1. Come to mediation with your shirtsleeves rolled up and ready to get to work! Be prepared to identify problem areas, consider options and offer compromises. Judges dictate solutions, mediators help clients to find a reasonable and fair consensus and, when they do so, they foster a win/win environment instead of a judicially determined winner and loser.
2. Think forward not backwards. Try to focus on the future and not the past. If you stay mired in old wounds, you’re likely to remain angry and hurt, emotions that impede clear thinking. Learn to let go and focus on how to make a better future instead of re-living past injustices.
3. Be honest about your assets and income. If the mediator finds that either party is not being honest about assets or income, he is likely to terminate mediation.
4. Be clear about what you need and why. Be generous. During the marriage, most spouses feel like they have been required to give more than their partner. Relationships are not arithmetic; it often takes more than a 50 percent effort from both sides. When relationships are in turmoil, we must put forth even more effort and generosity. When both parties are willing to do more than they feel is required, cases settle and spouses are better able to move forward in healthy directions.
5. Recognize that you can still have a relationship. You may have lost a spouse, but can you keep a friend or co-parent? In our relationships, we must often wear many hats. Some may wear out, while others still fit.
6. Stake out common “interests” and avoid taking “personal positions.” A common interest is providing a safe and healthy living environment for your children. A personal position is “I need the children at least half the time.”
7. State your goals without making personal attacks. Personal attacks cause mediation to regress into a cycle of attacking and defending. A helpful tool in this regard is to make what are called "I" statements. "I am struggling with trust issues right now" sells better than "You’re a liar."
8. You don’t have to convince the mediator of anything. The mediator is not a judge. The mediator is here to help the two of you reach a decision. It really doesn't matter if the mediator thinks one or the other of you is better, faster, wiser, funnier, fairer or better looking. If you want to be the mediator’s buddy, or more importantly get your case settled, then facilitate problem solving, be flexible and be fair. Don't worry about what the mediator thinks.
9. You do not need to defend the divorce to the outside world! It's between the two of you. Many parties are caught up in the need to justify their divorce or separation by demonizing their soon to be ex-spouse. Most of this stems from seeing divorce as a failure and the desire to escape that uncomfortable feeling by placing the blame elsewhere. Life is not that simple. Marriages fall apart and there need not be a villain. If you have children, vilifying the other parent is not only counterproductive to settlement, but psychologically damaging to the child. If you are harboring a great deal of anger and bitterness, be willing to get counseling. The pain of divorce can also be a catalyst to making healthy changes. Therapy helps with that process. Although some venting in mediation can be tolerated, it is generally not the best place for it. Most mediators are not therapists, but because they see many families in distress they may recognize family members whom are depressed, overly anxious, or otherwise stuck in a place where they are not processing the divorce well. If the mediator recommends counseling, please take the recommendation seriously and remember that half of the families in divorce are in counseling (and the other half should be!).
10. Avoid comparing notes with other divorced friends. Non-professional advice on legal matters is typically worth what you pay for it.
11. Sometimes the enemy of the best is the good. While you may have a very good reason for your position, there might be a better reason to change it.
12. Talk to the mediator about your assessment of progress. Give feedback. Some families feel like mediation goes too quickly and not enough attention is paid to details; other families feel like the process is dragging on more than necessary. Your mediator and your lawyer work for you. Just as you must be honest and open with your spouse, so too must you foster open and healthy communication with your lawyer or your mediator.
13. Avoid faulty assumptions often made by divorcing parents:
• Any reasonable person would agree with me • I am the victim • The other parent cannot be trusted to be fair • My child must have one house, one set of rules • The court will validate my point of view • A good mediator will promote my interests and goals • I just want what is in my child's best interest • My anger is justified • if he/she did _____ to me, then he/she will do ____to our children • I"ll spend what it ever it takes to fight for my children • Our children deserve to know the details of this divorce.