A Beginner’s Guide to the Mediation Process (According to a Mediator!)

Divorce Mediation text on small chalkboardSome people approach the divorce process armed and ready for battle, but others would rather do just about anything than have a long, ugly fight. In some situations, mediation is required by the court system. In others, it is purely voluntary. Either way – anytime you have the choice to try mediation (or any type of alternative dispute resolution), you should explore it as a viable option! Many people overlook alternate dispute resolutions because they do not understand the process or why it can beneficial.

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If you are exploring your options when it comes to mediation in North Carolina, here is a guide for how mediation works (and can work for you!):

Step One: Select a Mediator

Take your time and do some research on this. Your attorney can share their thoughts on this based on experience and knowledge of the skills needed to be a good mediator. Check for online reviews and ask other people that have been through the process for their opinion of how mediation went. Some mediators are great at getting to the point and reaching resolution quickly. Others take their time and provide a great deal of empathy and compassion. And the really good ones, do both!

Step Two: Schedule Mediation

Keep in mind, there is no need to rush into the process. While this is not a trial, it is usually helpful to have financial documents and examples of conduct you believe to be relevant to share with the mediator (who will then share it with the other side if needed). Give yourself enough time to collect everything you need before you get started.

Related Reading: Mediation Practice

Step Three: Attend Mediation with an Open Mind

Almost every person that walks into one of my mediations says, “This is probably not going to work” or “I just don’t see this settling.” But the attorneys involved usually know better. Mediation is successful in many cases. There is some “magic” in having everyone in the same building at the same time – answering questions, solving problems, and the prospect of resolution being close at hand. Understand that not everything will go your way but having SOME input in the outcome is a lot better than going to trial and having NONE.

Step Four: Don’t Have Too Many Deal Breakers

If you show up with 10 things you can’t live with and the other side comes in with the same 10 things, you are not going to get anywhere. If you have 1 or 2 things, usually, the mediator can work with those and exchange some lesser things on your list to protect the big ones. Decide what is really important to you and discuss this list with your attorney before mediation.

Step Five: Listen to the Mediator and Your Attorney

No one knows your case like you do. After all, it’s your life. But no one knows the legal process like the attorneys in the room do. The combined experience of the attorney and mediator can be 30+ years, if not more. That is a lot of knowledge at your fingertips; make good use of it!

Step Six: Decide How to Formalize the Agreement

If you reach an agreement, figure out if it makes the most sense to write down some bullet points and then formalize the agreement later or if you want to put in some extra time and effort to do it right then. There are risks and benefits to both options. Your attorney can weigh in and make sure you choose the best option for your case

Step Seven: Build Off of Mediation, Regardless of the Outcome

If you settle, great! Keep that momentum going. Maybe it’s time to try co-parenting at a higher level or to purchase that new home you have been eyeing. Maybe it is time to take that much-needed vacation! Even if you don’t settle, there will be valuable lessons learned at mediation, like – what is really important to the other side? What are they going to argue about if you end up in court? Take that information and come up with a game plan for next steps with your attorney.

As a wise litigator once said – “You don’t regret the cases you settle, but sometimes you regret the ones you tried.” So, if you can – follow these steps and you may find yourself being done with a very difficult process sooner and in a much better way than you ever could have believed.

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