What to Prepare for a California Divorce Mediation
Whether you’re planning logistics around parenting schedules or discussing property division with your spouse, divorce is an intricate and sensitive process that requires mindfulness and preparedness—regardless of the situation.
In order to ensure that the communication between you and your spouse is aligned, seeking the guidance of a neutral third party (e.g. a family law mediator) to help you come to mutually-agreed upon outcomes around parenting schedules, spousal support, property division, and more, is highly advised.
Divorce mediation is a great option for couples who want to minimize conflict while helping them make decisions around their children’s needs (e.g. child support and parenting schedules)—and provides an opportunity to amicably agree on the outcome of the divorce in a manner that is private, cost-effective, and encourages conflict resolution for everyone involved.
What is Divorce Mediation?
Divorce mediation is an alternative dispute resolution process whereby a neutral third party—a family law mediator—helps you and your spouse reach an agreement on the terms of your divorce. The mediator does not make any decisions for you, but rather, facilitates communication between you and your spouse to help you reach an agreement.
Mediation is often quicker and less expensive than traditional litigation, and can be less adversarial than going through a court system. As you and your spouse work together to reach an agreement, mediation can also help preserve relationships—which is especially important if you have children together.
How Does the Divorce Mediation Process Work?
Before beginning mediation, it’s important to take a moment to understand what the process entails in order to be best prepared as you enter negotiations.
Mediation consists of each party meeting with a divorce mediator separately to discuss their goals for the process. This meeting is called a “caucus” and is used as an opportunity for the mediator to also assess whether mediation is appropriate given the nature of your circumstance.
If it’s determined that mediation is appropriate, the mediator works with both spouses to establish and develop ground rules for the process. These rules might cover things like how often you’ll meet, whether or not outside expert opinions will be sought, how confidential information should be treated, among others. Once these factors are established and both spouses understand what they entail, the actual mediation process can begin.
The importance of reaching a mutually-beneficial outcome through collaborative discourse is emphasized at the beginning of each mediation session. After the divorce mediator concludes the opening remarks, each spouse is asked to provide their input regarding the various topics of discussion. At this stage, the mediator guides the conversation, addresses questions, clarifies certain matters, and ensures that each spouse has expressed their views.
Once all of the relevant information has been shared, the mediator assists spouses with brainstorming possible solutions until a mutually-satisfying agreement is reached.
From gathering important financial documents to compiling a list of all assets and liabilities, and more, below is a checklist to make sure you are best prepared for the next steps in the divorce mediation process.
The Main Benefits of Preparing for Divorce Mediation
One of the main benefits of preparing for divorce mediation is that it helps spouses understand their financial situation. If you clearly understand your financial situation going into mediation, you will be better equipped to make informed decisions about your future.
Another benefit is that it provides you with a safe space to work through the issues arising from your divorce. Working through challenges in the setting of a family law mediator can help spouses process emotions and come to terms from a more collaborative place.
Finally, timely preparation can help you to make informed decisions about some of the most important aspects of your life, such as conversations around parenting plans and schedules, spousal support, and property division—among others. This will enable you to make decisions that are in your best interest, while allowing you to move on from your divorce with a more positive approach.
Getting Started with Divorce Mediation
As families begin to plan their separate but connected lives, divorce mediation offers spouses a more empathetic alternative to the traditional court proceedings. If you’re considering mediation as part of your divorce process, there are a number of factors to consider as you take the leap into the unknown.
Make sure you are ready for mediation.
Your mindset will be the determining factor to the success of the outcomes achieved with a family law mediator. Self awareness, compassion, and mindfulness are essential when approaching the mediation process. This means being prepared to discuss sensitive topics in a constructive and collaborative manner.
If you are not ready to approach the process in a sensitive and collaborative manner, then it may be best to wait until you have come to terms on what’s best for your specific circumstance.
Understand what the mediation process is and isn’t.
Before beginning your mediation journey, make sure you know what to expect from start to finish. Knowing what the process entails before you enter it, will help you and your spouse put things into perspective and understand the expectations as you enter this uncharted territory together.
Consider whether mediation is right for your situation.
Undergoing a traditional litigated divorce can be stressful, emotional, and time-consuming. It can also heighten the conflict between you and your spouse as your case is involved in court. With divorce mediators, you can keep things amicable as you work together towards a mutually-beneficial resolution.
