The following are a few thoughts and some guidance on how best to prepare for your first mediation appointment. It is often a stressful time, so a little preparation can help alleviate some of the anxiety and fear going into the mediation process.
1) Take the pressure off yourselves. The first mediation session is purposefully designed to be low conflict and low pressure in order to assess individual and family needs, questions, interests, and goals as well as building a foundation for a successful mediation outcome. During this initial meeting, typically between 1 and 2 hours in duration, you can create a roadmap together with steps and “action items” for each participant to move forward toward resolution and implementation of any agreements. You may also address any time sensitive issues or concerns and brainstorm solutions during this first meeting and assess what other resources, if any, are needed.
2) Choose format for first session. Inquire with your chosen mediator whether he or she hosts in person and/ or virtually. Think about and choose the best option for all involved.
3) Goal setting. Ask your mediator for a handout or resources for ideas on typical topics that arise in separations and divorce, or if you have a different situation inquire about any preparation materials. It will be helpful to get more comfortable talking about your short- and long-term goals around issues such as housing, finances, and children (if applicable). It may also alleviate stress to practice talking with a friend, family member, or therapist about your vision and goals.
4) Begin gathering documents. This is optional ahead of mediation, and there is no requirement to bring in documents at your first session. That said, having a good sense of a “high level” overview of family finances such as approximate or average incomes, types of assets and debts, and overall current cash flow situation is helpful to share in the first stage of mediation. This will help to better assess what resources or tools will be most efficient completing mediation. For example, getting acquainted with employee benefits such as stock options, whether a pension is vested, as well as life insurance details will help in preparedness for mediation.
5) Keep an open mind. One of the barriers to a successful mediation can be one or both participants (or the mediator) having a rigid or fixed mindset on the division of assets, debts, or the payment of support. Often, issues are intertwined and creative solutions may be available to meet the approval and acceptance of all involved (including the court’s necessary approval in some areas). It is most helpful in mediation to allow brainstorming of different scenarios and “what ifs” as all discussion is confidential and without risk. Once options are exchanged, then proceeding with evaluating and prioritizing what feels acceptable or not may be more effective to allow for the maximum likelihood of success.
6) Coaching or therapy. Sometimes barriers occur in the ability to communicate or be heard effectively, especially in the stressful family law transitions with often raw emotions and high conflict. Please reach out if you or a family member could benefit from talking to a divorce coach or mental health professional such as a therapist. A divorce coach is a professional trained to help people process any emotions surrounding a family issue and help provide support throughout the stages of separation or divorce if needed. Coaches and therapist can work with one person or both as well as children depending on the professional and scope of his or her role. In some cases, an employee assistance program (EAP) or health insurance may be utilized to reduce out of pocket costs.
7) Legal consult. This is optional at any stage of mediation. In my experience working with families over the years, feedback from clients is having an initial consultation with a collaborative attorney ahead of a mediation session helped create a smooth path for mediation to move forward with less conflict. This attorney can also review drafts of documents ahead of signing and filing. Please keep in mind each professional may only assume one role (either mediator or consulting attorney). Bridges Divorce members are happy to provide a list of recommended collaborative attorneys or mediators if helpful.
Please reach out to anyone at our office if you have questions. We are here to help and want to make it less stressful for everyone involved, as it’s already a difficult time for most participants.
Collaborative Attorney & Mediator
Alexander Law, PC
1925 NE Stucki Ave Ste 410
Hillsboro, OR 97006