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How Can I Maximize a Successful Mediation Experience?

The most important thing to remember about family law mediation is that it is not an adversarial process. Mediation is the time to focus on solutions, compromise and resolution. Mediation isn't about resolving every issue, although it's a great opportunity to try to resolve as many as possible. When there's serious disagreement, some issues can't be negotiated and may require court intervention, but at least you can save money by settling what you can.

The most important factor in ensuring a successful mediation is approaching it realizing you are not there to "win" anything other than the peace that comes from resolving a difficult issue. Too often litigants approach mediation from the position of "I need you [the mediator] to help me convince my [spouse, co-parent, etc.] that their position is WRONG and my position is RIGHT," and that is NOT how mediation works. Mediation is an opportunity for litigants to come together in a non-threatening, relatively informal setting to discuss, with the guidance of a trained mediation professional, resolution to the issues that are preventing settlement. You need to come to mediation with an open mind and with the realization that almost always one person's perspective is not the only viable solution, there are two sides to these stories and each party deserves to be treated with respect, and that requires a willingness to be open to how the other party views things.

Another tip to ensuring a meaningful mediation is for all parties to be active participants. If one party just sits back and offers nothing to this process or attempts to undermine the process, mediation cannot work. If, however, both spouses focus on solutions, mediation should help to make good decisions for each other and for their children. Differences of opinion are to be expected and are no reason to dismiss the prospect of a successful mediation. The purpose of mediation is to work through those differences.

Even hostility isn't reason to discount mediation since it's still possible to secure a mediator willing to conduct much of the mediation in separate meetings. Although when there's enough disagreement over who's to blame, it may be difficult to reach any kind of consensus.

Dishonesty about finances could be a stumbling block to resolving issues. The fiduciary duty to disclose all transactions involving community property is just as significant in mediation as it is in court. Transparency is key in this context, and such transparency ill go a long way towards telegraphing to the other side that you are ready to work towards resolution.

Fortunately, mediation can be one of the best ways to negotiate agreements about child custody and visitation. Differences in parenting style and the amount of time spent with the children can be addressed in mediation and concerns can be discussed openly in a controlled setting where both parties will be heard and ideally solutions discovered.

Perhaps the best thing about mediation is that a mediator is not making the decisions for you; rather, the mediator helps you and the other party make the best decisions for everyone involved. If you show up, willing to negotiate and open to compromise, there's no reason mediation cannot be successful.

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William A. Feinberg 1928 - 2001

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