When parents or couples decide to separate, pursue a divorce or are considering a modification of a family related matter, their decision to pursue mediation is likely due to their interest to keep the matter civilized, efficient and save money. These objectives are more likely to be met if the parties prepare for the mediation in a number of different ways.
First, prepare emotionally. This may be obvious but sometimes folks are caught off guard by their own emtoins when talking about their children, marriage or finances. Remember, mediators do expect to see some tears, anger or frustration from both parties. Some folks that may have suppressed their feelings are surprised to see it surface and when it is in front of the other person, those moments can stifle a mediation. However, do not let that end the mediation – take a moment to gather your thoughts and feelings or even ask for a quick break.
Second, prepare the numbers. If you are going to mediation to discuss property, incomes and finances, come prepared. If you want to use a figure that you believe to be accurate (e.g., the value of real property), then come to the mediation with some documentation to help your point and move the mediation along. Most people are only comfortable reaching an agreement regarding financial matters once they have some confidence in the numbers; therefore, a productive mediation should involve a discussion of concrete figures and calculations.
Third, prepare your listening ears. This may sound childish but the foundation of any successful mediation is truly listening to the other person’s words during the mediation. Simply listening and preparing your response will likely turn a mediation into an unproductive war of words.
Fourth, prepare for the spectrum of outcomes. Mediation is a way to resolve differences and odds are, the participants’ end goals are different (but, surprpisingly, not always!). Be realistic about what you think the other party is hoping to achieve. Know your ideal outcome. Then remember that any mediated agreement that falls within that spectrum is likely and is, in most instances, the sign of a successful mediation.
Mediators are there to guide and facilitate a productive conversation to reach an agreed upon result. With the willingness to work and preparation of the parties, the chances of a successful mediation increase significantly.
Sarah Malik is a Maryland-based mediator and graduate of The George Washington University Law School. Sarah regularly mediates for the Circuit Court for Montgomery County’s custody mediation program and privately mediates custody and divorce matters. Ms. Malik’s law practice focuses primarily on mediation, estate planning and family law appeals. She is an Adjunct Professor of Legal Research and Writing at The George Washington University Law School.