Most family law matters will come across the stage of mediation somewhere along the road to reaching an agreement. Mediation is a process where both parties to a family law dispute meet to discuss their fears, their needs and to try to work through the things that are holding them back from finding a resolution.
Something that is unique to mediation is that you and your partner will be helped by a Mediator throughout the day who will act as an objective third party and help you along your way. I like to think of a Mediator not as an umpire but as at a conductor of a band; they make sure everyone is playing in tune and at the time they are supposed to be playing, they listen out to make sure everyone can hear every member of the band, but they don’t make decisions like an umpire has to.
Mediation is compulsory for parenting matters and most property matters here in Australia and, if your property matter is the type where mediation isn’t compulsory, it is absolutely highly recommended and is considered best practice.
Mediation is extremely important and shouldn’t be viewed as just another hoop to jump through. Mediation is a chance to resolve your family law matters whilst staying out of court, and therefore staying in control. When heading into mediation, your mind should be focussed on doing all you can to help facilitate a resolution being made.
Because of all of these reasons and many more, mediation can be daunting. The issues up for discussion on the day of mediation might be really difficult to talk about or maybe you are finding it really hard to imagine reaching a resolution that is anything other than what you’ve decided is your best case scenario. To help tackle these feelings, I’ve compiled a go-to list of things to help you with your mediation prep.
Get Sorted With a Plan
If you have engaged the help of a lawyer, they will no doubt want to meet with you in the lead up to your mediation to talk you through what you can expect.
You can probably expect that your mediation will involve some exchanging of proposals from both yourself and your partner to help you get closer to an agreement. With this in mind, you can start to think about what those proposals might look like before your mediation.
For a recent client I helped through a mediation, I met with them two days before the big day and at this meeting we discussed proposals but also came up with a mantra to help us get through the day. Ours was “strong and empathetic;” but not strong in a fighting sense (as that’s never my approach) but strong in the sense that we knew it was going to be a long day and that parts of it would be difficult. The word empathetic came from my desire to help my client understand that whatever came from his ex partner on the day of mediation, whether it be a proposal or an exchange of words, that we needed to be empathetic to them and try to understand where they were coming from and see things from their point of view always.
There Can Never Be Too Many Questions
There is no silly questions in family law. You can ask procedural questions of your mediator and legal questions of your lawyer. If you don’t have a lawyer helping you through, don’t be afraid to attend a drop in session of your local community legal centre a week or two in advance of your mediation where you will no doubt find lawyers who have walked this path countless times before.
Whether it be where to park, how early to arrive or the best way to deal with the soccer pick up in your parenting plan, having information in advance to take the pressure off you on the day of mediation is key. Remember to know your team and to use them!
If on the day you are having trouble negotiating with your partner, I want you to remember this; parenting plans and property settlements should be highly personalised and they must work for you. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a family lawyer who doesn’t agree that agreements that are worked out by parties themselves and that consider and address all of the weird and wonderfully unique parts of their life are the ones that are going to have the best chance at succeeding in the long-run.
Remember to think outside the box when it comes to negotiating at your mediation.
It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Your mediation day will feel long, you’ll be tired, you might feel fed up with discussing the parts of your separation that you find difficult to manage.
I don’t think it’s very clever to expect a walk-in-walk-out mediation. Mediations can run for a long time (all day and sometimes into the night) so you must remember to ask for breaks, to take a walk in the fresh air if you need one and to remember to breathe. With all of the difficult stuff that comes with mediation, the possibility for a resolution that it can bring is so important.
I wish you all the luck with your upcoming mediation and I hope a resolution to your family law matters is just around the corner for you!