Contemplating divorce may bring to mind images of a prolonged courtroom battle and a bitter separation imposed by an uncaring judge. The good news is that your divorce does not have to play out this way – and, in fact, most divorces never have to go to trial.
Mediation is often a viable option when spouses cannot agree on certain issues regarding property division, child custody or support, or spousal maintenance.
What Happens at Divorce Mediation?
At mediation, you and your lawyer sit down with your spouse, your spouse’s lawyer and a neutral family law mediator. The mediator’s role is to help you and your spouse navigate through your differences to reach an acceptable conclusion on each issue to be mediated.
The mediator may not take sides or provide legal advice, but may help you both attempt to reach a “middle ground.” Your attorney assists in the mediation to provide the legal advice you need and ensure that any agreement reached is one that respects your legal rights and is one that meets the requirements of North Carolina law.
What if you can’t agree on an issue during mediation? You’re not required to “give in” just to end the session. You can schedule another mediation session after you’ve had time to think, or you can take that issue to court if additional mediation seems futile.
How to Make Your Divorce Mediation a Success
Here are some tips on how to improve your ability to mediate divorce issues successfully.
Be willing to be the decision-maker.
The sheer number of items to consider when you’re trying to make a decision in a divorce settlement can leave you feeling overwhelmed. Resist the urge to let your spouse decide things – or to demand that your attorney take the reins – if there seems to be too much on your plate.
Instead, focus on each issue as it comes up. Commit to reaching a decision you can accept and that fits your view of your future life. Trust your lawyer for advice, but don’t expect him or her to make the final decision. Mediation offers an opportunity for you to take control of your future. Seize it.
Bring all the documents you think you’ll need.
If you’re discussing who will keep the house or how to divide the marital debt, bring all the paperwork related to the question: mortgage documents, deeds, credit card statements, bank account statements and so on. If you’re trying to work out a parenting plan with your spouse, bring copies of the children’s current school and hobby schedules, information on their medical needs and any other information that affects the decision. The mediator can more effectively help you reach a decision if the information is available.
Make a deal.
The goal of a mediation session is to resolve an issue. Building a resolution is like making a business deal: both sides must feel as if they’re benefiting from the transaction. Listen to your spouse’s stated needs, wants and goals, and think about how your preferred solution to the dispute meets both your spouse’s needs and your own. Since the mediator is also focused on creating a resolution both parties can accept, looking at the problem from this angle helps you work more effectively and efficiently with your mediator – and resolve issues without going to court.
Treat your spouse with respect.
Projecting an air of respect toward your spouse can be difficult. If you’re mediating an issue, it is most likely because you have both tried to resolve it on your own already, without success. Before the mediation, talk to a trusted friend or therapist about any lingering feelings of anger or contempt. Set them aside and focus on acting respectfully during the mediation. This does not mean you have to “give in” to your spouse’s demands, but it does mean you should treat them seriously. Anyone who feels slighted in a mediation is not likely to want to continue, so keep the lines of communication open by “being the bigger person.”
You and your spouse both have one thing in common when you enter mediation: you believe you are right (or more right) about the issues. It takes time to think through why you want what you want, and why your spouse is taking a different approach. It also takes time to build consensus, to learn to trust your mediator, to change your mind (or your spouse’s mind) and to work out an agreement that does what you’ve agreed to do and that meets North Carolina’s legal requirements. Be willing to allow for time. Patience in mediation is frequently rewarded.