Divorcing spouses often wonder how to get what you want in divorce mediation. Divorce mediation can feel scary and threatening, and defenses can go way up. But one thing I’ve learned in the 20+ years of being a divorce mediator is, what a party thinks they want when they start the mediation process may not be what they end up wanting after working through the process.
Divorce Mediation is an opportunity for both parties to collect all of the necessary financial documents verses having to have these documents subpoenaed through a court order. Through the mediation process the parties will begin to digest and understand what their marital and ultimately their post-divorce balance sheet looks like, what if any support will be paid or received, and what other expenses each party will be responsible for paying.
We refer to this part of the mediation as the “information gathering stage.” Each party is privy to the same information and often one party is seeing this information for the first time. After digesting the pre and post marital estate is often when the real negotiations take place. Think about it. How can you wonder how to get what you want in divorce mediation, or even know what you want when you don’t know exactly what you have as a couple!? That’s why again, what one party thought they wanted at the beginning may not be realistic now that all of the facts have been disclosed.
Divorce mediation is a process to help divorcing couples better understand, and help each party make informed decisions rather than emotional ones. For example, a party may come in and say the most important thing to them is keeping the family house. Through mediation, we can help them understand if keeping the house is even a viable option.
Taking things a step further, here are 3 important factors to consider when deciding whether or not to keep the house:
Doing an analysis of all expenses related to keeping the house, (which is a part of our budgeting process) will help one understand the cost of keeping the home. Once there is an understanding of all of the expenses, we need to mirror it against income. Income may include earned income, spousal support, child support and other income (such as investments). Is there enough income to support the expenses?
2. Equity in family home.
After obtaining a real estate appraisal, it will be important to determine the net equity (after mortgage and/or HELOC’s are deducted from the appraised value). Are there enough other assets that you will receive in the settlement that will allow you to buy out the other party’s share of equity?
When one party elects to keep the family home often there is a need to refinance the existing mortgage.Will you as the new owner be able to remove your spouse’s name from the mortgage/loan and qualify for a refinance?
Once you have the answers to all of the above questions, you will be able to make the best decision on whether or not it is still important for you to keep the family home, and that decision might have changed since you began mediation.
My role as a mediator is to understand the needs and interests of both parties and help guide them towards a workable solution that both think is fair. Often the exercise alone helps guide the clients to make a better, more knowledgeable decision rather than an emotional one, or feeling like they’ve won or lost.
Coming to divorce mediation with an open mind and a willingness to work through the process will help each client make better long-term decisions for them and for their family. Coming to mediation with the attitude of “How do you get what you want in divorce mediation?” and trying to manipulate the process in order to get what they think they want may in fact might actually hurt them. The best way to get what you want in divorce mediation is to actively participate in the process, listen to the needs and interests of the other party and be ready to compromise for the good of the agreement which will result in the best outcome for you and your children.
Marjorie Jacobs is a certified mediator for the Center for Conflict Resolution (CCR) in their volunteer mediation program as well as an appointed mediator for the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois and Lake County, Illinois. She has taken multiple mediation training courses through both the Center for Conflict Resolution and the Mediation Training and Consultation Institute. Marjorie is a member of The Mediation Council of Illinois and the both the Chicago Bar Association and the Illinois Bar Association.
Marjorie is a graduate of Washington University School of Law and Washington University School of Medicine’s Health Administration Program. She received her B.A. from Sophie Newcomb College of Tulane University. Her legal experience includes a corporate health care practice at Katten Muchin and Zavis (Chicago) and Altheimer & Gray (Chicago).
Marjorie also served as Assistant General Counsel and subsequently Director of Strategic Development for the American Hospital Association (AHA). While at the AHA she directed a national task force comprised of ADR experts in health care. Marjorie is the co-author of Managing Conflict In Health Care Organizations and has spoken to numerous audiences on the virtues of developing internal ADR programs.Marjorie serves as a member of the Tulane University School of Liberal Arts Director’s Advisory Council Board. If you want to learn more about Marjorie and her team, visit her website.