The Ultimate Divorce Mediation Checklist: 35 Must-Know Steps

1. Choose A Mediator That Is Also A Divorce Attorney

Why it matters: Divorce involves complex legal and financial issues. You need someone who can help you identify and deal with them properly. Shockingly, many states allow literally anyone to be a divorce mediator. Make sure your mediator is also a licensed divorce attorney.

2. Choose a Local Divorce Mediator

Why it matters: The divorce laws are applied differently in every local jurisdiction, due to local customs or “rules of thumb.” A mediator from a different county or state won’t know how cases are resolved where you reside. They also aren’t easily accessible. Choose a divorce mediator with a real local office.

3. Find Out How Your Mediator Will Charge For Mediation

Why it matters: Some divorce mediators charge by the hour, like lawyers. Others quote a flat fee. We think the flat-fee option is best. That way you’ll know up front how much your divorce mediation will cost.

4. Find Out If Your Mediator Will Also Process Your Divorce

Why it matters: This may surprise you, but your actual divorce may not be included in your mediation. Most mediators don’t process divorces. That’s because a lot of them are not even attorneys. You may need to either hire an attorney or follow do-it-yourself instruction to get your divorce processed. At SnapDivorce®, we include your divorce paperwork and filing fees in your flat fee and process it seamlessly as part of your mediation.

5. Don’t Pay For Unnecessary Services

Why it matters: Mediators frequently include ancillary services, such as financial planning or psychological counseling, as part of their “mediation services,” which most couples don’t need. Make sure you are not being charged for services you don’t want.

6. Figure Out How You Will Pay For Mediation

Why it matters: Divorce is a large unplanned expense. Professional mediation costs around $4000 – $7000, and the cost is typically split by the parties. If you don’t have easy access to that kind of money, consider putting it on a credit card, taking an advance from a retirement account, or discussing financing options with your mediator.

7. Approach Mediation With An Open Mind

Why it matters: The whole point of mediation is to resolve your divorce amicably. Neither party is going to get everything they want. You’re probably going to have make some difficult concessions and be open to creative solutions. Drop all preconceived notions about what is “fair” or how your case should be resolved. An open mind is a must.

8. Realize That You and Your Spouse May Be In Different Places Psychologically

Why it matters: Accepting the end of a marriage is similar to the grieving process. Typically, one party has been thinking about getting divorced much longer than the other. That means the person who has been thinking about divorce for longer is probably in a different state of mind than their spouse. That’s why negotiations can sometimes be so difficult. If you can keep this in mind, you’ll take your spouse’s comments and demands less personally.

9. See What You And Your Spouse Can Agree On Before Your First Mediation Session

Why it matters: Most couples can find agreement on points before mediation even starts, like who will keep the house or what the custody schedule will be. The more you can agree on in advance, the easier and less costly you mediation will be.

10. Keep Your Frustration To Yourself

Why it matters: Divorce is emotional. You will likely be angry, resentful, or sad at one time or another. Expressing those feeling in mediation, however, is unhelpful. Approach divorce mediation like a business negotiation. It’s about working out your financial and custodial issues, not about righting perceived wrongs. Look forward to your future, not backwards.

11. Make A List All Of Your Assets and Debts

Why it matters: Divorce mediation is mostly about dividing up your marital assets and debts. Having a comprehensive list is a great way to start mediation.

12. Organize All Of Your Financial Information

Why it matters: Once you have a comprehensive list of your assets and debts, you’ll need to establish their values. Gather your financial statements before you start mediation and the process will go easier and quicker. For a list of what you’ll need to bring, see our article 13 Things You Should Bring With You To Divorce Mediation – And The One Thing You Shouldn’t.

13. Find Out What Your Home is Worth and Decide if You Want to Keep It

Why it matters: The martial residence is usually a large non-liquid asset that has to be distributed in divorce. To figure out how it fits into your settlement, you’re going to need to know how much it is worth, if you want keep it, and if you can afford it. Start by getting a market analysis or appraisal. For more detailed information on your house and divorce, see our article What Happens To Your House In Divorce.

14. Consider What Custody Schedule Would Work Best For Your Children (If Applicable)

Why it matters: Most people make the mistake of trying to “win” in their divorce, and their children end up getting hurt. Always keep in mind that your future happiness and success will depend a lot on how well you treat your children and your ex-spouse during and after your divorce. Put your children’s need first at all costs, even if that means accepting a less than ideal custody schedule for you.

15. Think About How You And Your Children (If Applicable) Will Be Covered Under A Health Insurance Policy After the Divorce

Why it matters: You’re going to need health insurance after your divorce. While children may remain on either party’s insurance after a divorce, if you have insurance through your spouse, you’re going to need to find a new policy. Your ability to remain on your spouse’s plan ends with your divorce. If this applies to you, you should start looking into health insurance options now.

16. If You Have Been Married for Close to 10 Years, Consider Delaying Your Actual Divorce Until After Your 10-Year Anniversary.

Why it matters: If you’ve been married to someone for more than ten years, you can claim benefits under their social security earing record at retirement if one-half of their benefit is greater than your full benefit. This is especially important for stay-at-home parents or couples with a great disparity in earnings. This Social Security benefit has no affect your spouse’s benefit at retirement.

17. Consider Who Will Live In The House During Your Divorce And Who Will Pay The Expenses

Why it matters: Living together during divorce is tough. Someone has to take care of the house, pay the bills, keep it clean, etc. It’s hard to agree on these things while you are not getting along. Address these issues in your divorce mediation as soon as possible.

