Divorce mediation is a positive, cost-efficient way of separating that allows you to stay in control of the outcome rather than a judge making decisions for you. Most importantly, it prioritizes the well-being of your children.
Divorce can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be a battle.
So, what steps should you take before, during, and after mediation to ensure the best outcome for you and your family?
The Complete Divorce Mediation Checklist will break down the divorce mediation process from start to finish. This is your comprehensive checklist, and it will get you started on a successful mediation experience.
Steps to take before divorce mediation
Understanding the process and some preparation are key to successful divorce mediation.
Here are a few important things to keep in mind:
1. Choose a qualified divorce mediator
Your mediator will help you and your spouse reach an agreement on all issues of your divorce. It’s important to find someone who is experienced, impartial, and trustworthy.
Start by researching mediators in your state who specialize in divorce or family matters. Positive online reviews and testimonials can help guide your decision. Aurit Center Certified Mediators have the highest qualifications in the nation; as such, they are known as leaders in the mediation community.
Therapists and friends who have gone through, or are familiar with, divorce mediation are also excellent sources for recommendations. Their experiences and insights can help you narrow down your choices.
Once you have a list of mediators, schedule initial consultations to ask questions and get to know them better. A free consultation is a positive sign.
Here are some important questions to ask your potential mediator:
- How much of your practice is dedicated to divorce mediation? Generally, you want to work with someone who dedicates more than 50% of their practice to mediation.
- Can you tell me about your mediation core values? A mediator who is caring, honest, flexible, and shows confidence in their approach is more likely to be effective and trustworthy.
- Do you ever find it hard to be impartial? It’s a very good sign when a mediator expresses that they do not “take sides” but will still help balance communications and ensure that both spouses are informed and comfortable with their agreements.
- Do you have experience with the specific issues of my divorce case? Ask about the mediator’s experience with any specific circumstances, such as mediating a military divorce or a parenting plan with a child who has special needs.
- What are your fees and billing structure? Mediators who charge flat fees are preferable because they are more predictable than hourly billing, help spouses save money, and help ensure financial stability for spouses during divorce.
When interviewing mediators, take your time and trust your instincts.
You should feel comfortable with the person you select. Keep looking until you find someone you feel is honest, genuine, sympathetic, and compassionate. Choosing an impartial mediator who will support you both throughout the mediation process is essential.
2. Be open to compromise
Compromising can be difficult, especially if you’re feeling hurt or angry.
However, it doesn’t mean giving up what’s important to you. On the contrary, it’s about finding common ground and reaching mutually beneficial agreements—agreements that work for both of you.
Mediation aims to find solutions that benefit all parties.
Creating agreements that work for both of you means acknowledging that you both have valid feelings.
It’s okay to take breaks if emotions run high. You can save challenging conversations for your mediation meetings, where your supportive mediator can help you to develop creative solutions. It is perfectly normal to need some time to reflect so that you can arrive at and leave each meeting with a clear mindset.
Remember, your mediator is there to support you both and help find fair and equitable solutions.
3. Identify the important issues
Every divorce is unique and has a wide variety of components, such as real estate, businesses, retirement accounts, parenting, or even beloved pets.
Your mediator will identify every issue of your divorce in mediation. Here is a head start on the most common issues discussed and agreed upon during these sessions:
- Parenting plan: This detailed agreement outlines how the parents will care for their children after their divorce. It ensures that the co-parenting schedule meets the children’s needs and can be personalized so that parenting time agreements support the best relationship possible between the parents and kids. Child support and child expense-sharing agreements are also part of the Parenting Plan.
- Child custody: Deciding who will have legal custody and the right to make decisions about major medical, educational, and religious issues is essential to ensuring children’s best interests. Parents often agree to share this responsibility, but they can choose to grant one parent primary responsibility for, or even sole authority over, these decisions.
- Property division: Deciding how marital assets and debts will be fairly divided is another important agreement. These assets typically include the primary residence, cars, bank accounts, credit cards, retirement accounts, investments, and life insurance.
- Spousal maintenance: One spouse may pay the other financial support after the divorce. Spousal maintenance can be awarded to the spouse who has a lower income or has been out of the workforce for a period.
Having identified the key issues in your divorce, you can start considering how to address them. Doing some research about your available options is encouraged.
