Archive for August 2019

Seven Tips to Help Clients Prepare for Mediation

Hello I Am Prepared

Prepare for Mediation

So you have the big mediation date planned.  You hope the mediator will be able to work whatever magic she has so you can move the case to settlement and put the case to bed.  You’ve prepared yourself.  You know the law.  You have your arguments ready.  You’ve done your study of the facts.  But you forgot something crucial.  You forgot to prepare the most important person to your case—the person who actually has decision making power—your client!

Clients who prepare for mediation simply do better.  Client preparation significantly increases the chances of reaching a settlement.  Preparation is an often overlooked component of successful dispute resolution.  Importantly, clients are happier when they can settle outside of court.  So, here are seven tips to prepare your client for mediation.

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make sure you have prepared
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#1: Make sure the client understands the mediation process.

To prepare your client for mediation, it’s important for them to be clear on what is expected of them in mediation, and what the role of the mediator will be.  Mediation is not court. It is not counseling or therapy.  It’s a negotiation facilitated by a third-party neutral.

The mediator is there to facilitate and to help people bridge their gaps from a neutral perspective. The mediator doesn’t give legal advice and doesn’t get a tie-breaking vote if the clients disagree.

All decisions are up to the parties to mutually agree.  Mediation does not require people to get along. A good mediator will facilitate the conversation and bring balance — even in cases where one party may be a better negotiator than the other.

#2: Educate your client on the relevant law.

It really helps if your client is prepared and armed with information.  This reduces the amount of time the mediator has to spend educating the client.  If they know what their rights are before they come, then they are more able to consider proposals for settlement.

Also, assure them no one will be expected to sign binding agreements without the advice of counsel. This goes a long way toward calming any fears of being “tricked” into an agreement.

#3: Prepare your client to manage emotional responses.

People come to their conflicts with a myriad of emotions.  Most of us, whether we admit are not, make most of our decisions through the lens of our emotions.  This is fine unless the emotions become so intense that we lose our ability to think rationally.  In divorce cases in particular, emotions affect almost all of the clients decisions.  Sometimes parties themselves in the difficult state of fight or flight and are unable to think clearly.  If left unmanaged, a negative emotion can make reaching accord much harder.

Consider mental health professionals to coach the client.

If you are like most attorneys, you have not been trained in psychology.  It’s good practice to know where your limitations are.  Why not involve a mental health professional to act as a divorce coach to prepare clients to prepare themselves emotionally for what might be a challenging meeting.

Help the client come up with strategies to stay calm to help with rational decision making.

Coach your clients on the importance of managing one’s own emotional responses.  It’s good to normalize coping tools such as taking a break or breathing.  If you are going to be there with your client during the mediation, come up with a signal, such as a keyword or a hand gesture, to indicate when a person is loosing it.  That way, when the signal is given, you can take your client outside to calm down.

A good mental health professional can even help the client come up with mindfulness tools to keep them grounded.  You want your client to bring his or her best self so that she or he can negotiate rationally.

#4: Make sure your client realistically understands their best alternative to alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA).

It’s common for a client to have unrealistic expectations about how good their case is.  They may believe that their case is a slam dunk and that all they need to do is get in front of a judge so that can explain their case.  Naturally, the judge will see it their way.

But we all know that such is not always the case.  In Roger Fisher and William Ury’s seminal work, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Without Giving In, Fisher and Ury coined the phrase of the “Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement”  (BATNA for short). This is basically your client’s best case scenario if they end up in front of a judge.   A strong BATNA can empower decision making.

A client with an overoptimistic BATNA will make choices that put them at risk.  If they have a more realistic BATNA, it’s an important tool in negotiating a mediated agreement.  If a proposal is superior to your BATNA, then should take it.  Having a proposal that is worse than your BATNA will result in a person being less like to accept a proposal.

Be careful, however, that you as the professional also have a realistic BATNA.  I can’t tell you how often I have seen attorneys poorly advise their client because of an unrealistic BATNA.  They then go to court and sometimes get an unpleasant surprise.  So make sure you are thinking things all the way through yourself!

#5: Make sure your client realistically understands their worst alternative to a negotiated agreement (WATNA).

Fisher and Ury also teach us the phrase “Worst Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement” (WATNA for short).  Basically, the WATNA is the worst case scenario if your client ends up in court.  Sometimes a proposal is worth taking simply because it could be so much worse.  It’s a strategy of minimizing risk.

If your client is unrealistic about the worst case scenario and therefore has an uninformed WATNA, that can be very dangerous.  Your client may walk away from a deal that minimizes risk because he or she doesn’t understand how bad it can be.  Just like with the BATNA, make sure you are being realistic too.

I’ve seen a lot of attorneys advise their client not to accept a reasonable proposal only to go to court and do worse.  Client’s don’t love it when that happens- especially if they acted on your advice.  So, make sure you’ve got the BATNA right and be ready to move your BATNA or your WATNA once you get into the negotiation and learn new information.

#6: Get the client away from a fixation on things being “fair.”

Fair is the “F” word. Instead, focus on making a “good business decision.”

In negotiations, “fair” is largely meaningless.  What one person may define as fair may be worlds apart from what the other party defines as fair.  I find it best not to got there.  Fair is the “F” word in my conference room.

Rather, I coach my clients to leave “fair” behind and stretch for a good business decision.  If everybody is giving something up and a little disappointed, that means we are compromising… and that is GOOD.

Help your clients look for an agreement they can live with rather than an agreement that will conform to a mythical understanding of fairness.  Sometimes, the deal won’t ever be perfect.  But if you want your client to stay out of court, it may just have to be good enough.

See also: Why “Fair” is the F-Word in Divorce Negotiations

#7: Teach your client how to make realistic proposals.

