observe the time limit. If they are making progress, they can agree to reconvene their “mini meeting” at another time. Both parties must agree that during the 15 minutes, either may stop at any time if she/he feels unheard, disrespected, or uncomfortable, and that the other will not retaliate in any way.

The idea is to establish a structured, safe space in which to talk about some of the less contentious, less emotional areas of the divorce. Whatever is accomplished during these “mini meetings” can be shared with the mediator in the next session. Issues where a couple has come to an agreement, can be quickly dispensed with, saving both time and money.

If your communication with your spouse is too broken down to attempt this, or it feels in any way unsafe, do not act on this suggestion. An alternative is to choose one issue and write it at the top of a blank page. Beneath it, jot down:

  • The issue as you see it

  • The resolution you would like

  • The benefits of the resolution you want, and the limitations or drawbacks of same

  • Obstacles

  • Alternatives to the first choice you proposed above

List anything you can think of that may prove to be an obstacle to having open, cooperative conversations during mediation. What do you think could be helpful in managing these challenges? How do you see your role in creating an effective outcome? What do you understand the mediator’s role to be and not to be?