|Simply put, a mediator's job is to maximize a couple's chance of reaching a satisfactory settlement. If you decide to mediate your divorce, you will work closely with a mediator to negotiate a legally binding divorce agreement. To reach that goal, a mediator often breaks the sessions into five stages. The stages of a divorce mediation typically progress in sequential order, but some issues may require looping back to earlier stages. The five stages are:
During the introductory session, the mediator will explain how the mediation sessions will be conducted. Beyond simply discussing the overall structure of the mediation sessions, the mediator will give you the opportunity to present background information about your particular situation. In addition, you will have the opportunity to ask any questions you have about the mediation process.
During the information gathering stage, the mediator will begin the important process of helping you gather and organize information pertinent to your divorce. This may include collecting tax returns, bank and mortgage statements, W-2s, information about insurance policies (medical, life, auto), and financial information regarding other investments or family businesses. The mediator's overriding goal is to ensure that you and your spouse have access to all of the facts you need to negotiate a binding and satisfactory settlement.
Determining and understanding each spouse's reasons for desiring a certain outcome is a critical part of the mediation process. These concerns, goals, priorities and values are generally referred to as "interests," and they form the backbone of the negotiating phase. In some instances, the interests of both spouses will overlap nicely, which greatly eases the challenge of reaching settlement on that particular issue. By the end of the framing stage, each spouse should not only understand the issues that require negotiation, but should also be aware of the other spouse's underlying interests.
During this stage, the spouses discuss various options that may lead to settlement. The mediator helps by helping spouses articulate options that best address their respective interests. Sometimes couples need to start with a small issue to "warm up" before tackling big issues (such as child custody or spousal support), while other couples are ready to jump straight into the most contentious issue. Each mediator handles the negotiation stage differently, but most mediators will help you weed out clearly unacceptable options before focusing on promising alternatives. Each spouse will consider how he or she may compromise on certain issues in order to ensure that their interests are fully satisfied with regard to other issues.
At this point an attorney-mediator will often translate your tentative settlement into a legally binding agreement that can be filed with the court. A non-attorney mediator is not permitted to draft the marital separation agreement, and as a result, the mediator will likely enlist the services of an attorney for this task. In most instances, a mediator will require that each spouse consult briefly with another attorney who only represents his or her interests before signing the marital separation agreement. This ensures that both spouses enjoy the benefit of an experienced attorney's analysis of their settlement before filing it in court, which only further bolsters its enforceability.