In my last blog I discussed the topic of adding the option of private sessions, upon agreement of couples working with me, in divorce mediation. Most of the time, when clients come to me in search of a trained divorce mediator, they follow a certain process that begins with a joint consultation session and continues into joint mediation meetings. This mediation strategy helps to maintain trust between all of the people involved in the mediation, because it eliminates the fear that either individual may be getting extra help from the mediator. Often, for mediation to be effective, the parties need to feel as though they are getting fair treatment from a completely objective third-party. As a divorce mediator, I strive to give all the people I work with that sense of comfort. However, sometimes, they may find it helpful to take a different kind of mediation route – such as one that involves preliminary planning sessions.
Preliminary planning sessions are part of a strategy suggested by mediators Forrest “Woody” Mosten and Elizabeth Potter Scully. They believe that a good way to prepare for the joint mediation sessions is with initial interactions between each individual client and the mediator. These private discussions are a great way to build rapport between the divorce mediator and the parties, according to Mosten and Scully. What’s more, they can allow parties an opportunity to discuss some of the more complex parts of their case.
Review Attorneys and Preparing for Preliminary Planning
There are various ways that people can prepare for an upcoming preliminary planning session. For instance, often, when parties agree to divorce mediation, I will recommend that they seek the assistance of a review attorney to access additional guidance during their divorce proceedings. As a mediator, I cannot give any legal advice, so it helps for my clients to work with a review attorney that can guide them towards achieving their best interests. It is not required to use a review attorney, although it is recommended that review attorneys are consulted at some point. Not everyone takes me up on that recommendation, however.
Before the preliminary planning sessions, Scully and Mosten suggest that a review attorney could advise clients to be open to the mediators input and consider his or her suggestions on how to achieve their goals. Parties can make themselves conscious of this goal as well if they are not using review attorneys at this preliminary juncture. A divorce mediator such as I might highlight some of the areas of commonality a client shares with their soon to be ex-spouse. I might help a party to think about what they want to do during the official divorce mediation sessions. Review attorneys can also remind their clients that it can be helpful to access private time with the mediator to assess whether they feel comfortable with them. Mediation can be a complicated process, and it’s important to work with someone you trust.
During the private preliminary planning sessions, parties can also consider whether they should commence with joint mediation or continue to get private preliminary sessions. Some review attorneys can even attend mediation sessions where they can act as a resource for their client by raising any issues the might have forgotten to address. Traditionally, though, couples mediating with me have attended alone, without review attorneys. Review attorneys may also raise their own concerns about the negotiation process going forward. The key, if there comes a time that a party brings their review attorney to the mediation session, is to make sure that both the review attorney and the divorce mediator play their parts without getting in the other’s way or complicating the mediation process for the client.
Preparing Yourself for a Preliminary Planning Session
Mosten and Scully’s recommendations about preliminary planning sessions for divorce mediation involve a model comes that from Dwight Golann. This model suggests that lawyers should take preventative planning roles when supporting their clients during a divorce. Golann indicates that mediators can counsel clients on how to approach issues like bargaining and negotiation. If you believe that initial discussions with your mediator might help you to approach the mediation process with more confidence, then preliminary planning may be a good idea.
To prepare for preliminary planning, it’s best to start by making sure that you know what to expect. Clients who work with me using mediation and preliminary planning will come for their initial consultation with their partner. During this period, we’ll discuss the need for preliminary planning or not. After the initial consultation is over, time can be reserved for a private session for each party. To make sure that you get the most out of that time, it may be a good idea to make a list of any issues or concerns that you want to raise. You can discuss everything from the emotional and financial aspects you’re concerned about in mediation, to worries you might have about child custody and parenting.
Being prepared to share plenty of information with your mediator is also a good idea. During preliminary planning sessions, I will be able to learn more about the facts of your individual case. The more I know about you and the issues that you want to address, the easier it will be for me to help you prepare for your upcoming joint negotiations. I might even suggest that you gather specific documents and information from professionals that will assist with your sessions. For instance, you might need bank records or retirement benefit information if you want to discuss things like equitable distribution and assets during your mediation.
Crucially, during the preliminary planning sessions that I have with my clients, I won’t provide any direct legal advice – this is the responsibility of your review attorney. But I can help to educate you about the issues that you may face during mediation, so that you can prepare for the case ahead. I may even be able to put your mind at rest about some of the biggest concerns you have when it comes to addressing your divorce.
If you want to learn more about the concept of preliminary planning in mediation, or you want to discuss the issues of your mediation in detail with a free initial consultation with your partner, contact my office today. The Law and Mediation Office of Darren Shapiro is available on (516) 333-6555 or use our contact form.