Mediation is a great way to get through divorce. My belief that the litigated approach to divorce that this country has so strongly embraced is wrong, on so many levels, was a primary driving force for why I became a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst. As a divorce financial planner and mediator, I can save you a lot of money, shorten the process, keep you emotionally healthier and keep you and your spouse from becoming mortal enemies. The decisions you make in your divorce will have an impact on your emotional and financial well-being, perhaps for the rest of your life.

Like anything else that is important in life, you need to prepare for your mediation sessions. Here are my best tips for successfully getting through a mediation session:

  • Understand your legal rights. If you are mediating with an attorney, your attorney will be there to support you in this regard. But if you and your spouse are going to mediate on your own, as couples do in my process, I recommend you at least have a one hour consultation with an attorney to understand your legal rights. I admire that people want to save money, are afraid seeing an attorney will send the wrong signal to their spouse or are afraid an attorney will try to talk them into litigating with their spouse. However, many attorneys are also pro-settlement and the cost of a consultation is well worth it. (See link “How to Find, Hire and Work with a Divorce Attorney” for advice on how to find the best attorney for a consultation.) As a neutral mediator, I can say what the law says but I can’t apply it to your situation. That would be giving legal advice. Spouses particularly need to know their legal rights when it comes to a small business that the other spouse owns and separate property. Many spouses, particularly when they think their spouse doesn’t know any better, want to say their business has no value or that anything they owned prior to marriage or inherited is theirs alone, even though actions they took during the marriage turned it partially or wholly into martial property. When you understand your legal rights (and your spouse’s legal rights), you have the power to negotiate effectively for yourself, and you know the value of what you give up or settle for.

  • Understand the value of your marital property. Using a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst can give you the knowledge base to negotiate effectively. It’s important to value your assets properly and look at your assets AND debts as a whole so you can divvy them up equitably. A CDFA can also help create a realistic budget for both parties based on the income available. Attorneys are legal experts, not financial experts, and mediations done solely through attorneys can result in unforeseen tax consequences and a lack of understanding of the short and long term financial consequences of a settlement offer. Women, in particular, often are not prepared for when alimony and/or child support ends because they never looked at the long term picture when they negotiated their divorce settlement. Or they find that their expenses were much higher than anticipated because they did not prepare a post-divorce budget.

  • Don’t let your spouse bully you into negotiating outside the mediation process. A mediator can help you have a voice, will control the process and will keep emotional outbursts and bullying to a minimum. Not being alone can give you the courage to get away from the “pleasing” or “deferent” behavior you had in your marriage. I sometimes see one spouse asking me if they are being greedy or feeling guilty for asking for their fair share of the marital property. I can reassure them that this is their opportunity to have their say.

  • Don’t agree to give away any property before you know the big picture. Spouses often agree to give away something valuable to maintain the peace before they understand its value, their rights or the full picture of their marital assets. This creates problems for them during mediation because their spouse will tell them “they already agreed” and they now feel too guilty to change their mind or negotiate for something equal in return. My advice is to agree to nothing or agree to something only on the condition that once you understand the full value, you may want to negotiate for something in return. After all, that’s why you agreed to hiring a professional mediator.

  • Think about what is important to you before you arrive at mediation. Think about what you must have and what you are willing to give up. Write it down. This can be an opportunity to stand up and talk about your contribution to the marriage or express other emotions or needs.

Remember that mediation is confidential and nothing is final until the papers are signed. You don’t have to make your decisions that day and you can always take a break for an hour, a week or more. You may want to discuss the settlement with a family member or other professional before you make a final decision. Being prepared will make mediation more cost effective and you will feel more confident when you do agree.