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Divorce Mediation Checklist: Key Steps to Prepare
Divorce can be complicated, especially when children and marital property are involved. However, divorce mediation can be one of the healthiest decisions you could make for yourself, your children, and your ability to move forward.
How can you best prepare for a successful mediation?
The key is to understand exactly what’s in store. In today’s divorce mediation checklist, you’ll learn what steps to take before you and your spouse agree to mediation, how to prepare for mediation, and what topics to anticipate when the negotiating begins. Here’s where to start.
BTL Family Law is here to help
Before Agreeing to Mediation
Divorce mediation has become a preferred method of amicably dissolving a marriage. The number of couples opting for mediation services has increased dramatically over the years, with records demonstrating that nearly 90% of mediated divorce cases have settled successfully. Before you decide on mediation, there are a few things you may want to take into account.
Choose the Right Divorce Mediator
A divorce mediator is a neutral third party who works with both spouses to reach a divorce settlement agreement. A mediator does not represent either spouse and will not offer legal advice; however, it’s still wise to choose a mediator who is also a family law attorney or divorce attorney.
The complex financial and legal issues you will need to resolve during mediation require expertise that only comes with the experience possessed by professionals in the family law community.
It’s also important to learn how a potential divorce mediator will charge for their services. Most mediators charge by the hour, and some may charge a flat fee.
Lastly, you’ll want to choose a local divorce mediator. Divorce law varies across jurisdictions, so it’s best to work with a mediator who’s familiar with how cases are resolved in the jurisdiction where your case is filed. Mediation is also usually more effective in-person, though mediation can be done virtually. At BTL Family Law, our local office has multiple conference rooms for your comfort.
Consider How You Will Pay for the Mediation
As briefly mentioned above, some mediators charge by the hour, while some may charge a flat fee per mediation session. At BTL Family Law, we charge per hour and our attorneys reduce their normal hourly rate when serving as a mediator.
Typically, our professional mediation services can cost between $1,400.00 and $3,500.00. After an agreement is reached, if the parties choose to hire BTL to draft the formal documents for presentation to the Court, those would be an additional cost. These costs are typically split between each spouse, but it is important to discuss how these fees will be paid prior to attending mediation so there are no surprise bills at the end of the day.
Gather Documents and Information
Though the basis of mediation is one-on-one discussions with your neutral mediator, prior to mediation you will need to gather and review the relevant documents in your case so you can make decisions at mediation. It can also be helpful to have access to these documents during mediation to refresh your memory should there be a disagreement. You should comply with the requirements under the disclosure and discovery by, for example, researching and organizing the following information:
- List all assets
- Bank account statements
- Home and timeshare deeds
- Retirement or pension account statements
- Vehicle ownership and registration documents
- Compile current liabilities
- Credit card statements
- Mortgage loan information
- Student loan statements
- Organize income and tax documents
- Three recent pay stubs
- W-2s or 1099 statements
- Three of the most recent federal and state tax returns
- Gather all child and familial information
- Prenuptial or marital contracts
- Child Care Costs
- Cost for Children’s Health Insurance
- Medical bills and health insurance declarations
Make Mediation a Priority
For a mediation to be successful, it is important to be as prepared as possible going into mediation. A key part of being prepared that is often overlooked is simply making mediation a priority. The day mediation is scheduled, make sure you are prepared to focus on mediation. It is wise to block out the whole day, even if you are only scheduled for a half-day mediation in case you are close to reaching an agreement but it will take another hour or so to hammer out the final details. Also, make sure you have adequate childcare. As attorneys, we often find ourselves in mediations until 7:00 pm ironing out the final details of an agreement. It makes for a long day, but it is often worth the extra time to resolve a case.
Contemplate Your and Your Spouse’s Goals
Know your positions prior to attending mediation. Completing the Confidential Settlement Memos will help you think about your positions. But, in thinking about your position, also think about your spouse’s. Begin to think about where each of you are at on the applicable issues in your case and how you can reach an acceptable resolution. Do not be afraid to share this information with your mediator by, for example, including it in your Confidential Settlement Memos.
What You Should Bring to Mediation
You and your spouse will spend each divorce mediation session discussing the terms of your divorce settlement agreement with your mediator. For the most proactive divorce mediation, you’ll need to know specific information about your case to help guide each session. Follow your disclosure and discovery requirements for a complete list of documents and information you need. Here’s an abbreviated divorce mediation checklist of information to know, as well as what documents you may want to have access to at mediation. Ultimately, you may not need everything listed below, but it is better to have the information on hand just in case you need it.
- Contact information. Have instant access to contact information for close family members who may look after your children and financial advisers who handle your insurance, banking, and retirement.