Choose a mediator who is experienced and reputable.
Just like not all circumstances for divorce or separation are created equal, the same goes for mediators. It’s important that you find a family law mediator that is experienced, unbiased, reputable, and most importantly, empathic to your situation and one that you feel comfortable talking to as you share your personal details with this individual.
Make a list of what is important to you.
Before entering the process of divorce mediation, create a list of goals for the mediation. What are your non-negotiables? What are you willing to compromise on? What does your ideal outcome look like at the end of it all? Having a clear understanding of what you want to achieve will help you stay focused during the mediation.
Gather all the relevant documents.
Financial documents like tax returns, bank statements, and credit card statements; legal documents such as prenuptial agreements and wills; and any other documents that may be relevant to your divorce (e.g. messages or emails), among others—are all essential documentation to gather as you prepare to meet with a divorce mediator.
Be prepared to compromise and make a reasonable offer.
In order to achieve an amicable and collaborative outcome, both spouses should avoid sticking strictly to their “non-negotiables” as that will lead to an impasse in the process. Instead, come prepared to compromise and offer alternative options to reach a cooperative outcome.
Approach the process with respect at all times.
Taking the next step in your divorce is not an easy reality for anyone involved. Being respectful of each other’s journey throughout the entire process may not be easy, but is extremely important if you want to achieve a mutually-desired outcome for your family. Remember, the goal is to reach an agreement so you can begin the next step of your journey.
Trust your mediator’s expertise and be willing to follow their guidance.
When you undergo a traditional litigated divorce with a divorce attorney, you lose control over the final outcome when a judge enters the scenario. With the guidance offered by divorce mediators, however, you and your spouse are in control as you determine what works best for you and your family moving forward. In order to achieve this outcome, it’s essential for both spouses to trust the divorce mediator’s expertise and be receptive and willing to follow their guidance.
Take a break if things get heated.
As couples approach the mediation process, their emotions may run high during mediation sessions. This is normal, but if things start getting out of hand, it’s acceptable and encouraged to take a break as tempers will only subside if everyone takes some time to calm down. Once everyone has had some time to unwind and reflect, they can come back to the session with a clearer outlook and try again.
Choosing the Right Divorce Mediator for the Process
If you’re considering a private divorce mediation, you’re probably wondering how to choose the right mediator for your needs. Here are several factors to keep in mind as you research your options.
Consider a mediator who demonstrates active listening techniques, and creates opportunities for focused communication by preventing interruption, clarifying, summarizing, refocusing and acknowledging you and your spouse during their opening statements.
An experienced mediator offers support on every step of the mediation process. They assist spouses throughout the negotiation process by offering guidance in structuring their communication.
Divorce is an emotionally charged process with a lot of connecting pieces. Both you and your spouse are entering emotional spaces throughout your separate journeys. Given the circumstances, choosing a family law mediator who showcases characteristics of compassion, empathy and understanding towards your situation is crucial. The ideal divorce and family law mediator should create a safe and respectful environment where both spouses feel comfortable expressing their feelings, needs, and desired outcomes.
Creative Problem Solver:
An exceptional mediator is skilled in finding unique solutions that work for both spouses. This may include seeking external guidance including hiring a family and marriage therapist, divorce coach, or other experts to help minimize conflict and reach a mutually favorable and uncontested divorce. The private divorce mediator should also be able to negotiate skillfully on your and your spouse’s behalf and help facilitate a fair and equitable agreement for everyone involved.
While cost shouldn’t be the determining factor to consider when choosing a mediator, it is an essential one to consider when assessing value. Be sure to ask about their fee structure upfront in order to avoid unexpected circumstances later down the road.
Finding the right mediator can help turn this difficult time into one that is more manageable for everyone in reaching a settlement agreement.
Your California Divorce Mediation Checklist and Guide
As you start the divorce mediation process, you will need to compile essential documentation to ensure efficiency. Though your first divorce mediation session does not require significant preparation, it is highly encouraged to prepare for next steps.
