The idea of compromising with someone you are divorcing may seem far-fetched at first. What makes compromise possible even under the most difficult emotional circumstances is the presence and guidance of a trained divorce mediator.
You’ve heard the horror stories from your divorced friends about contentious, never-ending, and expensive litigation over the issues arising from divorce. It does not have to be that way if you can put rancor aside and agree to work together, or at least compromise.
This article, from the experienced PA family law mediators at Schwartz, Fox & Saltzman, LLC., defines divorce mediation and gives you a 28-step checklist to use come to mediation prepared to negotiate the best result for your family. We are trained mediators with over fifty years of experience helping divorcing couples in PA find common ground, compromise, and resolve issues arising from divorce in the most expedient yet the least acrimonious and least expensive way possible.
We can help you too. Call 215-967-9070 to discuss your case with us.
What is Divorce Mediation?
Many divorcing couples in PA choose to enter into mediation to help settle issues such as child support, spousal support, child custody arrangements, and division of property. A trained, neutral mediator meets with the couple during one or several sessions and facilitates the discussion of issues arising from the divorce. The mediator assesses the parties’ situation and priorities and helps negotiate a resolution.
Mediation is not binding until a written agreement is signed, but is the opportunity to quickly and amicably resolve family issues that a divorcing couple agrees on. Our clients have often found divorce mediation to be empowering, as they participate in determining the future of their family and finances rather than having a decision regarding these very personal issues handed down from a family law judge. Divorce mediation is less contentious than litigation, and is much less costly and time-consuming.
Divorce Mediation Checklist – Top 28 Items
If you are considering divorce mediation, complete this comprehensive checklist to prepare to get the most favorable outcome for your family.
1. Choosing a Divorce Mediator
Choosing a divorce mediator is the first item on the list because your choice can make or break negotiations. Be sure that your mediator has been trained in divorce mediation and has experience in your jurisdiction. Your mediator must be neutral, so you should not use your divorce attorney or your spouse’s divorce attorney as a mediator.
2. Schedule Your Mediation Sooner Rather than Later
By starting the divorce mediation process, you both can explore the issues on which you are close to agreement and resolve them, saving you time and money. For example, you might both agree on child custody and child support but cannot agree on spousal support and equitable distribution of property. Resolving two of four issues through mediation is a positive outcome.
3. Know the Cost of Your Mediation
Your mediator should provide you with a written retainer agreement setting forth how long each divorce mediation session is, how much each session will cost, and how you will pay for each session. Preparing this checklist ahead of time will help you save time during the mediation, which also saves you money.
4. Come With Questions for Your Divorce Mediator
You may have an idea about what you and your spouse can agree on and what you disagree on. Make a list of each of these and come prepared to offer compromises regarding contentious areas.
5. Attend Mediation With an Open Mind
You likely have an idea of which issues will settle easily and which will be contentious, and you have some ideas of where you will not easily budge. At the same time, you should keep an open mind and listen to what your spouse is saying and what the mediator is saying. Often the three of you can arrive at a better solution than you or your spouse could create on your own.
6. Don’t Try to “Get the Upper Hand”
Divorces can be emotional and you may be tempted to hold something dear to your spouse hostage to get some leverage. Let that go. The mediation process is designed to be collaborative and minimize the damage that is inflicted on both spouses from arguing over family issues.
7. Understand Your Spouse’s Position
Having an idea of your spouse’s point of view can help you immensely. Even more, if you can be empathetic with your spouse, you may both end up with more than you hoped.
For example, if you know your spouse works at night and is very concerned about having enough time with the children, you could lead with that, asking for that issue to be resolved first so that the “less important” issues can be resolved later. You might plan in advance what sort of concessions you would be willing to make to ensure adequate child custody time for your spouse.
In return, your spouse will be more likely to concede on an issue that is important to you, whatever that issue may be. And coming to an agreement quickly at the start of mediation sets the tone for other successes.
8. Find Some Common Ground With Your Spouse Prior to Mediation
If you’ve both agreed to attend mediation and you agreed on who to hire as your mediator, you are already on the right path – you both want to settle divorce issues among yourselves, with some help. This is a good thing.
What else do you have in common? Do you both want the children to stay in the marital home? Do you agree as to parenting time? Do you agree at least in part about property settlement? Bringing those to the table at the start of mediation also sets the tone for future success.
9. Come Prepared to Make Tough Compromises
All of this being said, successful mediation is about each party being willing to accept compromises, sometimes difficult ones. Again, you can identify the issues you are less likely to bend on in advance and be prepared to offer compromises on other issues in exchange.
10. Bring Any & All Marital Documents
Bring relevant financial as well as documents such as a prenuptial agreement or adoption paperwork. The mediator may ask to see these.