18. If You Are Selling Your House, Choose Your Realtor Carefully

Why it matters: Selling your house in divorce can present challenges, especially if you and your spouse are not getting along. Issues come up like how to price the home, what repairs should be performed, who is going to keep the house clean for showings, etc.. A professional realtor can help you avoid signaling that your house is being sold due to a divorce through staging, professional photographs and other advice. They’ll also help you price it right. You don’t want people to think they can get your house for a discount because you’re getting divorced.

19. Don’t Take Unilateral Actions That Will Make Life Difficult For Your Spouse

Why it matters: You will be negotiating with your spouse in mediation, trying to resolve difficult issues. You want to keep your relationship as civil as possible during the process. Now is not the time to take her car “because your name is on the title,” or sell his stuff at a garage sale. Try to maintain the status quo until the issues in your divorce are resolved.

20. Schedule Your First Mediation Session Promptly

Why it matters: If you’re going to get divorced, get started with mediation as soon as possible. Mediation can help you get your divorce off on the right foot by identifying and resolving issues before they become a problem.

21. Ask For More than You Want

Why it matters: Even if you have a good idea how your case should settle, it’s still best to ask for more than you want during negotiations. This may seem silly, but your spouse is not going to want to settle for your first offer. Be prepared to negotiate. Asking for more gives you room to compromise.

22. Don’t Think You’ll Gain an Advantage in Mediation

Why it mattes: We frequently get calls from potential clients asking things such as “It’ll be a 50-50 settlement, right?” or “I won’t have to pay alimony if I do mediation, right?” It’s always the spouse with significantly higher earnings asking those questions. They already know what would happen if they went to court and they’re trying to get a better result through mediation. Sorry, but you’re not going to trick your spouse into an unfavorable deal in mediation.

23. Ask Your Mediator What Is Considered “Fair” In Your Jurisdiction

Why it matters: Most couples wants to reach a fair deal in mediation. If you chose a divorce mediator correctly (see above), your mediator will be able give you an idea of what would be considered a fair result in your jurisdiction.

24. Ask For Memorandums Of Understandings

Why it matters: Keeping track of the agreements reached during your mediation sessions is important. After every mediation session, your mediator should send you a memorandum setting forth any agreements reached during the session and a list of topics to be covered at the next session. Check to make sure it is accurate and use it as a reference for your next session

25. Look for Areas of Agreement and Win-Win Compromise

Why it matters: A good mediator will help you come up with creative solutions to resolve disagreements. The best solutions are ones in which both you and your spouse benefit. Think out of the box and look for win-win proposals. For example, if you want the house could you offer to advance your spouse moving expenses and a deposit on an apartment?

26. Be Prepared to Make Painful Concessions

Why it matters: No one ends up getting all they want in divorce. It’s mostly about coming out of it as unscathed as possible with a plan for your future. You need to be prepared to agree to things that you wish you didn’t have to, like paying alimony or transferring some of your retirement funds to your spouse.

27. Focus on the Future

Why it matters: People mistakenly think divorce is about getting justice for things that happened during their marriage, like an affair, over-spending, or laziness. That is NOT what divorce is about, contrary to what you may have seen on TV. Divorce is about dividing up your assets and debts in a way that allows both of you to move on. That’s why you should focus on your finical and personal goals for the future. Forget about the past.

28. Always Keep In Mind How Much Divorce Litigation Will Cost You Financially and Emotionally

Why it mattes: You’ve made a smart decision to use divorce mediation to settle your divorce. To be successful, you’ll need to make financial concessions. It’s easier to do so if you remember that divorce litigation, on average, costs $25,000 – $50,000 and takes 3 years.

29. Ask Questions of Your Mediator and Let Your Mediator Guide You

Why it matters. Forget about what you heard from your friends and family about what they think is “fair” or what they got in their divorces. It’s probably wrong or has nothing to do with the circumstances of your case. If you chose the right divorce mediator (someone who is also a practicing divorce attorney) then they will be able to guide you to a fair and sensible result.

Why it matters: Mediation is great, but sometimes it’s smart to get a second opinion. If you have any questions or concerns about your divorce settlement (whether it’s fair, whether you should agree to something), you can get a consultation from an independent attorney for around $250. That can be money well spent.

31. Review Your Final Agreement Carefully

Why it matters: Take the time to read your draft agreement(s) carefully before you sign them. Make sure each says what you think it says and accurately reflects your understanding of your agreements. Once you sign it, it’s too late to request changes. Most importantly, make sure you can perform everything required of you under the agreement. If you fail to perform you can be held in contempt of court and even put in jail to compel your compliance!

32. Make A Checklist Of “To-Do” Items Under Your Marital Settlement Agreement

Why it matters: As soon as the ink is dry on your Marital Settlement Agreement, make a checklist of the items you and your spouse need to complete with associated due dates. You can refer to this to keep you on track. Martial Settlement Agreements can be long, dense and difficult to read. That’s why a summary “to-do” is a great idea.

33. Complete Your Tasks Under Your Marital Settlement Agreement On Time.

Why it matters. Get your action items completed as soon as possible so you can move on. Missed deadlines can cause all kinds of problems. Investment accounts can go down in value; you or your spouse could lose a job. Events such as these can make performance difficult, potentially subjecting you to contempt proceedings. Get your to-do list done promptly.

34. If You Have Kids, Be Flexible With Your Custody Schedule

Why it matters: Flexibility is the key to happy children and a successfully custody schedule. Sometimes your spouse will need a change in schedule; sometimes you will need a change in schedule. Don’t make your kids miss out on fun or important events to prove a point or “punish” your spouse. It’s your kids that will suffer. The bonus is that you’ll be setting a good example for your children. Everyone will be better off in the end.

35. Put It All Together

If you follow the above checklist you’ll likely have a successfully divorce mediation and a bright future.

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