What is Online Divorce Mediation?
The process of divorce mediation, especially when done online, can seem daunting to clients expecting a more traditional process involving opposing counsel and a day in court. Knowing what to expect and having a more in-depth understanding of the online mediation process can help to create a sense of comfort around the process. This guide will answer some of the more common questions we get about the process of online divorce mediation.
What Divorce Mediation Is and Is Not
We have a much longer explainer on the ins and outs of divorce mediation, but the short version is that divorce mediation is a separation process that tries to avoid the courtroom through the use of a third-party mediator. This mediator is responsible for helping the divorcing couple negotiate a satisfactory and collaborative resolution. In mediation, everyone has the opportunity to discuss issues, address disagreements, and come to a compromise both parties feel is fair.
There are a few misconceptions about divorce mediation. The first is that the mediator is there to force the couple into an agreement. This is absolutely not the job of the mediator. The mediator is there to act as an intermediary. The mediator may give their opinion or make suggestions, but it is up to the couple and their lawyers to settle disagreements that arise throughout mediation.
The second misconception is that divorce mediation is the same thing as a collaborative divorce. They are similar in that the goal is to avoid a court battle. However, in a collaborative divorce process, you do not have a mediator to help facilitate the process. Instead, you and your spouse hire your own collaborative attorneys and work through issues as a group. If you have more questions about collaborative divorce, here is an in-depth explainer.
What to Expect During an Online Divorce Mediation
The mediation process is different for each mediator, but at Truce Law our online mediation process takes place in seven phases.
Keep in mind this style of mediation is best for just spouses. If the case has been in litigation for some time and attorneys are involved we’ll generally switch to shuttle mediation, meaning both parties are in separate rooms and don’t communicate directly, but through the mediator.
Prior to any mediations, including with Truce Law, you’ll complete a short questionnaire. Your answers will give your mediators a sense of the issues and what to expect during the session. Try to be honest about not only the issues holding you back from reaching an agreement but also what you think is difficult for the other participant. Filling out these initial forms often helps people identify the other party’s position, which is the first step to reaching a settlement.
Logging In and Introductions
Log in through the link provided by your mediator and wait to be admitted to the meeting. Once everyone arrives the online mediation will begin with a short speech from the mediator outlining the process. This opening statement will give you a chance to meet your mediator and hopefully get comfortable with the process. You’ll have a chance to ask questions and your mediator will set expectations.
Participant Initial Statements
After your mediator has explained the process, you and your spouse will have a chance to make initial statements. This uninterrupted time allows each person to communicate issues from their point of view. It’s very valuable for your mediator to get to understand you better. It also gives the other participant a chance to hear you. It’s important for each party to try and not interrupt during these statements as they help the mediators see the issues from both sides. Remember, both parties will have an equal opportunity to share their perspective.
After each person has shared, it is time to build an agenda. The agenda is made up of specific items proposed by the parties that will be discussed. For example, one person may ask to discuss the family home and the other may suggest parenting plan. We’ll write down this agenda on a shared document and refer back to it throughout the process. Ideally, we’ll focus on one agenda item at a time, moving to the next once we’ve resolved the first.
Once the agenda is created, the participants choose an item and begin negotiations. Often the topic is the first agreement of the day. The mediator will be there to encourage communication and ensure everyone is treated with respect, but the bulk of the negotiation is carried by the participants.
If at any time the mediator feels a break is necessary, they may call a caucus. During a caucus, one person will be put into a breakout room, while the other stays and speaks with the mediators one on one.
A caucus is a chance for the mediator to meet with each person individually and discuss how things are going and what could go better. Any items discussed during caucus will be kept confidential by the mediator. However, you’re welcome to bring up what was discussed once the full group is rejoined.
Lastly, once mediation is completed, we’ll put together a settlement agreement. This document outlines any agreement made and the participants have the option to submit it in court if they both agree. The documents prepared at the conclusion of a mediation session will be rather informal, but cover all agreements reached by the parties.
In many cases, the mediator is also hired to draft the court forms necessary to carry out the agreement. If you choose, you can then take those to your attorney for review before filing.
How to Prepare for Online Mediation
In order to have a successful online divorce mediation process, it’s important that each party does a little homework before they even sit down with your divorce mediators.
Prepare for Online Requirements
Online mediation is convenient, but you need to take steps to ensure it can work for you. Prior to the mediation try to remove any distractions. That could mean asking your friend to watch the dog or finding a quiet area where you can relax. Also, you’ll want to make sure you’re familiar with the software we’ll use and are ready to log when the mediation is set to begin. Testing your microphone and computer ahead of time can save you a lot of headaches.
Come to Agreement
You and your spouse do not have to be friends in order for the divorce mediation process to be successful. However, you should have an in-depth conversation with them about mediation and whether it’s right for the situation.
Review the pros and cons of mediation in comparison to other methods of divorce and come to an agreement about which process is right for you. It’s important to avoid forcing your spouse into agreeing to try mediation. Mediation will not be successful unless both parties want to be there. If one party is not fully committed, you both will end up wasting your time and money.
Do Your Homework
Now, it’s time to get organized. If your mediator doesn’t know what you have, they will not be able to help you figure out what to do with it.
Start by creating a master list of everything you and your spouse own, as well as all of your assets. Now is not the time to lay claim to anything. You just need to make a master list. This list should include all real estate, personal property, vehicles, all bank accounts, credit cards, retirement accounts, investment accounts, and insurance properties.
Next, it’s time to take a look at your financials. Gather records that account for all of your income sources including paystubs, any self-employment financial statements, pension disbursements, and any other regular sources of income. You also need to account for your recurring expenses and ongoing liabilities. This could include mortgage payments, car payments, health insurance costs, credit card payments, student loan payments, and any other regular expenses.
Don’t Forget About Children and Pets
The tensest negotiations during any mediation session tend to be those around children and pets. By preparing for these discussions beforehand, the parties can come to mediation prepared to have the tough discussions.
For your children, think about where they currently spend most of their time: where do they go to school, where are their extra-curricular activities located, how often do you see extended family, etc. Start to think about where they will spend their birthdays as well as holidays and school vacations. How will you divide educational costs, whether it’s private school, summer camps, or college tuition? It’s very possible that this mediation and negotiations around these issues could impact how you and your spouse co-parent for the next few years. It’s very beneficial to use these discussions to learn how to effectively work together as individuals who both deeply care for your children.
Pets can be trickier to negotiate around than children. Up until very recently, in a traditional divorce scenario that involves a judge, pets were considered property and would end up full-time with one party. Now, judges are more likely to consider what’s best for the pet itself. Just like a custody arrangement with children, start to imagine what a custody arrangement may look like for your pets.
Hopefully you have a deeper understanding of what online divorce mediation is and isn’t and how you can best be prepared. If you have any questions, or want to discuss whether divorce mediation is the best process for you, please give me a call at 206.409.4086 or send me an email.