11. Income Information
You will likely discuss property settlement and support, so each of you will need proof of income such as pay stubs or bank statements. Also bring evidence of any other source of income or form of income you receive, such as SSI or SSDI or workers’ compensation.
12. State & Federal Tax Returns for the Last 3 Years
Whether you and your spouse filed income tax returns jointly or separately, bring copies of all of your state and federal tax returns for the last three years.
13. Corporate Tax Returns for the Last 3 Years
If you or your spouse or you and your spouse jointly own a business, bring your corporate tax returns for the last three years.
14. Create a List of Your Assets & Debts
You should each complete a list of assets and debts, separately. One of you might remember something the other forgot. Be sure to consult your credit reports to get a more complete financial picture.
15. The State of All Loans (Home, Vehicle, & Student)
Bring current statements for any loans you have individually and jointly, including mortgage or rent, car loans or leases, and student loans.
16. Balances on Credit Cards
Bring statements for all credit cards, single and joint, showing current balances.
17. All Insurance Information
Bring copies of all insurance policies, including life insurance, health insurance, mortgage or renters insurance, and car insurance.
18. The Worth of Your Home & If You Want It
You can get a rough appraisal of your home’s current value online, but you’d be well advised to contact a real estate professional for help. For most couples, their home is their largest marital asset. You want an accurate appraisal so that your property settlement agreement reflects the equity you’ve built together.
Consider whether you want to and are able to stay in the marital home following your divorce. Some couples can afford it, while others find it not feasible considering that the joint income formerly supporting one household must now support two. If you have school-aged children, keeping them in their school district if possible is an important consideration.
19. Who Will Live in the House During Your Divorce
Hopefully you and your spouse have discussed where you each will be living while the divorce proceedings take place. Typically one spouse leaves the marital home while the other stays, especially if there are children.
20. Vehicle Information (Make, Model, Year, Value)
All vehicles you own individually and jointly should be disclosed to the mediator and identified according to make, model, year, and current retail value, which you can get online from services such as NADA or Kelley Blue Book. This includes cars of course, but also boats, ATVs, motorcycles and scooters, and the like.
21. How You Want Child Custody to Work
It is important to enter into mediation with an idea of the child custody arrangement you would prefer, as a starting point. It is likely your spouse will have different ideas about the child custody schedule. Your mediator will help you find a compromise that works for your family.
22. Stay Flexible with Your Child Custody Schedule
While you should have an idea of the child custody arrangement you would prefer, you should remain flexible to take into consideration your spouse’s parental rights, which are equal to yours. The children will reside where their best interests are met. If you cannot decide that among yourselves with the mediator’s help, the court will decide for you.
It is in everyone’s best interest, especially your children’s, to negotiate child custody between yourselves if possible.
23. Consider How Child Support Will Work
The parent who is not the primary custodian of the children of the marriage may have to pay child support. It is important to go into mediation knowing something of your previous budget and how joint income was allocated during the marriage.
24. How You Want Spousal Support to Work
If one spouse earned far less than the other or did not work during the marriage, they may be entitled to spousal support even if for a limited amount of time.
The higher earner should not balk at paying spousal support if it seems inevitable that the judge will order it. The mediator will let you know whether that is the case. In turn the support obligee should estimate how much support they need and compare that figure with what the mediator thinks is usual before demanding more.
25. Information on Any Civil Lawsuits
If either party is suing someone or being sued, you must disclose that to the mediator. If a party is a plaintiff in a personal injury matter, a portion of those proceeds may be marital property.
26. Review Marital Settlement Agreement Carefully
If you and your spouse are able to agree on some or all issues arising from the divorce, the mediator will memorialize this in a Marital Settlement Agreement which will be reviewed and approved by the court. Be sure to review the terms of the Agreement carefully so that you know what you need to do, and what you have agreed to.
27. Make a Checklist of Tasks as Part of Your Marital Settlement Agreement
Once you have a Marital Settlement Agreement in hand, you must abide by its terms. Mark the child custody schedule in your calendar. Change bill dates to conform to the arrival of support payments, if you can. If you are selling the marital home, be sure you both agree on the realtor and sale price.
28. Complete Marital Settlement Agreement Tasks
Last, you must abide by the terms of the Marital Settlement Agreement pending court approval. This shows that you entered into the Agreement in good faith and will be able to live by it. Failing to abide by its terms could result in you being found in contempt of the agreement.
Talk with an Experienced Divorce Mediation Attorney
If you are getting or plan to get a divorce, consider mediation as one of the first steps. Mediation can save you and your spouse time, aggravation, and money, and give your family a better result than if a judge made those decisions for you. Call us to discuss your case.