He or she isn’t negotiating to get a bargain on a used car. It is a waste of time to offer terms pushing the extremes with the sole intention of pushing the other party to come closer a desired result. It is the road to frustration, mediation breakdowns, and a date in court in front of a judge.

See also: Tips on Making and Receiving Proposals

Download our free tip sheet to
make sure you have prepared
your clients for success in mediation.

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Neutral Private Settlement Conference

Back To School Shouldn’t Be A Battle in Divorced Families

Can you believe it's back to school time already? Divorced parents need to make some specific preparations for a successful school year. Photo Wokandpix/Creative Commons License

Can you believe it’s back to school time already? Divorced parents need to make some specific preparations for a successful school year. Photo Wokandpix/Creative Commons License

Can you believe it’s already time for 60 million American kids to go back to school? Didn’t we just start summer?

Mixed feelings are natural at this time of year for everyone. Kids are sad about summer being over so quickly. But they are likely to be excited and happy to see friends and get involved in favorite activities like athletics, music, or robotics.

But if you are a divorced parent navigating co-parenting, back to school is a little more complicated. Who pays for what? What activities will the child get to be involved in? Who does the school call if there is a problem? Who gets to chaperone the field trip?  What school will your child will attend, near Dad’s house or Mom’s house?

The phone starts ringing at Weber Dispute Resolution at this time of year. Parents having trouble solving these issues come to us for help mediating their conflicts. We are glad they do, instead of taking their problems to court. If you need the same help for yourself or your clients, we hope to hear from you.

We offer these tips to help you start working through problems and considering your options.

Get on the same page about routines.

Get on the same page about school routines. Photo: Luci/Creative Commons License

Don’t make school any more complicated than necessary. Kids do better if you and your co-parent agree on routines, and so will you. Meet before school starts without the kids in a neutral location to discuss the routine details first. Some areas for discussion:

  • Emergency contacts and emergency procedures
  • Instructions about academics and schoolwork
  • Disciplinary issues
  • Transportation and pick-up
  • After-school activities

Once you agree, write it all down and share the plan with your children.

Deal with school expenses up front.

Custodial parents usually find themselves paying up front for back-to-school wardrobes and school supplies and then ask for half of the expenses. But even when parents agree to split the cost, sometimes one parent has very different ideas about how much to spend on things like clothes. Set a budget up front you can both live with. Keep copies of the receipts so you have a record of what you’re owed.

Share school supplies information.

You may be the parent in charge of school shopping, but your ex might want to be involved. It’s not uncommon for a divorced dad to take his child out and buy a hot pair of sneakers, backpack, or electronic device. Make sure you have talked in advance about whether Jim or Jane gets a cellphone or iPod. Purchases like this on a whim rarely end up without an argument and upset parents and kids.

Figure out what extra-curricular activities will be added – and paid for.

Are your kids into sports? Drama? Robotics? After school activities take time and money. Be sure you agree which parent is contributing both. Photo: KeithJJ/Creative Commons

Outside of the classroom, many kids want to participate in sports, music, drama, debate, student government, robotics or other science competitions. These activities can build valuable skills and develop passions your kids may follow into careers. But they also put a strain on your schedule and your budget. When time and money aren’t unlimited, you and your co-parent have to decide up front what’s realistic for your child and what’s not. Who is going to provide the transportation, and pay the fees?   

Coordinate everyone’s calendars.

There are going to be lots of events when school starts: sports and music practices, meets, science fairs, concerts, etc. And you think your workday is busy! Coordinate the school calendar with your parenting schedule. You want to make sure your child is able to attend important events. Have calendars in each house, one in your child’s backpack and give one to teachers or coaches to show which parent he will be with.

Negotiate attendance at school events.

Agree in advance to be courteous to one another at school events so you can attend at the same time. You can suck it up for the hour it takes every few months. If this is really, truly not possible, arrange to attend on different nights or at different times.

Meet the new teacher.

Meet your child’s teacher and stay in communication. Photo: Kevin Lopez/Creative Commons License

Divorced or not, it is always good to meet with your child’s new teacher. Let her or him know your child comes from a divorced home or a shared custody home. Children of divorce and separation often act out at school, have emotional moments, or just a bad day. Your child’s teacher should know what’s going on. But keep teachers and school personnel out of any conflicts between you and your former spouse.

Share information about your child’s education and progress.

Don’t play games or create obstacles for the noncustodial parent to get information. Unless you have a protective order, give permission to the children’s teachers, counselors, and medical professionals to share school information with both parents.

Arrange for duplicate notifications.

Information should be shared with both parents. It can be useful to arrange for separate, duplicate notifications about academic progress and school activities so one parent is not responsible for copying and sending information to the other, including anything like schoolwork or forms your child brings home; Do NOT make your child the responsible party.

A written record can help keep legal issues straight and problems from escalating. If you have a contentious relationship with your co-parent, why fan the flames at all? Arrange up front for a neutral third party like a mediator to be the point of mutual contact between you to ensure civility and cooperation.

Remember who school is for. It’s not a battleground to establish who is the better parent.

Remember, school is for your kids – not a battleground for you and your ex. Photo: Ernesto Silva/Creative Commons License

It’s great for you to be involved with your children, but don’t get into a competition with your former spouse. Your child is still dealing with your divorce no matter how long ago it happened while juggling the demands of school. Let school be your kid’s refuge, a place for him or her to have fun, learn, achieve and excel, and forget about difficult family issues.

No matter what, you can’t go wrong making a decision if you stop and ask yourself this: what’s in the best interest of my child? You get an A-plus.

READ MORE: Is Your Child College Bound? Who’s Paying For It?