A mediated divorce is by its very nature a collaborative process. It is a discussion, not a negotiation. So in many ways, the process has to begin with the two of you. It is imperative that before walking into the mediator’s office, you have had discussions with each other and understand what it is that you agree on and what you do not agree on.
Understanding the points on which you agree and those on which you disagree will help focus the process with the mediator so that the time you spend in the official mediation is more productive and expeditious. This will allow the mediator to focus on those issues that you don’t agree on, while not upsetting the agreements that you have already or would have easily come to on your own.
To start, test the waters on each of the topics to see if there are hot button issues between you that are going to be sticking points. If you hit one of these hot button issues, then simply step back from that topic and move on to the next. Do not get bogged down on the issues that seem emotional, descending into arguments that end the discussion or leave on party feeling that they have acquiesced (“I gave in just like I always do”). This can create an underlying stream of anger and resentment that will eek its way into the other areas, even if you have no real disagreement.
Often the easiest thing to agree on is what time each parent will spend with the children, who will stay in the house, time lines for one spouse getting back into the work force, and who will end up with each asset regardless of and ignoring its actual value.
Discussing support numbers and value determinations are dangerous and should be one of those issues that you dip into to see if there is agreement, but be ready to retreat from these discussions quickly if they start to descend into bitterness and anger. Often support and value issues are best left to the mediator who understands how these issues are addressed in the law and can guide the parties to a resolution by simply letting them know what the reality of the law is, and how this impacts their particular situation.
Set times to discuss these issues. Many parties still continue to live in the same house through this process and it is not advisable to have these discussions as you pass in the hallway. Such a rubric is not productive and does not allow the other person to be in the frame of mind to have the conversation. Set times alert everyone that they need to be ready to interact with these ideas, and it gives them the mental space to prepare for what can be an emotionally difficult process.
Finally, have an appointment with the mediator set so that there is an end date that almost requires you to discuss these issues and be prepared for the meeting. Without a set date, these discussions can lose focus and continue on and on with no real end in sight. Do not think that you will have all issues solved, but simply that you have started down the road to resolution, and have in mind what your needs are and what the desires of the other person may be.