4. Organize all financial information
First things first: take a deep breath and relax. Organizing your financial information might seem overwhelming, but it is easily manageable if you use this checklist. The divorce process can go even more smoothly if you have everything ready upfront.
Your mediator will let you know what you need before your first meeting. They will also encourage you not to worry if you are unsure about any items, as they will provide guidance during your meetings.
While the necessary information will vary depending on your unique situation, you’ll typically need access to at least the most recent statement that verifies the following:
- Income-verifying information:
- Pay stubs
- W-2 or 1099 employment
- Federal tax returns from the past few years
- Bank statements, including all account numbers and balances:
- Checking accounts
- Savings accounts
- Digital banking accounts
- Any other financial accounts
- Investment accounts and retirement benefits:
- 401(k) retirement plans (or 403(b)) and other retirement fund account statements
- IRA statements
- Social Security estimate statements if you are retired or approaching retirement
- Pension plans
- Employment benefits
- Bond investment statements
- Real property (real estate):
- Home valuation estimates (you and your spouse can choose to use an agreed-upon estimate or to get a professional estimate)
- Mortgage statements that verify mortgage balances
- List of properties (including investment properties and vacation homes)
- Debt-related information:
- Credit card statements with account numbers and balances
- Loan statements (equity loans, private loans, motor vehicle loans, student loans, etc.)
- Current statements for any lines of credit held
- Other outstanding bills and debts (medical bills, credit card debt, outstanding loans)
- Health insurance premium costs, especially when children are involved
- Life insurance policies that show the beneficiary amount and the cash value, if any
- Disability policies
- Business-related information (if applicable):
- Financial statements (current balance sheet, income statements)
- Corporate tax returns
- Business interest valuations, if any, since this will usually not be performed before mediation and instead is typically addressed once mediation begins
- Other relevant information:
- Credit reports
- List of assets, including valuable personal property and other marital property
- Social Security information
- Prenuptial or postnuptial agreements (if applicable)
- Marriage certificate
- Divorce settlement agreement if you and your spouse have already noted areas of agreement
Remember, organizing all your financial information takes some time, so be patient with yourself. Breaking the process up into stages and addressing them one at a time makes the task more manageable. If you have any difficulties or questions about specific documents, your mediator is there to guide you.
The most important steps to take during divorce mediation
1. Establish goals and ground rules
A positive and productive mediation experience begins with establishing goals and ground rules.
When children are involved, you’ll need a sustainable co-parenting plan that meets their physical and emotional needs. In this scenario, some ground rules might include listening to each other without interrupting and avoiding hurtful language when disagreements do occur.
Aurit Center Certified Mediators establish clear ground rules to guide you through a productive, focused, and thoughtful process. They will keep you both on track by reminding you of your goals and upholding your ground rules to help ensure a respectful process and successful outcome.
2. Practice respectful communication
Respectful communication during negotiations means considering the other person’s concerns, being open to compromise, and expressing your feelings honestly.
It’s completely normal to feel strong emotions during the mediation process. Acknowledging them can promote mutual understanding and more effective problem-solving.
Your mediator will help you find ways to communicate that make sense and work best for each of you.
Respectful communication increases your chances of reaching an agreement that meets both of your needs, prioritizes your children’s well-being, and paves the way for a healthier co-parenting relationship.
3. Document your divorce terms
Getting the divorce terms in writing helps ensure that everyone is on the same page before signing the divorce settlement agreement.
In many states, your divorce mediator will be able to write your final legally binding judgment, which is called a Divorce Decree, Marital Settlement Agreement, or Mediated Settlement Agreement (MSA).
In other states, your mediator will be able to write a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that can be used by a separate individual—usually an attorney—to draft your Divorce Decree.
4. Review and sign the MSA
After all agreements are reached during the mediation meetings, both spouses review and sign the Divorce Decree or MSA. This final document contains all the agreements the spouses reached during mediation.
Take the time to review the agreement carefully. Ensure that everything aligns with what you and your spouse discussed and agreed upon. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to consult with your mediator. You can also get legal advice from your own legal advisor or attorney before you sign.
When both spouses sign the MSA, it becomes legally binding. It is important to only sign it when you’re comfortable with the terms.
Your MSA is then submitted to the court, where a judge will finalize it. This step finalizes your divorce and makes all of your agreements legally binding and enforceable. In most states, your mediator submits the MSA for you.
