Divorce is tough enough without having to endure a public battle and reliving all the strife in a courtroom. An alternative to that knock-down-drag-out trial is mediation – the process of both parties sitting down with a trained individual who can help you arrive at agreements that best suit your circumstances. I’m not saying it’s easy – not much about divorce is – but it’s a very good option to explore if you want to get through the process with less damage than a trial can inflict. Having described the process and it’s benefits in previous articles, including why my perspective changed after participating in a mediation as a party, I thought I’d pass on some tips from an expert.
Kevyn Mattax, a highly regarded Family Law attorney and certified Family Mediator in Oklahoma City, has some tips to help you get the most out of your mediation experience.
1. Understand the process and what it looks like. Have a discussion with your attorney about not just what mediation is, but how it physically works. Who will be there? How is it set up? Does the mediator provide separate rooms or will you all be in one room? Are there “joint sessions” or does the mediator caucus? Does the mediator provide refreshments or should you bring your own? No question is too silly or basic.
2. Plan ahead for what you might want/need while you are at mediation. Take gum, headache medicine, a bottle of water. Take a charger for your cell phone or your laptop. You may be there for many hours. If you tend to get warm or cold easily, dress in layers and bring a light sweater. If you have young children, make sure that you have someone to pick them up and care for them if the mediation goes longer than you had planned. Do not bring third parties to the mediation unless that has been approved in advance.
3. Come prepared. Make sure your attorney sent the mediator a memorandum with as much helpful information as possible (in advance). Ideally, you, as the client should have reviewed and approved that information. Meet with your attorney in advance and go over your position. Know all of the pros and cons and be prepared with your position, yet, work hard to be flexible and open to compromise at the mediation, if need be. Make sure that all necessary exhibits and helpful materials will be at the mediation. Be as organized as possible so that you can focus on the task at hand. The better informed you are about all of the issues, your assets and liabilities, etc. the smoother the process will be.
4. Expect to feel emotional. Get a good night’s sleep the night before. Mediation can be exhausting and mentally draining. Take whatever steps you can to make sure that you are clear headed. Get up and walk around and take mini breaks during the process. Be honest with the mediator – if you are feeling anxious, overwhelmed, stressed, tell him/her. Mediators are not mind readers, so just speak up and ask for a break and then share your concerns in private. Mediators are expecting these emotions from the parties and have techniques and tips to share with you to help alleviate stressful reactions. Make sure and stay hydrated and eat enough during the day to maintain your blood sugar.
5. Anticipate the resolution. When one side makes an offer, know that there are really only three possible responses: accept, reject or make an offer. Be prepared to go in slow increments at first. Any movement toward resolution is encouraging. Understand that concessions must be made. Concessions are the language of cooperation. Trust the process. Everything that happens at mediation is confidential so you can let your guard down and be willing to truly attempt resolution with the assistance of a good mediator.