Walking into mediation I didn’t really know what was to expect. Of course, I had hope that we would resolve all the issues and the divorce would be over, but that is not at all what happened. All I knew about mediation was what I heard from friends and family that had been through a divorce and everything they told me was true. It was a complete waste of time and money. What they didn’t tell me was that it would be such an emotionally exhausting experience that left me with more questions than answers.
We both had attorneys, that by all appearances, were professional and well known. The mediator was also an attorney who had been practicing for over twenty years and he seemed to be well respected. So how did it go so wrong? Prior to mediation, I was not given any information about what the process was, what my role or rights were or given any homework to do. I did my own prep work and had an outline of things I wanted to go over and I had financial documents ready to review, but as I sat in the room fifteen minutes into it, my attorney and the mediator were talking about mutual friends and about another case. I remember thinking that I was paying by the hour and they begin with talking about someone else’s case. What the hell was happening? I wish I could tell you that it got better but in fact it got worse.
As the hours went by, the mediator went from room to room and met with the attorneys separately for what seemed like over an hour. Were they actually talking about my case and trying to come up with solutions or were they talking about other cases on my dime? I’ll never know the answer to that. After five hours, the mediation was over, and I felt like I was pressured into signing a temporary agreement that I knew didn’t make any financial sense. I kept trying to voice my concerns and was told not to worry, that it would change at the next mediation. I was emotionally and physically exhausted and I wanted to get out of there as fast as I could. I got in my car and sobbed. I didn’t sob because of the fact that my marriage was ending, I already mourned that loss, I sobbed because I felt like I had been taken advantage of by professionals that were supposed to be there to help me.
My personal experience with mediation (and I went through FIVE of them) prompted me to change careers and become a mediator. I knew the process was broken and that it could be effective if done differently. Mediation is supposed to be a process that empowers you and your spouse to make decisions. If your attorneys are present, they should be there to answer legal questions and guide you, NOT to make decisions on your behalf. The mediator should facilitate the conversation but also NOT make decisions for you.
Walking into mediation you should feel prepared and confident. You should know that it is ok to show emotions, but if you are feeling too emotional then it isn’t the right time to go to mediation. Your marriage is ending and your life is changing and both require you to go through an emotional process of loss and acceptance. The process is different for everyone. If your spouse has gone through it and is ready to make decisions and you still can’t look at him/her without crying, how will you be able to make life changing decisions? Mediation is not the place to feel overwhelmed with emotion, it is the place to handle the business side of divorce. How effective is it going to be if you are emotionally exhausted and you have to make decisions that will affect the rest of your life?
You should never feel pressured at mediation and like you can’t leave until you reach some kind of agreement. You do not have to reach any agreement at mediation if you don’t feel comfortable with it. Throughout the divorce process people often feel powerless and like the attorneys and/or mediator run the show, but that is not how it should be. The most important thing you need to remember going through divorce, THE ATTORNEY AND MEDIATOR WORK FOR YOU. Read that again. You are paying them and therefore you should feel confident and in control of the process. If you don’t, then hit pause and assess why that is.
Mediation should be a very effective process that helps two people peacefully end a marriage and come up with solutions that work for all involved. No divorce is the same so there is no one-size-fits-all. Your story may not have gone the way you planned it to, but you can choose how it ends. Write the ending in a way that brings you closure, peace and ready to write a new chapter!
Tips for mediation:
INTERVIEW MEDIATORS BEFORE YOU CHOOSE ONE. Remember he/she works for you! Don’t go with a mediator just because your attorney suggests them. You need to feel comfortable with the person that you choose. You and your spouse can ask for a consultation prior to the actual mediation so that you can see if he/she is a good fit and you can ask questions. How long is the initial mediation? Some mediators do six hours, four hours or two hours. Ask if you have to wait while the paperwork is drawn up and sign before you leave. Some mediators and attorneys will say that they don’t want either party leaving until the agreement is signed, but ask yourself this, if you wouldn’t sign this agreement tomorrow then is it the right agreement for you?
DO HOMEWORK PRIOR TO MEDIATION. You should know prior to mediation what you want time-sharing to look like. What weekly schedule is best for the children? What holidays are important to your family? Whose address will be used for school? What do the breaks from school look like? Who will pay for the children’s cell phones, extra-curricular activities, college funds, cars, etc.? Have a budget for what your new single household will look like. Have a list of all assets and debts. Have a child support calculator run ahead of time so that you know what numbers you are working with.
MEDIATION IS YOUR PROCESS AND YOU SHOULD FEEL EMPOWERED AND CONFIDENT IN THE DECISIONS BEING MADE. IF YOU DON’T THEN END IT AND REVIEW WHAT WORKED AND WHAT DIDN’T. YOU SHOULD LEAVE FEELING LIKE PROGRESS IS BEING MADE, NOT CONFUSED AND WITH MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS.
Written by Kadie Schramek, Certified Divorce Coach and Mediator
KDM Counseling Group