One of the questions I often get asked by clients is 'how should I prepare for my mediation?' or 'what documents should I bring with me?'
Here is a handy guide on some of the things you can do before your mediation session to be better prepared.
1. Consider getting legal advice
Family law cases have very specific legal rules which are quite different from pretty much any other area of law. For this reason, I often suggest that my clients see a specialised family lawyer before attending mediation. While it is not necessary to engage a lawyer in order to participate in family dispute resolution, it is often really helpful if each party has obtained some initial legal advice. This advice can help them understand how the family law system works, how their case might be viewed if they went to the Family Court, and what sort of outcome they might reasonably expect.
Sometimes, clients shy away from seeing a lawyer because they worry about the expense; however, this is neither wise, nor necessary.
There are a number of options available for clients to obtain some free, low-cost or fixed fee initial legal advice.
Firstly, you can contact your local community legal centre. Community legal centres are not for profit organisations that offer free legal advice and some legal services. You can search on the National Association of Community Legal Centres here to find one near you.
Secondly, there are low-cost services, such as Citizens Advice Bureau here in Western Australia, that offer appointments for legal advice.
Finally, most private practitioners offer fixed fee appointments for initial advice. You are not obligated to enter into a cost agreement or pay a large retainer in order to meet with a lawyer and obtain some legal advice about your matter.
2. Write down all of the issues you want to discuss
Although you may be clear in your mind what it is you want to discuss during your mediation session, it is very common to forget or overlook things once the session starts because you're nervous or you become upset.
For this reason, I always suggest to each person to make a list of the issues that they feel are important.
When making this list, try to be as specific as possible. For example, for parenting arrangements, think about not only the schedule of when the child will be with each parent, think about school holidays and special occasions as well.
If you're stuck, try thinking about what issues most often trigger arguments between you and your ex. This is usually a really important clue that this issue needs some further exploration.
3. Come up with ideas for settlement
Once you have outlined all of the issues you wish to discuss during your mediation session, think about how you would like these issues to be resolved.
I normally suggest that clients come up with a number of different ideas to settle the issues.
Firstly, what they would like to achieve in an ideal world, secondly, the minimum they would be prepared to accept, and finally, a compromised position between the two.
This exercise helps get you in the right frame of mind to negotiate. It also helps you highlight what issues are really important for you, and what issues have more room for compromise.
4. Get your documents in order
Not all matters will have a lot of documents that are important for a mediation session; however, it is helpful to consider whether or not you need any documents before going to your mediation session.
The obvious matters that involve documents are property matters. Some examples of documents you might need are:
your most recent bank statements and credit card statements
your most recent tax return
the current amount owing on the mortgage
your superannuation balance
details of every vehicle and any finance attached to it
any valuations you have obtained
Consider also what information you do not have from your ex that would be useful in negotiating a property settlement. Each party must provide full and frank disclosure in property matters, which means you can request important financial information from your ex, and they can also request the same from you. This way, both parties are on the same page about the finances.
I always go through the assets and liabilities during a pre mediation appointment and help parties exchange disclosure before the mediation session, if necessary. I also try to identify if any valuations are needed. This way, we can focus on negotiating the division of the assets instead of arguing over the value of the house or who received what tax return last financial year.
Document preparation is not limited to property matters. Even in parenting matters, there may be important documents or information which could be helpful during the mediation session. For example, are you wanting to discuss where the children will attend school? It may be helpful to bring information about what school you are proposing. Do the children see a doctor or therapist regularly? If so, make sure you have those details available. It is also helpful to have information about the children's schedule, including extra-curricular activities, their normal routine, and your own work commitments. These can be important when organising contact arrangements.
Attending a mediation can sometimes be stressful or even a bit scary for people. It is normal to feel pushed outside of your comfort zone. Taking a bit of time to prepare for your mediation, having a clear idea of what issues need to be resolved and what you would like to achieve out of your session will help ensure that you get the most of our your mediation and have the best chance of settling your matter on a final basis.
If you have any other questions about the mediation process, please contact me for a free, no-obligation, discussion.