Making the Most out of Mediation

As any lawyer will tell you, the overwhelming majority of cases never go to trial. Courtroom litigation is expensive, messy, and stressful, and there’s no guarantee that either client will get the result they had hoped for. It’s very common for parties in a legal dispute to resolve the issue between themselves via an agreed settlement. Divorce is no exception: Very few cases are contentious or novel enough to require a judge to decide how to allocate property or how to divide residential time for the kids involved.

The most common method of resolving disputes in a family case is mediation, in which both parties meet with a neutral third party to negotiate a solution that works for everyone. Mediation has a number of important advantages as compared to trial: First, and maybe most importantly, it saves everyone the time and expense of courtroom litigation. Second, it allows the parties more of a say in the ultimate resolution of the case. Third, it offers the parties the opportunity to practice settling their differences, which is invaluable in cases involving kids.

So what can you do to make the most out of mediation? We tell our clients to keep these three important points in mind:

1. Have a game plan.

If you’re buying a car, you don’t walk into the dealership with no idea of the kind of car you want, or what your budget is, and expect to drive off in your perfect car two hours later. For the same reasons, you shouldn’t walk into mediation without having some idea of settlement options that would work for you. You’ll need to consider your limitations, your requirements, and what you’re willing to negotiate on well in advance of your mediation session. Start by thinking broadly; once you have a big-picture view of your ideal situation, then start refining the specific points. This way, you’ll walk into mediation with a thoughtful and well-reasoned proposal, and you’ll be able to negotiate more effectively.

2. Be reasonable.

The end result of a failed mediation is a trial, in which a judge will make decisions about your case using guidelines set by state family law statutes. Therefore, it’s not a good idea to go into mediation with unrealistically high expectations, and it’s an even worse idea to refuse to negotiate down from those high expectations. A good mediator will be up front with you about whether a judge would be likely to award you what you’ve asked for.

3. Leave your baggage in the lobby.

The purpose of mediation is to resolve contested issues in your case, not to re-litigate ongoing disagreements. Although it may be difficult to put aside feelings of anger, betrayal, sadness, and frustration, you’ll find that mediation will be much easier and more productive if you keep things professional. If you’re working with a mental health counselor (which we strongly recommend that all our clients do), consider scheduling a visit a day or two before mediation so that you can talk through some of your feelings and develop strategies for keeping your emotions at bay during the mediation process.

Disclaimer: The content in this blog is intended to be used for informational purposes only. Nothing herein should be construed as legal advice or opinion. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact us.

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