Signing your final divorce documents can provide a much-needed sense of closure and help you see the future in a more positive and optimistic light.
Steps to take after divorce mediation
1. Implement the settlement agreement
After completing your divorce, you’ll need to put the agreements and decisions you made during mediation into action. This means working with your spouse to stick to the terms outlined in your parenting plan, co-parenting schedule, and any other agreed-upon arrangements.
Adapting to post-divorce life takes time for everyone, especially when there are children involved. Successful co-parenting requires keeping communication lines open, being flexible, and maintaining a focus on what is best for your kids.
Post-divorce arrangements–such as changing titles to residences or vehicles, or transferring retirement accounts–occur after the divorce finalization. Title changes can be handled on your own, or you can contact an attorney to assist you. You can then provide a copy of the Decree to your financial institutions to carry out the terms of your Decree.
When challenges arise, approach them with patience, empathy, and an open mind.
2. Consider post-divorce self-care
Finalizing your post-divorce arrangements and practicing self-care helps you heal emotionally and move forward.
Here are five tips for much-needed self-care after divorce:
- Engage in healthy communication: Consider taking an approach that minimizes conflict and maintains a positive relationship, especially if children are involved. Making a conscious choice to infuse positivity into all of your communication can help you maintain an optimistic outlook and envision a brighter future. Simply put, take a moment to edit before sending written communications.
- Take some time for yourself: Allow yourself to grieve the loss of your marriage and process your emotions.
- Seek emotional support: Stay in touch with friends and family or reach out to a therapist to communicate openly and honestly about how you are feeling.
- Practice self-care: You heard it before, but eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly can help protect you emotionally and physically from the stressors of divorce. Engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation.
Divorce mediation can be an opportunity for positive change and growth.
Treat yourself with patience and compassion, and don’t hesitate to get help if needed. You have the strength to create a fulfilling life for yourself after divorce.
Your divorce mediation checklist
Here is a checklist to help you jumpstart your mediation process:
Choose an experienced mediator
- Research reviews or personal testimonials
- Ensure that the mediator’s practice is primarily in divorce mediation
- Get referrals from friends or a therapist
- Ask about the mediator’s billing structure and fees (flat fees are preferable)
- Consider a free consultation with an Aurit Center Certified Mediator
- Consider what is most important to you
- Consider what you think is most important to your spouse
- Consider creative agreements that get both of you as much of what you want as possible
- Maintain an open mind
Identify the most important issues, which might include your desire to
- Establish a co-parenting plan that will be best for your kids
- Make child custody arrangements and address any unique concerns
- Divide assets in a mutually satisfactory way
- Discuss how spousal support will be determined
Organize financial information
- Collect all necessary financial information, either online or in paper form
- Income-verifying information
- Bank statements
- Investment accounts
- Retirement funds
- Real estate
- Debt-related information
- Insurance policies
- Business-related information
During the divorce mediation sessions, your mediator will work with you to
Establish goals and ground rules
- Set clear objectives for each session
- Set and observe the ground rules during each session
Practice respectful communication
- Carefully consider your choice of words and use a calm tone of voice to help the process go smoothly
- Be aware of your emotions, and ask for breaks as needed
- Maintain a respectful dialogue
Document the divorce terms
- Draft clear and comprehensive agreements
- Involve legal professionals (if necessary)
Revisions – Review and finalize the settlement agreement
- Seek legal advice to ensure fairness (if necessary)
- Thoroughly review the agreement to check for typos and ensure the language reflects your intent
Court filing – Implement the settlement agreement
- Ensure your mediator submits the agreement to the court for approval and incorporation, or has a process for a third party to submit for you
- Carry out the terms of your Decree within the agreed-upon time frames
Healing and moving forward
- Practice self-care
- Consider professional support from a trusted therapist or counselor
- Return to mediation for any modifications or issues that need to be resolved in the future
Navigate mediation effectively with The Aurit Center
Mediation provides a caring and affordable approach to amicable separation. This makes it the preferred option for a healthy divorce.
Our experienced mediators will walk with you every step of the way.
The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation is committed to helping you navigate divorce in a way that saves you time, money, and unnecessary heartache.
We’re here to help you take charge of your future, protect your children’s well-being, and avoid the emotional and financial toll of a courtroom battle.
Get started today by scheduling a free consultation with The Aurit Center.