Posted on March 6, 2023 by Christina Smith
In Washington State, couples going through divorce are required to attend a mediation in an attempt to settle the case before trial, unless excused for reasons such as domestic violence. As a divorce attorney, I have prepared hundreds of clients for mediation. I have also served as a mediator in many family law cases. Below are some of the strategies I use to prepare my clients for mediation.
- Reset Your Expectations. In a successful mediation, both parties will need to compromise. Parties should participate in mediation with an open mind and be prepared to bargain on issues that might sting a little. You should walk out of a successful mediation feeling relieved that you have achieved closure and knowing you can live with the agreements you have reached.
- Prepare, Prepare, Prepare. It is worth the time and effort to prepare proposed final documents, such as a Parenting Plan, Child Support Order, and Asset and Debt Spreadsheet. Preparation helps one understand the issues and to better negotiate them. Provide the full required financial documentation along with any other evidential proof you might need to support your positions. For financial issues, it is worth thinking through a series of offers you are willing to make throughout the day of mediation. This will help you really think about potential proposals and details thereof prior to arriving at mediation. It is surprisingly common for a party to show up at mediation having given very little thought to their respective position and being unprepared. This wastes so much time as the unprepared party will need to process some incredibly difficult decisions and scenarios for the first time in the heat of mediation. Mediation is also a very emotional process and it is worth putting in the work beforehand.
- Be Flexible. This tip is key! It is not a good idea to arrive at mediation with a long list of positions you absolutely has to win as this can set you up for failure. The more flexible one can be the more alternatives are likely to arise for consideration and the better the chances of reaching agreements. Staying flexible can also help provide the mediator with more options to bring the parties to a conclusion and agreements at mediation.
- Do not Get Too Attached to Your Proposals. It is very common for a divorcing spouse to get very attached to his/her opening proposal and that coming away from mediation with anything less is a failure. It is important to fight this natural tendency. An opening proposal is just that – an opening. If you have done your homework, you have already worked through several scenarios and proposals and know the areas where you are willing to give and the areas that are priorities to focus more deeply on.
- Be Careful Who You Listen To. Some clients like to bring a trusted friend or family member to mediation. This can be helpful only if your loved one has a calm temperament, does not demonize your spouse, and is skilled at evaluating the entire chessboard and looking for solutions. It is also important that you consult with experts, as directed by your divorce attorney, ahead of time and have the expert’s report, and/or ensure the expert is available for mediation. It is also crucial that you choose an attorney who is skilled at navigating the divorce process and reaching compromises while being a creative thinker and a problem solver.
Mediation can be a highly effective way to resolve your divorce and keep costs down. If you keep these tips in mind, you are already on your way toward a successful mediation. If you have questions about mediation, or other legal aspects of divorce, the Family Law team at Lasher Holzapfel Sperry & Ebberson is available to help.