While every circumstance is different, there are several documents that are helpful in any scenario. Below is a list of the documents to prepare for mediation:
- Income information (including pay stubs, bank account balance statements, tax returns, etc)
- A list of all assets and debts (including property such as real estate or vehicles; savings accounts; etc)
- A proposed parenting plan if there are minor children involved
- Real Property: your home’s value
- How your household’s furniture will be divided: an itemized breakdown of high-value furniture or furnishings, appliances, jewelry, watches and collectables
- Expenses around your property (e.g. mortgage payments, utilities, taxes, and insurance)
- Any accounts with financial institutions: information on checking and savings accounts, credit unions, brokerage accounts, etc.
- Retirement accounts or similar plans: most recent statements of either IRAs, 401(k), 403(b), pensions, plans around profit-sharing, or any deferred compensation plans, etc.
- Life insurance policies: any information about your term policies, and most recent policy declaration page should be included
- List of your businesses: include name, type of business, and the most recent tax return that was filed for each business
- Stocks, bonds and any secured notes: include a recent statement that explains the value of each, where relevant
- Personal tax returns: bring tax returns filed over the past three years
- Debts and liabilities: list any major personal or business debts and liabilities that are significant to your circumstance
- Income Summary: each spouse should bring their year-to-date pay stubs with a brief explanation of their income structure
- The value of your business
- How to resolve disputed in the future
- How many children you have and any plans on how to navigate parenting visits and schedules in the future
Of course, this is just a starting point—your specific case may require additional documentation.
Divorce Mediation Checklist for Property Assets and Liabilities
Aside from parenting plans, property division is one of the most highly discussed issues that are addressed with a divorce mediator. When discussing how assets and liabilities are divided in a California divorce, the following factors may be touched upon in your first session:
- Current Bank Account Balance Statements
- All Children’s Account Balance Statements
- Stock and Bond Investment Statements
- Information about the make, model, and year of all vehicles owned as well as the private party value for each vehicle
- A list of any pending lawsuits in which either or both spouses are named plaintiffs
- A statement of any outstanding loans or verbal promises to repay a loan for which one or both spouses are creditors
- Each spouse’s current retirement accounts statements
- Detailed statements of all other employment benefits
- Appraisals of all owned real estate at current market value
- The approximate value of each home’s contents and personal property
- Business valuations for all owned businesses
This is not an exhaustive list and should be used as a guide only.
Divorce Mediation Checklist Pertaining to Child Support
If you and your spouse are struggling to find common ground, your divorce mediator will help facilitate conversations around:
- Legal Custody: refers to which parent will make decisions around children’s education, religion, and any major health related issues. Typically, both parents share legal custody.
- Physical Custody: refers to the amount of time children get to spend with each parent. Parenting plans around day-to-day schedules, extracurricular activities, holidays, birthdays, summer and school breaks, among others, are factors that may likely be discussed with your mediator.
Divorce Mediation Checklist for Child Support and Expenses
California has implemented specific child support guidelines that both parents are required to abide by when it comes to their children’s upbringing. Throughout the negotiation process around child support and other expenses that may arise, expect to discuss the following with your divorce mediator:
- Expectations around the amount of money one parent will pay
- Health insurance
- Medical expenses not covered by insurance
- Tax deductions and who is eligible for them
- Life insurance policies and who benefits from them
- Expenses around who pays for children’s schooling
- Expenses around any contribution to extra activities like birthday parties, class trips, etc.
Divorce Mediation Checklist for Spousal Support
Your family law mediator will also help facilitate conversations around spousal support and guide couples to reach an agreement around:
- How much money is to be paid
- Payment schedules and timeline
- Potential implications regarding health insurance and life insurance
Divorce can be emotionally taxing, but with the right preparation, an amicable resolution with your spouse may be reached efficiently. While mediation may serve as a great alternative to litigated divorce, preparation is essential in order for everyone to reach a mutually desired outcome.
With the proper preparation, you’ll come out stronger as you and your spouse decide what’s best for you and your family.
How Balakhane Mediation Will Support Your Divorce Process
At Balakhane Mediation, our job is to support you through one of the most difficult transitions of your life. We offer guidance and support to help make the transition to your post-divorce life as smooth and stress-free as possible and are committed to helping you and your family during this difficult time by providing all the support and guidance you need about reaching a divorce settlement agreement!
Schedule a complimentary divorce mediation session today and allow us to review your needs in order to best assess next steps!
Still unsure whether divorce mediation is right for you? Read the 7 reasons to consider divorce mediation over litigated divorce.