Family Mediation: What it is and how it works
If you’re planning for a divorce, you might wonder what family mediation involves and if family mediation works. Understanding the details about family mediation will answer any questions about the process, allowing for a determination on if it is a good option. The process begins with thoughtful preparation before the first meeting.
Choosing to divorce is an emotionally challenging time, no matter the reasons for the separation. In addition to facing change in lifestyle and parenting dynamic, one also has to decide how to divide assets, share responsibilities, and co-parent effectively to minimize the disruption to a child’s life. While hiring an attorney might be one of the first steps after filing for divorce, engaging in family mediation another alternative to consider.
An increasingly popular approach to divorce is family mediation. As you scour the internet to find the best option for your family, you may be curious to learn about the mediation process, what exactly it entails, and how it works. Before the first meeting with the chosen mediator, they will guide you through thoughtful preparation to support your family in addressing items like the division of assets, custody agreements, co-parenting plans and more. Throughout the mediation process, there is minimal involvement of attorneys, however, it is recommended to consult with attorneys and/or CPAs before finalizing any documents to ensure they completely and accurately reflects the terms discussed in mediation.
In this article we’ll talk about the family mediation process to help you determine if it will work for you.
What is Family Mediation?
Family mediation pairs couples with a professionally trained mediator who will help them work together to communicate effectively, identify concerns, and compromise on a variety of issues related to their separation. A mediator will work with both individual’s needs and concerns in mind, offering solutions that are acceptable to both parties. A variety of topics can be discussed during mediation, depending on a family’s makeup, financial situation, and unique needs. Some topics to consider include:
- Parenting schedules
- Division of finances, assets, and property
- Child support payments
- Relationships with both sides of the family
The family mediation process occurs outside of court. While mediators are professionally trained, they typically are not lawyers or judges, though they may have a legal background. However, their goal is not to provide legal advice. Instead, they work as a third party that oversees important conversations between divorcing spouses and ensures that conversations remain civil and productive while keeping both parties’ best interests in mind.
Unlike divorce litigation, family mediation allows you and your partner to choose an unbiased, third-party that is interested in reaching an amicable and desirable agreement. A professionally trained mediator will support both parties in communicating effectively, identifying concerns, and reaching mutually agreed upon solutions. Keeping each individual’s needs and concerns in mind, a mediator will help navigate topics like parenting schedules, child support payments, division of finances, assets, and property. Throughout the discussion of all issues, the process will take place outside of court, and if so chosen, no one will have to appear in court at any point. Nevertheless, mediators are not legal advisors, so it is recommended that both parties consult with attorneys and CPAs to ensure the items discussed and agreed upon are completely and accurately reflected in the final agreement.
Preparing for Family Mediation
If a couple is meeting with a mediator, the process begins with both sides preparing for the meeting. In order to engage in effective conversations with the assistance of a mediator, each person needs to spend some time brainstorming about what issues they need to agree on and what concerns they may have with divorce on the horizon. For many parents, mediation conversations often focus on the children.
Child custody arrangements might be at the top of the list––and understandably so. After all, parents want to ensure that their children retain some normalcy even as their lives change and their parents separate. Having a consistent schedule that allows kids to spend time with both parents regularly can help ease the challenges of seeing their parents get divorced.
As preparation for family mediation, consider these topics to discuss related to children:
- Parenting schedules, which includes co-parenting arrangements. Sometimes co-parenting responsibilities are shared evenly, while other times one parent takes on more responsibilities than the other. The stability of each parent, the ability to meet the child’s needs, and the logistics of sharing parenting responsibilities are factors that go into building parenting schedules.
- Child-related costs, which includes childcare expenses, current and future educational expenses, and expenses related to activities and everyday living. Dividing these expenses during mediation can reduce the issues that may need to be brought in front of a judge during divorce proceedings.
- Financial issues, including division of property, alimony, and child support. Separating joint finances can be one of the biggest challenges of mediation. Enter mediation with income, assets, and budget defined in order to ensure that joint assets are divided equitably and fairly for both parties.
- Relationships with extended family, including how often children will see grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and more. If family members live locally and have a good relationship with both sides, this topic might not require a lot of discussion. The kids will simply continue seeing family as usual. However, it’s always smart to discuss how and when children will maintain relationships with both sides of the family after their parents separate.
Family Mediation Techniques
Now that you know how to prepare for family mediation, learn about the techniques used to make these meetings productive and civil. The goal of the mediator is to serve as the neutral third party, guiding your discussions about important topics related to your divorce. Ultimately, the mediator doesn’t want either party to “win.” Instead, they want to work with you to develop compromises that leave both sides pleased with the arrangement.
Every mediator will use a different strategy when it comes to guiding your conversations. For example, if you and your significant other have problems listening and communicating, then it’s the job of the mediator to give both parties an opportunity to talk uninterrupted. If you have a contentious relationship or if you’re not comfortable meeting face-to-face with your spouse, you might meet privately with the mediator to share your goals and thoughts.
Often, your mediator may want to meet with both parties individually to understand your needs. Then, you will meet face-to-face, with the mediator guiding you through the issues and topics you brought up in your private meeting. Face-to-face meetings, if both parties are willing to speak respectfully and listen, can be the most efficient and productive meetings. However, in situations where you do not want to be in the same room as your spouse, the mediator can meet privately and convey information between parties to help you come to a resolution.
How Long Does Family Mediation Take?
In some cases, couples are able to come to an agreement in one session. Other times, it takes a few sessions with a mediator in order to figure things out. Sessions typically range between 90 minutes and 2 hours, and you will likely have a few sessions before you’re comfortable with the outcome of the meetings.
Advantages of Family Mediation
Seeing a mediator instead of heading straight to court delivers several key advantages, including the following.
- Cost – Family mediation is approximately 10% to 20% of the costs of litigated divorce, which means you can save money using this method.
- Confidentiality – Your mediation sessions are confidential, which allows you to keep private family matters private. In many states, court records are open, which means that anything said in court can be accessed by anyone looking for the information.
- Control – Nothing that is recommended in mediation is required. You can compromise, you can agree on some issues, and you can reject other suggestions. You have more freedom to guide your future with mediation than litigation. Once your divorce proceedings reach a judge, any arrangements made in court will be required of you, whether you like it or not.
- Efficiency – It typically takes less time than going to court. That means that couples can reach an agreement more quickly, and move on with their lives.
- Reduced stress – Going to court can be stressful. It’s a public experience, one that might expose information about your relationship and your family that you would rather be kept private. Mediation is a confidential process done behind closed doors, which can reduce stress during an already stressful time. As a result, family mediation might be better for your mental health, giving you less anxiety as you prepare for divorce.
- Trained guidance – Your mediator is an experienced professional, one who can provide you with valuable advice as you enter the next stage of your life. Mediators have worked with many couples, helping them effectively co-parent and achieve civil discourse to avoid divorce proceedings in court. Taking advantage of this opportunity allows you and your spouse to learn effective communication strategies.
Does Family Mediation Work?
Family mediation can be an effective tool for many families, allowing couples to come to reasonable, mutually beneficial agreements related to their children, their joint finances, and their future. Individuals need to enter family mediation with an open mind and a willingness to compromise. One party is not going to get everything they want. Instead, both parties will voice their desires related to important issues, and the mediator will help you achieve a compromise that benefits everyone involved. With an open mind, family mediation can be an effective mechanism for a healthy and hassle-free divorce that keeps a family’s business out of the courtroom.