How do I get ready for family mediation?
It’s affordable, informal and collaborative – almost the opposite of family court. Yet the idea of going into family mediation with an ex can trigger feelings of anxiety, stress, and sometimes, fear. Considered preparation can go some way to alleviating the intensity of these feelings.
Anxiety, stress and fear are all extremely valid emotions to experience prior to mediation. And most people who have been through family dispute mediation will tell you, in the days leading up to the mediation, that’s exactly how they felt. While we can’t promise to eradicate those feelings completely, (that would be superhuman), we can minimise the power of negative emotions by balancing them with feelings that bring confidence and cautious optimism through an open mind. To approach mediation with a positive mindset, first up, you need to be two simple and important things: organised and prepared.
This is your chance to avoid the costly and distressing experience of court: your preparation is everything
Some preparation is essential. For example, at the start of the process following the mediator’s introduction, you will be required to deliver your opening statement (as will the other party). This statement provides you with the chance to summarise the issues and topics that you would like to discuss at mediation – for example, issues relating to co-parenting that have brought you to mediation.
A strong opening statement will explain why you are in mediation and what you hope to achieve by it. Sometimes your opening statement may not address each specific issue of conflict (i.e., one parent always being late for child drop-off), but instead focuses on the key items that require negotiation, for example, how the children will spend time with each of you as co-parents.
People often refer to bullet points while others may want to read an opening statement word for word. What matters most, is that you have put time and thought into your statement – as this can set the tone for the rest of the mediation. Also, if you do not go first, it’s important that you listen to the other party and stick to your statement rather than refute anything you’ve have heard that you disagree with.
Prepare any documentation where necessary to support your objectives with issues or items you would like to discuss and provide it to the mediator prior to mediation
In most family mediations, each party will have a very good idea of how the other will react or behave. Insight into how one party would react to the objective of the other party is crucial to preparation for mediation. This is where independent documentation supporting or illustrating your point of view can help. In FDR mediation, an example might be that one child requires additional tutoring due to a learning disability. If one partner suspects that other will refute this – or the cost impact of additional tutoring – then it helps to have professional documentation. This could include letters from behavioural specialists, teachers or the child’s GP testifying to the legitimacy of the need for additional support.
It’s a good idea to discuss any such issues that you think may require supporting documentation confidentially with the mediator during your individual intake session, and where possible, provide documentation to the mediator in advance of the day of mediation.
If each party has legal representation, then the documentation may be required to be sent to the other party’s lawyer prior to mediation.
Familiarise yourself with the process of mediation so you understand how it will work on the day
The mediator will go through the mediation process in detail with you and the other party individually during the intake session. This is your chance to ask questions about what happens on the day – and how the day will unfold. The mediation process is structured specifically towards resolving issues and reaching an outcome that both parties can live with. Understanding how mediation works and what each step involves, not only removes some anxiety, but knowing what to expect also helps you understand that the process is designed to give both parties time to talk, listen and negotiate.
Think about the issues from yours and the other party’s perspective
An extension of the preparation of your opening statement, is to go further and think about each topic or issue in terms of importance – this helps clarify what you might be willing to negotiate on – as different things will be a priority for each party. This is where you ask yourself, what is important to me and why? Also ask yourself, what do I think is important to the other party and why? By thinking about the other party’s perspective, in some ways you are already considering their position, and why certain issues may be important to them. Being able to do this preparation exercise will help with the next important preparation point…
Bring an open mind to mediation
A key factor in determining a successful outcome in mediation is each party’s willingness to compromise in finding a solution for moving forward that each party can live with. Negotiation is part of the mediation process, and each party should think about the outcome they want, other alternative outcomes, as well as an outcome they can live with. An openness to the weighing of options and an acceptance that some compromise will be needed on both party’s’ behalf will increase the likelihood of the mediation being successful. Also, in family mediation, the role of the mediator is to ensure that the mediation is child focussed and that the best interests of the child or children are prioritised when the parties are considering and discussing the way they as co-parents, can work together into the future. A willingness to negotiate towards an outcome in mediation sets a positive tone for future discussion and decision-making as co-parents.
Bring solid communication skills into mediation
There are two important things to note here. One is to speak to the other party the way you hope they will speak to you. It’s not easy taking the high road – especially if the other party has traditionally been the dominant voice in the relationship – or worse – is adversarial in the way he or she communicates. To achieve this, you will need to control your emotions – one of the hardest things to do in mediation. Bring a calming strategy to mediation and practice it beforehand. An effective strategy is to focus on your breathing when trying to diffuse emotionally charged dialogue. The simple act of counting your breaths by inhaling for 5 seconds and exhaling for 5 seconds through your nose can be an effective reset strategy. The other thing to remember about communication skills, is that listening plays a major role. Mediation requires active listening skills – and often when one party feels they are being listened to, their adversarial behaviour can dissolve, and the important negotiation work can begin.
Be aware of your emotional triggers
As difficult as it is to reconcile, sometimes your emotions may not have yours or your children’s’ best interests at heart when it comes to mediation. As we talked about at the top of this post, mediation sits squarely in the negative emotional corner – and each party will be experiencing many of the same feelings. As hard as it is, you need to put those, and other emotions like anger and frustration to the side – as they do not lend themselves to future focussed thinking and rational decision-making.
In family mediation, you are there to think about what is best for the kids. Keep reminding yourself it’s about the kids first and foremost, and if you feel yourself becoming upset, rather than get angry, acknowledge the emotion with the mediator and other party, then ask for a short break. If you really need a support person at mediation, you can bring one – but this needs to go through the mediator first, prior to mediation. As hard as it is, try and remember that negative emotions – from power to anger – are terrible drivers of decision-making.
A final word on your preparation for family mediation
In most scenarios, mediation is better than court. When it comes to a family separation, both adult parties are still going to have to work together in some capacity as co-parents. Working together to reach an agreement enabling both parties to live as co-parents is a hopeful sign to the most important stakeholders of all in this process – your kids.
To help you prepare for mediation, we have created a library of helpful information including checklists, tips and added detail around the process of mediation. For useful and relevant information you can download for free, we encourage you to visit our resources page.
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