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Whether you have been referred to mediation by the North Carolina courts or have chosen to initiate mediation on your own, you will start the process by securing a qualified mediator and scheduling a time that is best for all of the parties involved.
In preparation for the mediation session, you and your attorney will need to take some time to assemble documents that might be useful during the process. You will also want to develop a general outline of what your positions will be on the matters you are going to negotiate.
Unlike court proceedings, mediation is flexible and allows the participants a great deal of leeway to make their own decisions about how to proceed. That means, to a certain extent, all mediations are different, but they do share some general similarities.
In most circumstances, when the mediation begins, all of the parties will be present in the same room. If you and your spouse are unable to meet face-to-face, arrangements may be made to allow you to be in separate rooms.
The mediator will usually open the session by making some introductory remarks, explaining what the process is about and introducing the people who are present at the meeting. If ground rules have not been established in advance, the parties will usually work them out at this point.
The mediator might next allow the parties to make a type of introductory statement, giving each spouse the chance to tell their story and frame what they see as the issues that need to be resolved. The parties will generally be encouraged to speak for themselves, though they may confer with their attorneys.
After the parties have spoken, many mediators in North Carolina will sketch out what they have identified as the key points of contention, in essence recapping what the parties have said. In many instances, the mediator can point out that the parties are in agreement on certain issues, and those can be set aside. The mediator will also make sure that the parties understand the ground rules and the time allotments.
The next step is often further information gathering, with the mediator asking the parties questions and requesting documents, including financial statements, schedules, children’s report cards, reports from therapists and the like. Many of the mediator’s questions will be open-ended, allowing the parties to elaborate on their positions. Mediators often repeat a summary of a party’s statement, giving assurance that the person has been heard and understood.
When it comes time to negotiate, many mediators will first tackle the “easy” issues that seem most ripe for resolution, leaving the tougher matters for later.
In some instances, you and your spouse will remain in the same room during a face-to-face mediation. Other times, the mediator will separate the parties and their attorneys into separate rooms, and the mediator will literally go back and forth between them. This is sometimes called “caucusing.”
The caucus method allows you to use the mediator as a sounding board for your proposals before presenting them to your spouse. The mediator can help you better understand whether your positions are in line with what is realistic or reasonably achievable.
The mediator can also make suggestions in a brainstorming session and might be able to articulate solutions that you had not thought of or were reluctant to make. This enables you to discuss potential resolutions without committing to it as an offer.
As you and your spouse are able to reach agreements on certain issues, the mediator will mark those down and move on to the next issue. Mediators know how to move negotiations along when they bog down. However, sometimes it is necessary to declare an impasse and move to the next subject or end the session completely.
If you and your spouse reach a settlement on some or all of the issues, it will be reduced to writing, typically in an agreement that will be enforceable in court after you sign it. It’s a good idea to have your attorney review this document before you sign, making sure that all potential repercussions are addressed and that you fully understand what you are agreeing to.
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