Mediation is emerging as the procedure of choice for couples hoping to obtain closure of their divorce issues without engaging in the time consuming, emotional and costly litigation process. However, mediation is not for everyone and there are definitely several requirements to assure its success. If all of the ingredients for a successful mediation are not present, mediation can sometimes be as time-consuming, frustrating and costly as litigation. The first and the most basic requirement for mediation is that both parties want to mediate. Mediation requires two active voices in the room. The goal is to get an agreement that reflects what each of your needs, in order to move forward in your life. If you are not both willing and voluntary participants, then there will not be two voices, and the result will likely be failed mediation or, at best, an unbalanced agreement which could be subject to enforceability issues in the future.
Other requirements of a successful mediation:
- Both Parties Are Determined to Settle The Matter: If both parties want to resolve everything in mediation, and keep coming back to the table to talk and to try, then they will likely be successful.
- Both Parties Must Be Active Participants. Both people have to contribute to the discussion. This means that you have to be able to sit in the room together and use your best efforts to listen to your ex, even when you don’t agree with what he/she is saying. If you and your ex-have a dynamic where one of you feels intimidated by the other, and you can’t say what you are really thinking with him/her in the room – then mediation is probably not the right process for you. It follows also that neither person should be cognitively or emotionally impaired (e.g., severe depression) in any way that affects capacity to mediate. Neither person should lack capacity due to drug or alcohol abuse.
- Both Parties Want To Settle the Case and Move On. The breakdown of a marriage is similar to a death and does cause both parties to engage in the grieving process. This can involve transition through various stages such as denial, pain, anger, depression, reconstruction and eventually acceptance. It is often the case that divorcing couples are at different stages of the grieving process which can certainly complicate the ability of both parties to have lucid discussions about child custody, visitation, division of assets, support, etc. Mediation of these important and often very emotionally charged issues requires a focus on the long-term and the big picture. You must think about your ex and – on some level – hope to honor your past love for each other, the years of your lives that you spent together.
- No Hidden Assets and Full Financial Disclosure. It goes without saying that parties cannot make informed decisions if they do not have all of the information on which to base decisions. In mediation, you will not have the power of the court behind you to compel your spouse to produce credit card statements, bank statements, stock options, small business records, etc. Most couples who choose mediation feel confident that they know what each other has, or can trust the other party to voluntarily produce information without engaging in formal discovery. Mediation would not be right for someone who wants to ‘make a deal’ without revealing their cards.
- No Patterns of Intimidation, Control or Domestic Violence. Finally, it is important to note that, if you and your spouse have a history of violence between you, you probably should use more traditional methods for negotiating your divorce. It is difficult to speak freely and express what you want if you fear repercussions or do not feel that you can contribute productively without inciting anger in the abusive spouse.
Whether you decide to mediate or litigate, it is also important that you retain an attorney to assist you during either process. Mediation is a way to conserve resources and funds, but you still need to have an attorney reviewing your agreements to be sure your interests are being protected. Mediators represent the agreement or the goal or resolution and do not have the ability to be representing the interests of the individual parties with conflicting interests. You want to make sure to have any agreements reached in mediation reviewed by your own counsel.