- Official court documents. Have access to all documents that have already been filed or required by the court, including copies of your prenuptial or marital contracts if those are at issue.
- Assets and marital property documents. Have access to deeds and appraisals for shared real estate and other property, including your primary residence and timeshares, as well as current investment statements and private party value statements for all shared vehicles.
- Personal and shared liabilities. Have access to current balance statements for all mortgages, home equity loans, motor vehicle loans, student loans, and other private loans.
- Income and tax documents. Have access to financial information like bank account statements, recent pay stubs, W-2 or 1099 forms, and federal and state tax returns.
- Child-care-related information. Have access to childcare costs and other related information.
- Key topics to discuss. Have a list of the most important topics you’d like to discuss with your mediator. The Confidential Settlement Memo will help you organize the topics to be discussed.
The divorce mediation process can be emotionally and mentally draining. Be sure to get a good night’s rest before heading into a mediation session and work with a mediator who can ensure your comfort comes first. At BTL Family Law, we do our best to make our guests as comfortable as possible during this emotional process with refreshments, snacks, and WiFi access during mediation.
What You Should be Prepared to Discuss and Answer
Few things are off the table when it comes to divorce mediation. There will likely be numerous topics you and your spouse will need to agree upon—from how you separate your property to how you co-parent. Take a look at this divorce mediation checklist that details the topics you should be prepared to discuss and answer.
1. Marital Asset and Liability Allocation
A marriage can generate several assets, like real estate, along with corresponding liabilities, like mortgage loans. Prior to mediation, each party should have complied with sufficient disclosure and discovery so that each knows the extent of the assets and liabilities of the marital community.
Your mediator will help you negotiate how the assets and liabilities should be awarded or divided.
Common examples of marital property include timeshares or vacation homes, motor vehicles, household furnishings, and shared business interests or partnerships. Frequent examples of shared liabilities include credit card balances, property expenses, and medical expenses.
2. Spousal Maintenance (Alimony)
Spousal maintenance, often referred to as alimony, is a legal obligation for one spouse to provide financial support to the other spouse before or after separation or divorce. The parties and the mediator will work to negotiate an award of spousal maintenance where applicable.
3. Child Support
Child support must be decided to fully resolve the case. When determining child support in Arizona, the parties will need to discuss incomes, parenting time days, childcare costs, healthcare plans, and other items in accordance with the Arizona Child Support Guidelines.
4. Parenting Time and Legal Decision-Making (Child Custody)
Child custody, known as Parenting Time and Legal Decision-making in Arizona, can be a highly- debated topic for divorce mediation. Your mediator will work with you to develop a parenting plan and a legal decision-making agreement in the best interests of your children.
Legal Decision-Making refers to how the parties will make major decisions regarding the child(ren), such as education, healthcare, and religion. Parenting Time refers to the actual time the child(ren) will spend with each parent and is often what most people think of when negotiating child custody.
When navigating parenting time with your mediator and spouse, you must address:
- Weekdays and weekends (Normal Parenting Time)
- Extracurricular activities
- Holidays and birthdays
- Summer vacations
- Extended vacations
- Travel plans
5. Insurance Coverage
Prepare to discuss insurance coverage moving forward especially as it relates to the children. Further, you should know how you plan on maintaining insurance coverage so you have that information when discussing topics like spousal maintenance.
6. Retirement Account Division
Retirement accounts are often some of a married couple’s largest assets. Prepare to discuss the status of all retirement accounts, including Traditional and Roth IRAs, SEP IRAs, 401k or 403b accounts, pension plans, annuities, as well as stock options.
In mediation, parties can be more creative with the division of these accounts so long as the agreement is still fair and equitable. For example, cash now may be more important to one spouse than a retirement account and the division of the accounts could reflect that.
7. Future Communication Arrangements
This may be important depending on how well you and your spouse can cooperate and, most importantly, co-parent in the future. Sometimes it is beneficial for parties to have communication protocols to not only inform the other parenting of normal activities related to the children but to resolve issues as they arise.
BTL Family Law is here to help
Finding the Right Divorce Mediation Specialist
A divorce mediation checklist is helpful to begin navigating the mediation process, but nothing is more beneficial than working with the right divorce mediation specialist. The right mediator can help you and your spouse prepare for mediation, confidently work through your issues, and reach a divorce settlement agreement that works in favor of your entire family.
At BTL Family Law, our mediators will listen to your concerns and offer unbiased advice that considers factors that are not always apparent. We leverage our extensive family law and divorce law background to help our clients overcome common contentions and resolve their divorce outside of court. Contact us today to learn more about our divorce mediation services.