Preparation is arguably to factor which determines success or failure. Mediation is so much more than fulfilling a court requirement; if successful, mediation can save thousands of dollars and the agreements reached can impact you and your family for years to come – for these reasons it is best to be prepared.

Despite common perceptions, mediation is not sitting around a table singing Kumbaya, it’s not about “splitting the baby” or compromising for the sake of an easy settlement. Fully prepared parties are able to negotiate in good-faith, put emotion aside, address mutual needs and interests, and reach win-win outcomes which go beyond simple compromise.

Unfortunately, many parties come to the table not knowing what to expect, without documentation, and not having thought in advance about their own needs and preferred outcomes. This reality often results in parties being overwhelmed and unable to make thoughtful decisions.

What to expect: Feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, and some degree of frustration with the process as well as some degree of dissatisfaction with settlements.

How to Prepare:

  • Spend time specifically thinking about what you need and what you want.
    • Try to differentiate a need from a want as well as understand the underlying reason why you need or want something.
  • Create a written outline and bring it with you to mediation (if represented, give a copy to your attorney).
    • Bullet-point each issue and identify your own wants/needs and preferred outcome.
    • Identify reasonable expectations.
  • Analyze strengths and weakness on both sides of the table.
    • What might make you vulnerable and/or emotional during the negotiations?
    • What are the deal-breakers for the both sides?
    • How can you help the other side achieve their goals?
  • Be prepared to monitor and control your emotions.
    • Remember, reactions are not responses – it is common to experience emotional reactions during mediation.
    • Think about how you will control your emotions as well as avoid triggering emotional response from the other side.
  • Focus on content rather than tone, word choice or implied meaning.
    • Initial offers often cause emotional reactions such as: “That’s…outrageous…an insult…or impossible.”
    • Remember it’s only a starting point, focus on the content and give a thoughtful response and counter-offer instead of an emotional outburst.
    • Try to avoid making offers which could be perceived as outrageous, insulting or impossible.
  • Remember, mediated settlements rarely feel “fair” or satisfactory to the parties involved.
    • A good settlement allows you to answer, “yes” to all three questions of these questions: 1) Is it reasonable? 2) Is it workable? and 3) Can I live with it?
    • Avoid these considerations: 1) Is it “fair”? 2) Do I want to? or Should I have to? and 3) Do I like it?
    • Don’t agree/give-in when you are tired, overwhelmed, confused (or otherwise unable to think clearly) or when you feel pressured due to time constraints.
      • If you are not confident that the offer on the table is reasonable, workable and livable, don’t agree to it.
      • Ask for a break or a continuation in order to give yourself time to think about the pros and cons and make a thoughtful decision.

Mediation is becoming more and more common – not only because it clears court dockets, saves money, is more efficient and is typically over 90% effective. Mediation is also rising in popularity because it allows participants the ability to control their own outcomes and develop creative solutions that are not possible from the court. If you will be participating in mediation, increase the possibility of success by taking the time to fully prepare – your future can depend on it.

Written by: Amber M. Serwat, MA

Amber is a divorce and parenting specialist in private practice in Burnsville, MN – she is also a divorced parent and step-parent of three teenage children, ages 16-13. | 952.252.1492

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