How to Make Mediation Work

Most Minnesota divorce and custody disputes end up in mediation at some point. Sometimes the parties choose to use mediation to avoid the time and expense of a lengthy court battle. In other cases, a family law judge will refer the case to mediation before scheduling it for a trial. So how can you make the most of your time and money while you are sitting in front of a mediator? What can you do to make mediation work for you and your family?

#1: Do Your Homework Before Your Mediation Date

If you want to make mediation work, you need to come to the meeting prepared. Often, mediations fall apart when parties don’t know the answer to important questions like:

  • Can you refinance the home, and for how much money?
  • How much is your retirement account worth?
  • Whose name is on the credit card account?
  • Will the children be able to take the bus to school from a parent’s new home?

Before you get to the mediation, try to have gathered as much information about your current situation and proposed resolution as you can. That way, you, your spouse or co-parent, and the mediator can work together to find a solution that honors your needs and will work, practically speaking.

#2: Identify Priorities, Not Demands

Divorces almost always involve hurt feelings. One way people often protect themselves from those feelings is by making demands or issuing ultimatums about things they feel are important. But these lines in the sand can get in the way of making mediation work. Instead of deciding what you will or won’t do to settle your case, think about what your priorities are moving forward. Identify what your most important issues are and come up with strategies for how to get what you need. 

For example, instead of insisting that you must be allowed to keep the home, prioritize giving your children a sense of stability and permanence. Maybe the best strategy to meet that priority does involve your spouse moving out. But what if it turns out you can’t afford the mortgage and upkeep on your own? By focusing on the priority of stability instead of the demand of possession, you can consider other options and avoid backing yourself into a corner.

#3: Leave Fault at the Door

The more hotly contested your divorce or custody dispute is, the more likely it is that at least one of you believes the other is at fault for the breakdown of your relationship. But casting blame will only make it harder for mediation to work.

Remember that divorce in Minnesota is not based on fault. Who caused the marriage to break down or why doesn’t matter. If your mediation fails and you go to court to resolve your case, the judge will not care about who had an affair. You should do your best to put that aside while in mediation. Leave the ideas of fault and blame aside, at least for one day. If you find yourself mired in feelings that the solution isn’t fair because of what he or she did before, go back to your priorities and focus on getting a resolution for yourself, not retribution against your partner.

#4: Focus on the Future, Not the Past

In a similar way, when mediations fail it is often because one or both parties are too focused on what came before to find a solution moving forward. When one parent emphasizes what they “used to do” or how things “used to be” to the exclusion of all else, it can be hard for anyone to propose a solution that will be accepted.

Divorce and separation always comes with loss. You are losing a companion, and a collaborator in the business of your family. Whether you are going from 2 incomes to 1, or were a wage earner who relied on your spouse to take care of the home, you will be doing more with less after the divorce is over. 

Rather than focusing on what you are losing, try to look forward to what is coming in the future. If you will not be the primary custodian, think about ways to craft your visitation schedule to make the most of the time you will have with your children. If you need to sell the family home, think about how you can use the proceeds to improve your life after the divorce. By focusing forward, instead of back, you can increase the chances the mediation will work and that you will feel good about the resolution you reach.

#5: Be Open to Your Mediator’s Suggestions

Sometimes one or both parties think they already have the best possible answer coming in. They’ve worked everything out and they know how things are going to go. But remember, even if you have been divorced before, you don’t have nearly as much experience resolving family law disputes as your mediator. Domestic mediators go through training to help them identify solutions to divorce and custody issues that you may not have thought of. They also provide an objective perspective that isn’t clouded by emotions or personal history with the other party. 

So listen to your mediator. If she tells you that a judge or the other party isn’t likely to agree with your ideal solution, pay attention. Be open to her suggestions about how to resolve your case, and work with her and your former partner to find solutions that respect everyone’s needs and treat your entire family with dignity.

Kimberly is an experienced mediator with a successful record in reaching positive solutions for families. She can help you and your partner, spouse, or co-parent use facilitated mediation techniques to make mediation work and resolve your family disputes outside the courtroom. If you would like to learn more about facilitated mediation, please contact Kimberly.

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