How do you go about starting the conversation? I usually start with a joint telephone call. Typically one spouse reaches out to me to ask about mediation. I suggest a joint phone call with both spouses. We schedule the call and you have an opportunity to ask questions about mediation. I answer your questions regarding the process of mediation, find out where you are in the divorce process (have you filed the divorce, for example), and we agree on an agenda for the first meeting.
Before the first meeting, I email you my Mediation Contract. At the first meeting, we go over the Mediation Contract and sign it. It is critical that you understand what mediation is and what it isn’t. Mediation is a confidential, voluntary process. Either spouse can decide to end mediation at any time. In my experience, mediation is most likely to be successful if both of you understand exactly what to expect from mediation and make an informed decision to use the process.
If your family includes minor children, we usually start with a discussion of what Wisconsin law calls custody and placement. In my experience, focusing on the children’s needs before the financial issues leads to strong, thoughtful agreements about placement and about the financial issues.
If you have not yet moved into two houses, we work on the terms of the physical separation. If you are parents and are expressing concerns about mental or physical health issues of any member of the family, I provide information about finding an appropriate professional for you. Divorce is a difficult time in the lives of parents and children. Some people call divorce a crazy-making time. I’m a skillful mediator trained and experienced in helping smooth out the rough spots in the early days of the divorce, as well as in the longer term.
When you have reached at least a temporary agreement about living arrangements in mediation, we generally turn our attention to the finances. The first step in financial mediation is gathering all of the financial information. After we have all the information, you begin to talk about your future goals. You share all financial information with me and each other. If either of you needs additional support understanding the financial information, we will discuss bringing a financial neutral into the mediation. Leveling the playing field when it comes to understanding the financial circumstances is an important part of mediation. You cannot reach a fair agreement if you don’t understand the financial circumstances.
A commitment to mediation must include a commitment to fair-dealing. Mediation must never be misused as a way for a more financially sophisticated spouse to negotiate an agreement to the detriment and misunderstanding of a less financially sophisticated spouse. One of my responsibilities as your mediator is to make sure that both of you are up to speed on the information being shared. And if you are not, to point it out and support you as you decide what your options are for correcting that imbalance.
At the conclusion of each mediation session, you plan the agenda for next time. I generally write a summary of the decisions-made, the issues yet to be resolved, and the homework for the next meeting and share it after the mediation session. Those summaries become the outline for your Marital Settlement Agreement when you have reached a full agreement.
The financial issues in a divorce can generally be divided into three parts: child support, spousal support, and property division. Those are extremely broad categories. Each of those categories has many sub-categories. For example, health insurance for children is part of the child support discussion. We need different sorts of financial information to talk about each category and sub-category. We take as much time as you need to thoroughly address all of the financial issues.
We will circle back to a broader discussion of child placement, if you reached only a temporary agreement in previous discussions. A complete, thoughtful Parenting Plan is important for your children’s long term best interests. Its also a critical tool to prevent conflict and mis-communication in the future.
All along the way, each of you will consult with your own attorney whenever you wish to do so. Or not, the choice is yours.
I will remind you when necessary that I cannot give legal advice. I am allowed to give legal information and many clients find that the information I provide is of central importance as they walk through the divorce process. If you have questions about the difference between advice and information, I will help you understand the difference. I do not represent either of you, nor do I represent both of you. I like to think of myself as an agent for the peaceful discussion of issues. My allegiance is to maintaining a safe space for a fully informed discussion.
When a full agreement is reached, I will draft your Marital Settlement Agreement and Parenting Plan, if you wish me to do so. I will also draft your final documents, if you wish me to do so.
I cannot go to Court with you, but I can explain what to expect at your final hearing.
All mediations are different because all families are different. Until we begin your mediation it is difficult to predict where discussions will lead us. It is my job to make sure we stay on course in our discussions. Mediation is not therapy, but many people find the process transformative.
Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution system that allows you to keep the substance of your negotiations private. Decisions are made by you, rather than by a Judge. A Judge will never know your family and your interests as well as you know them. A trial to a Judge is a roll of the dice. A decision by you is a measured, thoughtful, fully-informed give and take living example of who you are and what you believe is most important for yourself and your family. Do you want to make decisions about your future under pressure from an outside force whether that be a lawyer or a Judge? Most people answer, “no.” That’s the reason for “Hey, can we Talk.”