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Mediation: what to expect and how to prepare

Lots of people consider mediation as an option to work toward resolution of their family law matter without knowing exactly what to expect from the mediation process.  Is this what mediation is going to be like?

No – it is unlikely that your mediation will be like a scene from the Wedding Crashers.  The mediator will  not sing songs played at your wedding – or even ask about your wedding (note – if you do have a story about a mediator singing in your mediation please feel free to share!) and the mediators probably will not look like Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn…(once again, please feel free to share).  Like the video from the Wedding Crashers, mediators will often refocus and reframe the negative to work towards a constructive resolution of issues between you and your spouse.

In preparing for a mediation, there are lots of resources available on the internet and at the public library that can help you prepare for mediation and supplement the information your lawyer provides to you, as discussed below.

Deborah Lynn Zutter‘s book, “Divorce Mediation: What You Need to Know“, sets out the general process to expect for a mediation (although mediation practices differ based on the mediator and the parties’ needs):

  • Once the parties agree to a mediation they will contact a mediator to determine who is appropriate to mediate their case;
  • The parties will mutually select a mediator;
  • The mediator will meet with both spouses (usually independently of each other) for an initial meeting to review and sign an agreement to mediate with each spouse;
  • The mediator will have one (or a series) of mediation meetings with both spouses and their lawyers (if the spouses choose to involve their lawyers);
  • The mediator may create a summary after each meeting to record decisions that have been made or points that have been brought up by both parties;
  • Once the mediation is concluded, if an agreement is reached, a document setting out the terms of the agreement will be drafted – either by the mediator, the parties, or their lawyers;

A detailed description of the mediation process can also be found on JP Boyd’s website.  JP Boyd’s website also has a useful list of things to do and things not to do in mediation. I guess the parties in the Wedding Crashers missed this one:

  • Negotiations are stressful, but don’t use drugs or alcohol to calm your nerves. Drugs and alcohol will impair your judgment and reduce your ability to be objective.

The Ministry of Justice has a useful question-and-answer guide to mediation, including a summary of how to prepare for mediation:

Think about some important questions before you go to the mediation, such as:

  • What is the best outcome that you could reasonably hope for?
  • What is the worst outcome you should prepare for?
  • What are you most concerned about and what can the other person do to respond to those concerns?
  • What is the other person most concerned about and what can you do to respond to those concerns?
  • What are your options if you do not reach a settlement in mediation?