On behalf of Duff & Kronfeld, P.C. posted in Family Law on Monday, May 14, 2018.
Family law matters often require difficult decisions. These can revolve around property division, child custody and support matters. It is imperative that you are prepared to resolve these thornier issues or they will be decided at the court’s discretion.
Many couples going through divorce want to have their issues resolved as soon as possible. If you and your spouse can work together to mutually establish the terms, the process may be much faster than waiting for a trial before the court, and may offer you more flexibility and less risk than leaving the decision-making up to a judge. One way to do this is through mediation, i.e., the process of having a third-party neutral – the mediator – assist you and your spouse in reaching an agreement in a cooperative setting, rather than an adversarial one.
Prepare for the first session
Once you and your spouse have agreed to mediation and selected your mediator, you should prepare for the mediation session(s). Gather any documentation that you might need for the process. This depends on what you will be working on at that session. If you are dealing with property division matters, you might need copies of deeds and financial account statements. Child custody meetings might require school records or health insurance documents for the child. It may be helpful to ask the mediator to identify the categories of documents that he or she believes will facilitate discussion and negotiation.
On top of gathering information, you need to have an idea of what matters you plan to discuss during the session. Make a list of topics that you feel must be addressed. Jot down the top priorities. Note any possible solutions that you think might work for each issue. All of this can serve as your guide when you are negotiating.
Be willing to compromise
Mediation is all about compromise. You should be willing to work with your spouse and to make reasonable accommodations and concessions. It usually will not be possible for you – or your spouse – to get everything that you each want. Determining what is truly important to you can help you to remain focused on prioritizing those matters, which may not be the same priorities as your spouse. You may be surprised with some of the solutions that you and your spouse can achieve; unconventional solutions sometimes fit the situation in a way that no conventional one could.
Know your rights
While a mediator can assist in reaching an agreed resolution, the mediator cannot advocate for either you or your spouse. The mediator can give general legal information, but cannot give you legal advice as the expense of your spouse, or vice versa. Consequently, even if you are participating in mediation, you will want to consult with a lawyer who can give you that legal advice and analysis. You do not want to sign a settlement agreement that looks appealing on its face, but which has not been properly vetted by a lawyer representing your interests. In other words, you need to be sure that what you are signing is an accurate reflection of the settlement that you think that you are making, and that you are not unknowingly making compromises that you did not intend to make.