Welcome to the latest article in a series about mediation. Here are earlier articles about:
· Online Mediation Technology Tips
· An Overview of the Online Mediation Process
Before jumping into how to prepare for settlement discussions in mediation, let’s first address what mediation is:
What is Mediation?
Mediation is a process of meeting with a neutral person, called the mediator. The mediator’s role is to provide a structure for settlement discussions.
Participants include the mediator, the people who have a dispute, and potentially their attorneys. Mediation may include other participants if mutually agreed in advance.
Mediation’s goal is a settlement accepted by all parties.
How can you set yourself up for success? Preparation is key.
Tip 1: Understand the Process Ahead of Time
Don’t walk into mediation without a basic understanding of mediation and the process.
If you have one, ask your attorney. If you don’t, check out these online tools about mediation & the process:
· Maryland State Bar Association’s ADR In a Box Video Series
· Mediation Confidentiality
· Maryland Judiciary’s Mediation Video
Tip 2: Gather Information to Help You Make Informed Decisions
Don’t walk into mediation uninformed. Identify the issues to be resolved in mediation, then gather the information you need for informed discussions and decision-making about those issues.
If you don’t have the information you need, ask for it. Gather the information you do have.
If you have an attorney, prepare with him or her in advance, discussing the information needed for a productive mediation.
If you don’t, you can use the Maryland Court forms below (which you may or may not have already prepared) to identify and gather information that is likely to be helpful in the mediation on the following topics:
· Child Support: Financial Statement (Child Support Guidelines for combined parent incomes less than $15,000/month)
· Child Support and/or Alimony: Financial Statement (Alimony & Child support for combined parent incomes of $15,000+/month)
· Children: Parenting Time (Physical Custody) & Legal Decision-Making (Legal Custody)
o Parenting Plan Instructions
o Parenting Plan Tool
o Joint Statement Concerning Decision-Making Authority & Parenting Time
· Property: Joint Statement Concerning Marital & Non-Marital Property
Tip 3: Develop a Settlement Plan
Reviewing the forms above or based upon discussions with an attorney, develop settlement options & write them down. It usually helps to start with three:
1. Your ideal settlement outcome
2. What a court will likely decide
3. Your bottom line or what settlement you are willing to accept to avoid a contested trial/the court deciding for you
Settlement options are almost infinite, limited only by the parties’ creativity, willingness to compromise, and what is practical/possible. However, the world of options becomes much smaller when a court decides the outcome because the Judge or Magistrate is limited by what the law allows them to do.
Please visit my blog for ideas on how to organize thoughts & develop settlement options regarding children and parenting:
· Parenting Time & Physical Custody
· Decision-Making & Legal Custody
· Parenting Time Schedules
· Rights of First Refusal
Tip 4: Consult Professionals & Resources
Ideally before, but also during, the mediation process, consult with any professionals & resources from whom you need necessary information in order to evaluate settlement options (both the ones you generated and those raised in mediation). This might include:
· Your mortgage provider, a mortgage broker, or lender about a refinance
· An accountant about income tax return-related issues and tax consequences of certain asset transfers/division
· A realtor or appraiser about the value of a home or other real estate
· An appraiser of other difficult to value or disputed value items or assets, like a business, artwork/collection, pension, and the like
· An attorney for the legality, practicality, and advantages and disadvantages to you of a particular proposal. (You may find this article about how and when to involve an attorney in mediation helpful.)
Tip 5: Prepare Yourself for Difficult Conversations
Mediation can be a very effective settlement tool. Preparation puts you on the path for success. But that doesn’t mean the path is easy.
You may find the following resources for managing conflict, difficult conversations, and stress helpful:
· Calming Your Brain During Conflict
· Active Listening Exercise
· Mindful Breathing for stress, anxiety & anger resilience
Mediation is a process. It takes time. With preparation, you can make the most of your time in mediation, paving the way for a successful settlement.
Since 2002, Lindsay Parvis has represented clients in Maryland custody, divorce, and marital matters. She negotiates, litigates, and advocates for the best interests of her clients, whether in contested litigation, uncontested settlement, or premarital and other agreements. Her clients are not only spouses and parents, but also children whose interests she is appointed by the court to represent in contested custody litigation. Lindsay strives to improve Maryland law in the General Assembly, volunteering her time to monitor, advocate, and educate about legislative developments in family law.