As anybody with any experience in divorce law will tell you, uncontested divorces are preferable to contested divorces — that is, it’s better to figure all the details of a divorce without resorting to litigation. Of course, if you’re the one getting divorced, there’s a good chance that this advice is easier said than done. Divorces aren’t typically known for being ideal examples of good communication. For many people considering divorce, the last thing they want to do is sit down at a table with their spouse and figure things out.
While the notion of negotiating the terms of your divorce “amicably” might seem ill-advised, laughable, or even impossible, it’s still highly likely that this route is preferable to expensive and emotionally exhausting litigation. Mediation could sound like a nightmare, but it could also make the divorce process infinitely easier. Here are some pointers on how to survive and make the most out of divorce mediation:
1. Make a list of what you care about.
This doesn’t mean “make a list of stuff that must happen such-and-such way.” While issues like custody of your child and division of marital assets are obviously important, you want to make sure that you’re in the best possible position to negotiate over them. Because you have to remember: whether you like it or not, in divorce, everything is negotiable. Your spouse is also probably going to bring a list to the mediation, a list that will very likely overlap with your own. Now you might be thinking, “What’s the point in making a list of what I care about if everything is negotiable anyways?” And that’s a fair point. But you have to remember that you’re not just trying to prove you should get what you want, you’re trying to prove you should get what you deserve. Creating a list of your concerns contributes to the image of you as Somebody Who Cares and will help to keep your priorities straight in the heat of the moment.
2. Approach mediation with an open mind.
As previously stated, mediation is all about negotiating. It’s a negotiation party, minus the party. And if it’s going to have a happy ending, mediation will require both you and your spouse to approach negotiations with an open mind. To be even more clear, you’re going to have to make sure that your goal is win-win instead of win-lose. It’s easy to think of your spouse as an adversary, as the one who’s trying to take your stuff away. It’s especially easy to have this mindset if the “stuff” in question includes your children. Even if children aren’t involved, it’s easy to default to a defensive position. However, if you want the best odds of a satisfactory outcome for yourself, the best approach involves you wanting to same for your spouse. Compromises are coming. Be ready.
3. Prepare to be prepared (and honest).
It’s absolutely crucial that you do your homework and bring it to mediation with you. Also, don’t try and sweep anything under the rug — it probably won’t work, and if the court finds out that you haven’t been honest, things aren’t going to go well for you.
What do I mean by homework? I mean lists: lists of everything in your marital estate, or in other words, everything you and your spouse own. Make lists of bank accounts, credit cards, anything related to your finances. Find any records related to finances, too: receipts, paystubs, statements, credit card payments, utility bills, mortgage payments, all of it. That’s a lot right? Well, you better start getting it all together.
What do I mean by “don’t sweep anything under the rug?” I mean that when you’re making those lists, make sure you don’t leave anything out on purpose. Disclose everything. Don’t hide it from your spouse, your lawyer, the court, don’t hide anything from anybody. Dishonesty is almost always detectable, and when detected, it stretches out an already lengthy process and causes problems for everyone involved. It also makes you look bad.
4. Reign in those emotions.
This might be one of the hardest things to do. After all, divorces are the ends of marriages. Especially if children are involved, asking somebody going through a divorce to “not be emotional” is a pretty tall order. Even if you’re on the same page as your spouse and the divorce is generally amicable, it can be a challenge to keep your emotions in check. It’s frustrating but absolutely necessary to make sure you aren’t letting your emotions get the better of you as you negotiate the terms of your divorce. If you’re emotionally compromised, it’s highly likely that you’ll make regrettable choices due to murky judgement.
Depending on your circumstances, this particular piece of advice is probably either irrelevant or tough to swallow. If the latter applies to you, it might be a good idea to think about seeking aid from a therapist or counselor as you deal with your divorce. Having a professional help you process your thoughts during this tumultuous time could be the difference between a pleasant or depressing resolution.
5. Research mediators. Shop around.
As previously mentioned, mediation is an excellent alternative to litigation or other adversarial methods of resolving a divorce. Does that mean mediation is foolproof? Of course not. Before you hire a mediator, you’re going to want to make sure they’re up for the job. Shop around before settling on a mediator. Compare them. Check up on their credentials and ensure that they’re legitimate. Ask if they can provide testimonies proving their skills. Most importantly: make sure they’ve done this before. More and more people are opting for mediation for their divorces, which means there are more people claiming to be professional mediators than ever before. It might take a bit, but keep looking for the mediator you’re most comfortable working with. When you and your spouse find a mediator that you both trust to handle negotiations fairly, you’ll be much closer to the happy ending you’re looking for.